The sun was glorious as I stepped out of the house; I felt warm for the first time since Spring arrived. I had reached my writing goal the previous day, so I was giving myself a day off from writing. I decided to read a novel instead. So after my regular Saturday morning Pilates session in Norwood, I did what has now the norm. I walked into the city and to my favourite brunch spot in Adelaide, Hey Jupiter. Thankful that I can now walk this distance with relative ease compared to a month previously. One of the reasons why I Iove Hey Jupiter is its Parisian style. Outside chairs and tables facing the street and the best pot of Russian Caravan tea on offer in Adelaide. While the world went by, I sat with my book and my tea, eating brunch and reading. I had reached the mid-semester break. I didn’t have any more lectures for two weeks. I could take this moment to draw breath and just to be, for now, anyway.
I finally stirred myself from my book, paid my bill, and started walking slowly towards the bus stop on Pultney St. I knew I would have to wait for fifteen minutes for my bus, but I didn’t mind, I was content with a slower pace, soaking up the sunshine and the sound of the birds. I was walking towards the bus stop and I saw the four women ahead of me. I stepped further left of the pathway so that I wouldn’t get into their way. They were oblivious, talking and laughing, looking like they were enjoying life. Well, they were oblivious until one of the women saw me only three metres away. She stopped suddenly, causing the others to halt, and gasped, ‘Oh, look at her. That poor girl’. The other women seeing that she was starring straight at me joined the chorus, following me with their eyes as I smiled and walked past them.
I sat on the park bench at the bus stop still figuring out what I had just seen and heard. Surely they were talking about someone else? But I was the only one for at least twenty metres, the pathway was quiet, and they were looking directly at me. But I’m not poor and the last thing I felt that day was self pity. In my mind, there was no reason to pity me. I have life, I’m healthy, I have close friends whom I love dearly, a church family where I belong, and a job that I get up for each day. I’m poor in one way, but this is not in any material or physical way. And I suddenly felt gutted for these four women. That they saw someone who was genuinely bright and smiling and all they saw was the stick and difficulty walking. In their eyes, I had been reduced to my disability. I can understand that seeing a young woman in her early thirties with a walking stick is not a sight we see around the streets of Adelaide often. But I was gutted for these women because they were quick to judge based on my physical appearance. I was reminded that we all have a perception of what is normal and we do tend to pity anyone or anything that we deem to be different from what we think should be normal. Unfortunately, disability is not seen to be part of life but something that is wrong with life and falls short of what we think we are entitled to. We tend to pity if we think that reality is different to what we or someone else deserves. These four women, in reducing me to my walking stick, missed seeing so much. They missed that I’m grateful to be able to walk and to enjoy the warmth of the day, that I have freedom to live. There is just so much more to life than my right leg that struggles to walk normally. My disability is not a reason to pity me, it’s a reason to meet my smile with a smile and to just keep going.