Beauty In a Wheelchair: Overcoming guilt, enjoying attention, and leaving judgment behind
I have used a wheelchair for the last four years. For now (thankfully), I only use it part-time, but it still requires several accommodations and changes to what used to be "normal" activities - like attending a concert.
A few months ago, one of my favorite performers (Post Modern Jukebox) announced they were coming to my state, to a town about an hour and a half north of where I live. Montana doesn't get many concerts, so I jumped at the chance to buy tickets.
I looked at the website to see if I could purchase online, but it didn't have an option for buying tickets in the accessible seating area. Since the handicapped row was on the floor, the site wanted to charge me the premium price.
However, as the facility's only available wheelchair seating, they had to give me the price of the lowest-cost section. I needed to talk with someone in person to get this done.
After a couple of phone calls, I finally got in touch with the manager who was able to give me the discounted price for my seat and one guest. The third person in our group would have to pay the floor seat pricing. I felt a little sting of guilt. The cost would be higher for my friends because of me.
Next, I had to coordinate with my friends on transportation. Five years ago, I might have decided to stay the night instead of driving back home after the event. However, I can no longer easily sleep in a hotel room by myself, and driving in the dark is difficult for me. Again, a pang of guilt hit me as I asked my friends to ride with me and drive my van there and back.
Upon arriving, we found the handicapped parking and went in the back entrance where carpeted ramps led us to the auditorium. An usher moved a chair out of the way and I parked my wheelchair in its place. My wheelchair is tall, so I silently worried about blocking the view of the people behind me.
While waiting for the show to begin, I wheeled back to the lobby, bought some CDs and a t-shirt, and went to the bathroom. I was worried that the stalls wouldn't be accessible in a one-hundred-year-old building, but I was pleasantly surprised to find an expansive restroom, complete with a sofa in a separate sitting room!
The concert was billed as the Twenties 2.0 so I (and quite a few others!) dressed up in 1920s style.
When the concert began, my guilt and worries were replaced with the joy and beauty of jazz music.
I had a permanent grin plastered on my face as each new song unfolded.
The encore finale was a culmination of the musicians' talents and high energy, and a few of the vocalists came into the crowd to get people up and moving.
I've lost a lot of ability due to my muscle weakness, but one of the things I miss most is dancing. I couldn't stand with everyone else, but I still danced in my chair, swaying and pumping my arms to the beat.
And I didn't care how silly I looked.
All of a sudden, the lead singer was next to me, then he was all but in my lap, and we were dancing together under the spotlight!
I was swept up in pure delight!
After the show, as my excitement was dissipating, I began to reflect. I wonder why he chose to sing in front of me. Was it because I was in a wheelchair?
If you're in a wheelchair it brings attention, for better or for worse. My friend (who also uses a power chair) calls it "wheelchair perks." You get special treatment in certain situations, especially if there's a camera or a crowd watching.
The perks aren't all bad.
However, sometimes I question the motivation behind the gestures. Is it pity? Does the person think my situation is worse than it is? And the worst attention comes in the form of condescension, as if my cognitive ability declines the minute I sit in the chair.
When this happens, I choose to focus on the people who are acting out of good faith. And when I sense judgement, I remember that they don't know my story, they don't know who I am. I take their actions at face value, smile, and say thank you.
Being singled out at the concert was an amazing, fun experience, one I would have missed had I let guilt, self-consciousness, or fear make my decisions. I'm grateful I chose to see the beauty over everything else.
You can often get lost in despair and anger if you let your fear of outside judgement take over.
You can miss opportunities for joy if you let a fear of navigating obstacles prevent you from participating.
Or you can choose to see the beauty in who you are as a unique human being, to assert your right to be wherever you want to be, and trust your friends to support you.
How do you react when you see someone in a wheelchair? What would it look like to respond with love instead of pity or sorrow?
What potential judgments from others are keeping you from living life? What would it look like to choose beauty in place of fear?
Some Doorways from this week:
- The sermon at church last Sunday was given by a high-school student who has grown up in the church. He told of being gay, his depression, and his fears. He called on us to support him and other youth as they seek justice and compassion. His courage and strength was beautiful.
- My mom bought flowers in honor of my birthday that were displayed on the altar at church. Then I got to bring them home to enjoy in my kitchen!
- I've been digging into my ancestry again, and I discovered that King James IV of Scotland was my 14th great grandfather! It was beautiful to feel the thread of connection that has been weaved through the centuries.