Long, sleek hair hung like raven’s wings shielding her round, copper-toned face. A sweeping hand across her cheek revealed large emerald eyes, shining brightly after catching the sun’s reflection off the towering atrium windows, just before turning a secretive gaze at me.
There I was, unsuspecting of the curiosity I had evoked in a stranger, and hovering near an iron rod railing, safety barricading me from the possibility of an accidental three-stories-up swan dive into the office’s decorative fountain below.
I was silently reveling in the soft warmth of a puddle of sunshine, soaking head-to-toe in the syrupy golden rays seeping in through skylights and unbroken by clouds, and daydreaming of the easy-breezy, lazy life of sunbathing cats when I felt a light tap on my shoulder. Unexpected or otherwise, no touch is ever light enough to avoid startling a jumpy gal like me — always on defense, I guess.
Jarring away from a feline fantasy, I removed a single earbud and turned to meet the presence that had snuck up behind me.
“Are you on your break,” she asked, a half-smile forming a lazy question mark across her face.
“I’m just stepping away from the screen for a few minutes,” I reported. Her kind eyes sparkled while she said she had something important to share with me. Her words were laced with prideful energy, like after some practice, she had finally hit a target.
I’ve become used to this scene — different players and places, but still the same plot — it’s about as predictable a spectacle as Groundhogs Day, but instead of betting on the likelihood of an appearance by a mangy ground squirrel with power to control the seasons, I wonder the probability of a chance encounter with someone with self-appointed Divine status, filled with Godly powers to effect my health and physicality, my level of human-wholeness.
I sat in my small pool of liquid sunshine, unwilling to share and unable to react — I’m jumpy with a slow reaction-time, a great combo for thwarting unwanted intrusions of my time and space — before a plum-colored business card was thrust in my direction. Her manicured fingers matched the hue of the laminated card and covered a portion of the curvy calligraphy scrawled across the top, but I had no trouble deciphering the words. She called herself a Healer.
“I’ve been healing all kinds for years, she said proudly. “It’s my spiritual gifting.”
I stared through the impeccably-designed business card down to the black Mary Jane ballet flats covering my feet, resting comfortably on the black metal footrests of my power wheelchair.
I took a slow, steady breath while I caught up with my speeding thoughts; the circling theories and judgements around why a curious woman claiming miraculous, life-changing powers singled me out of the crowd of bustling business men and women.
This spontaneous interaction, with a stranger’s specific intention, isn’t the first of its kind. My colorful life as a wheelchair-user is splattered with equally garish people who have made it their purpose to create an audience for themselves by calling negative attention to people living differently, albeit authentically.
Imagine these impulsive interactions were like novelty buttons with a memorializing tag line stamped in the center — something unintentionally demeaning, but so it is, like: All differences must be made the same before all people are accepted.”
If these imaginary buttons were actually a collector’s item, I’d have unopened boxes stacked higher than the ceiling. The boxes filled with negative energy from ignorant comments remain in the corner of my mind collecting dust. I refuse to associate with people who — intent aside — pin to their vests ideals that perpetuate a message of one of these things is not like the others; it must be fixed before it can truly belong and feel good and whole.
“I once healed a young boy, he was deaf and dumb, poor thing,” she said.
Opening my mouth to interrupt her story was pointless for a couple of reasons: my words would have been colorfully unkind and certainly not workplace appropriate, and considering how tightly my jaw was clenched from frustration, a few chompers surely would have fallen to the floor. All of my pearly whites intact, I let the self-titled Healer continue her sales pitch.
“A few moments with me, now he is a happy, healthy — regular boy.”
Regular. I cringed, assuming this eclectic stranger’s understanding of the word matches closely with the textbook definition:
- Not changing; constant, unvarying.
- Uniform; fixed.
Here is my biased take. All words need some meaning attributed to them, otherwise writers like me would be out of a job and penniless. More importantly, what every person says falls apart; without meaning, our words cannot carry the weight of intention, opinion or expression. However, using language as a tool for self-expression implies free-will. Humans, in all of their uniqueness, have the ability, and the absolute right, to interpret any thought, idea or concept any way that feels right to them.
The key here is that no interpretation or assumption of a person, place or thing is entirely correct all of the time. Read that five times, slowly.
So, while this woman has the right to assume that a young boy with a disability — by the way: deaf and dumb, really? 1950 called and they want their institutionalized language back — is neither happy, healthy or regular, that doesn’t mean that he is not already all three of those things, simply because: he’s a living, breathing kid.
I’m onboard the bandwagon whose banner says that all children and adults should be as happy and healthy as possible. But I choose not to ride the wagon whose banner and buttons have fine print assuming that someone is neither happy nor healthy based on how they look or present to other people.
I’ve gotten some flack for villainizing people who “just want to help or pray for my wellbeing.” I think it’s great when people want to pray for each other’s wellness, as they already are. I don’t like when people pray for healing because it implies the need to be fixed, made regular (referencing the textbook definition).
Generally, when people, like this woman who cornered me on a break at work, seek out humans who need healing — because they have a disability that requires they meet their needs differently, a body that is less than socially-conventional, or a lifestyle that spills over the socially-conservative and acceptable mold — want to fix something about someone, the intentional intrusion into a life is not for that person’s benefit. These unintentionally harmful moments happen because the healer wants to fix how a person living differently, inadvertently, makes them feel.
When we are faced with people, places, or things we’ve rarely encountered and do not understand, our innate response is to become uncomfortable or fearful. This natural state of fear is our primal, prehistoric wiring. Our need to fix, change or separate from all of the creatures who do not look like us, act like us, speak like us, think, love or feel like us — live like us — is a basic survival instinct inherited from our Neanderthal cousins.
Friends, it is not 8,000 BC and most of us no longer resemble cavemen in those Geico commercials. We’ve evolved and so should our thoughts and actions around acceptance and inclusion.
Nine times out of 10, people who appear different than ourselves are not a threat to our survival, but a reason to enrich our lives. Go back to the definition of regular for a minute: constant; unvarying; uniform.
Those words sound like synonyms for boredom, monotony and dissatisfaction. Would we really be satisfied living in a world where opinions, actions and attitudes was a one-way highway? I’m going to guess the answer is a resounding “No.”
Every twist and turn of our journeys is patchwork of the humans we encounter each day. The unique traits, the tiny tweaks, making us who we are, help to color the experiences and teach the lessons that, ultimately, make our lives even better.
A richness is added to our lives when we approach people with the intent to learn and understand instead of to judge or to fix.
“I have a disability and I use a wheelchair, but those two facts don’t equal the assumption that I need healing or to be changed,” I said. “I appreciate your concern, but the next time you to enter into conversations with other people, I encourage you to start with something more than ‘I am a healer.’
I left her there in my pool of sunshine and went back to my regular nine-to-five job.