The stylish, middle-aged woman standing at the mirrored sink washing her hands has her back to me.
I’m headed to the other sink just as my small black evening bag slides off my lap. Before I can ask her for help, she’s offering. As she bends down, our eyes meet and I immediately recognize her knowing look.
She too used a wheelchair at one time.
My thoughts quickly trickled through the exchanges to which I’ve become accustomed during the years.
Strangers have wanted to share their temporary experiences of using a wheelchair with me for nearly four decades. Their sharing is often an effort to make a connection between us. I don’t always understand the connection or know how to respond. Sometimes they seem to be simply making conversation.
Their sharing has emphasized the injury, illness or circumstance that created the need for the wheelchair, everything from surgeries and a broken leg to leaving the hospital with a new baby. They say things like, “I was in one of those things after I tried to shovel my roof” or “I was so weak after (fill-in-the-blank) and your wheelchair rolls better than the one they gave me.”
Other people have wanted to vent. Using a wheelchair was one of the worst things that ever happened to them people in this group are sure I’ll understand their perspective. Common phrases for those in this group are “I was a wheelchair victim, too!” and “I got so tired of sitting.”
And yet another group appears to want to share how their experience or that of their loved one has changed them in ways they don’t yet fully understand. These folks often say things like, “My dignified father was treated like a child when he used a wheelchair” or “I promised myself I’d be an advocate for people with disabilities once I didn’t need the wheelchair.”