The Man in Corvallis

I will probably remember the moment for years. Walking into the men’s room in the foyer of the book store. There haven’t been many moments of my life spent around people with a similar disability. He was using the restroom same as I was. Moving back toward the sinks as I entered. We had to move passed each other almost immediately. It was clear right away, he had more challenges with movement. I froze in my footsteps, trying to find the best way to give him space. My body moved to the right as I looked him in the face. He was ignoring me and moved in a direct line toward the sink area. There didn’t seem any movement by him to help provide space. Causing me to feel as though it was totally my responsibility to open a clear path. At first, it left me feeling defensive. Moving passed him, I felt completely invisible. While, also feeling as though I should have known how to act. I mean, it was clear he was challenged with a disability. Similar to the way I am challenged with a physical disability. The difference being, his was more involved. I continued getting on myself while moving about to accomplish the reason for walking into the space. Washing my hands at the sink, I promised myself to interact if he was out in the foyer. Walking out of the restroom, the man was leaning against a back wall. We made eye contact and I said hey. There was no response, as my head turned back toward the door. I walked out onto the sidewalk and continued my day. 

The interaction happened months prior to writing about it. Though, the moments have remained on my mind during the time. There have been hours spent over the years, talking about interacting with people. The curiosity over what people might be thinking or feeling when around me at first. I have often felt judged for my differences when out in public. Noticing the way people might be looking at me or watching my movements. The way a cashier might interact with me when I’m checking out somewhere. There have been moments of thinking that I might be too hypervigilant. Looking for the judgment of people that might not even be there to find. The concept has been presented to me, for the most part, that people are unlikely looking at me in judgement. The more likely conclusion would be looking upon my movements with curiosity. Possibly, wanting to understand the different mannerisms impacted by my disability. Leaving them in what might feel like an awkward emotional state. Without the understanding of how best to interact with me in a given situation. I don’t know if I ever truly understood this point of view. I always wanted to be treated like anyone else. But, that wish feels impossible today. Because, at the end of the day, cerebral palsy makes me different. A reality that started becoming clear after seeing the man in Corvallis. 

The moment in the restroom felt uncomfortable. Like I should have known how to interact with the gentleman. It was clear right from the start, he was more impacted by his disability. My immediate instinct was to give him space. Get out of his path, so he could use the added space to move more freely. Something I always wish for in crowded areas. However, while I was making sure to move, I didn’t acknowledge him. It could have left the impression that he was a bother. Placing myself in his shoes, thinking of situations I have run into in public. When people seemingly pull away from me, it can leave a negative impression. Causing me to feel even worse about my challenges. When I instinctively did it to this person. Getting out of the way to provide space, without saying anything. It could have given an impression that I wasn’t intending. As we passed, it felt clear that the interaction shook my emotion. I wanted to be warm instead of standoffish. It felt like the moment was more impactful on my end. As I wondered why the non-verbal communication had me reeling. When I walked out of the space and said hi in the foyer. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to verbally communicate. His lack of response led to another negative emotion. Thinking I might have deserved the lack of response to my friendly hello. Almost like, I should have known better, having a disability of my own, and have had the ability to act more positively. Instead of feeling insecurely compelled to shy away from him. 

This all gets me thinking about the people who shy away from me, at times. Those who I automatically tag as being judgmental. Who I can’t find empathy for because of the perceived disrespect I’m feeling. My actions toward the man could have been perceived as judgmental. At least, those were the thoughts in mind before walking back out into the foyer. It was important to interact in some way, hoping if he felt slighted, some of it would be relieved. Making sure to say hello was the only way I could think of to ease any possible slight felt. An interesting perspective might be the possibility that my actions didn’t leave him feeling slighted. They might not have left him feeling anything at all about the interaction. It left me wanting to become a better person. To work on treating people in life better, that are different from myself. To work on how I can interact positively with someone who faces physical challenge. Because, to some extent, I understand some of the challenge they face. At least some of it I have in common with them. It feels like we can meet on that level even if just for a second. And if I attempt to interact, without getting a response, be okay with the attempt. They might be just as shy as I have become in life. There are challenges with interacting in public, with a disability. Sometimes, social setting can be the most challenging to grapple with, being physically different from others. But, people across from me, might be feeling the same.

The truth is, I have little idea of what it might feel like to meet me on the street. After interacting with the man in Corvallis. It seems clear that trying to change my point of view could be beneficial. I found it challenging to understand being in close proximity with someone impacted with similar challenges. I now have a better idea of the emotions another person might be feeling. It was like a flood of all kinds of different emotions. Feeling empathetic for the challenges being faced with movements. Wanting to be cautious not to be offensive in anything I do or say. While, feeling the emotion of wanting to be of assistance if possible. There was also the desire to be kind, wanting him to feel seen and accepted. Those are many different feelings that can lead to different actions taken. However, I felt no emotion of judgement. Even though I worried the internal battle of my thoughts might have caused that misperception. So, I’m going to make an effort from here. Because I realize how easy it has been to think of someone as judging me in public. I’m going to remember this interaction in Corvallis when I notice someone stare or look upon me strangely. A moment will be taken to find understanding. Realizing I could never know why I might be feeling judged in the moment. There would be no way of understanding why I’m being noticed. But, more often than not, whoever is looking, most likely means no judgment or harm.

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