Wednesday, March 9, 2011


pic found here

Last Sunday was the day we took our new little one to church for the first time so that he could be blessed and properly shown off to the members of our congregation. It was also my debut appearance at church since breaking my leg and dislocating my ankle - and I am embarrassed to admit that I was nervous about it. Why? Because I walk funny. I ultimately decided to show up with both crutches rather than let others see my limpy gait.

It really bothers me that this bothers me, but it is what it is. I do not want others to feel sorry for me. I do not want my friends to avert their eyes when they see me coming because they feel uncomfortable or do not know what to say. It seems ridiculous, I know. But these feelings of insecurity started when I went grocery shopping a couple of weeks ago.

Because I am still unable to drive myself anywhere I asked my eldest man-child to chauffeur me that day. We got into the store and I crutched my way over to the motorized shopping carts, knowing this would be the only way I could complete my shopping trip. I could see that Coolister was a little... I'm not sure what. Uncomfortable? Embarrassed? I'm not talking about your typical that-is-not-my-mother look. He generally revels in my zaniness. This was something different. It immediately disheartened me.

Throughout our shopping trip I noticed how people would look away when my eyes met theirs. I tried to remember if it had always been that way before, but no - I distinctly recall making eye contact with strangers and smiling or nodding or saying excuse me when I squeeze my cart past theirs. I'm not saying that I've always recognized each and every person I encounter while grocery shopping but there is usually a general rapport among the shoppers in the aisles. Nothing earth-shattering, just a basic acknowledgment of each other in the frozen foods section. People were not doing this today. Somehow my wheelchair/shopping cart had made me invisible.

It made me wonder if I have acted this same way? When I see someone who is different in some way do I recognize their existence with a nod or a smile? Or do I look away, feigning sudden interest in the price of canned pineapple to hide my discomfort? I don't think I do, but I don't know. I've never really thought about it before.

I think that what I am really trying to say here is that I am not my handicap. I am not Gerb the Gimp. Well, I am, but I am also still me, Gerb, mother and wife, bargain shopper, people watcher, experimental chef and quirky writer, roller skater, book addict, aficionado of baked goods and lover of music and happiness.

And I am not invisible.


Marsha said...

Gerb, we can relate to those looks of avoidance in public. My husband is an amputee of 12 years and we see those looks often. What really bugs him is when parents divert their kids from looking at him. He encourages the is facinating to see how a prosthesis works!

I remember about 6 months after he became an amputee, a new neighbor of ours made a comment that hurt me so badly...then angered me. She said something to the effect of, "How is your husband doing...I get the impression he is somewhat of a CRIPPLE!" Anyone who knows Eric Joss knows that cripple isn't even CLOSE to describing him. He's more capable than most two legged men! He would get ticked off when I'd try to push his wheelchair. He avoids that chair now and refuses to be disabled.

I'm sure you'll find you have a new depth of understanding for the pain and challenges people go through and see through that invisibility cloak that others can't see through.

Cousin Marsha Burton Joss

Brown Thumb Mama said...

Ugh! I'm so sorry that you're experiencing this.

I remember kids staring at Dad when I was little, and I would give them *very* nasty looks. He always took it in stride, since he loves kids, and would talk to them if the parents allowed it.

Your wonderful smile will break through the invisible barrier, I just know it. And remember, "this too shall pass." :o)

Rachel said...

I came to this same realization when I had to use one of those electric carts years ago. I loved it even more when I had to back up. The BEEP! Let's draw even more attention to the invisible.

Having a child with special needs, now that he is older, I get the same thing. People don't know how to react to Levi.

Sometimes it bugs me, but most the time, I smile because I understand. They don't know how else to react.

I'm glad you aren't invisible!

P.S. Did your son give you a certain bag? I told my Mr. M to give it to your guy to give to you. If he is anything like Mr. M, it is still probably in his backpack. Go look if you haven't gotten it. And I am SO sorry I am so lame that I have to pass 'notes' through our son to you. :D Will you mark the yes box if you'll still be my friend. :D

Rachel said...

"our sons". I mean, OUR SONS.

Sabrina said...

It was great to see you back at church. Super C was worried about your foot. I only noticed that your figure is already back to the pre-pregnancy form. Not sure how you do that!
And I am glad to hear about your experience at the grocery store. The truth is, I probably judge the really big people that ride them, when I shouldn't be judging anyone no matter the reason. Thanks for helping me open my eyes and think a little.

Connie said...

You've really had to go through a lot with your "accident". This post has made me stop and think about what I do. Half the time I'm jealous of the people in the motorized cart, especially when it's late at night and I'm tired. But really, I need to be more aware.

When my 28 year old son got Guillain Barre Syndrome,(a paralyzing disease)he "walked" in to the emergency room with his fiance, and was treated as though he was mentally handicapped because his walk was so labored. After a month in the hospital, he was able to leave in a wheel chair. He hated it! He felt so invisible and yet so noticed.

Hang in there!

Teachinfourth said...

I'd have looked at you, pointed, and then laughed wholeheartedly. Then, I would have come over and let you buy me a Macey's ice cream cone...

Because I'm a friend like that.

Sarah said...

I feel like I've been "invisible" lately with as busy as I've been, and I know EXACTLY how you feel about the motorized cart - I was there not too long ago.

I loved TinF's comment.

I vote for that idea!
Hope you feel better soon and don't have to use that cart no more!

The Millward Family said...

I read this a few days ago and it has made me think ever since about how I react to people I see who are "different" somehow. And then I caught myself yesterday looking the other direction when a man in a wheel chair came towards me on the ramp at the library. And I instantly felt terrible! So I smiled and nodded at the guy and continued on. As i thought about it afterwards I realized I glanced away because I didn't want him to think I was staring at him. Without this post I don't think I'd have ever thought my trying not to make others feel stared at was making them feel invisible! So thanks, and I see many more smiles and nods in my future!

Diane said...

Hi, I just recently had aankle surgery too (7 weeks ago). Im still non weight bearing and need to use a motorized wheelchair at the grocery store too, and I do not like it either. Do the doctors say how much longer it will be before you will be back to your normal walk?

Gerb said...

Thanks for all of your comments, everyone. They have been insightful & kind.

Diane- so sorry! I am now completely crutch-free but walk with quite a limp. The doctor says there will be swelling for at least 6 months but that my normal walk would come back more quickly with physical therapy. I started physical therapy a couple of weeks ago but have not seen any noticeable improvement yet. I'm sticking with it, though - you hang in there, too!

Shannon said...

I would have snatched Mr. Z's ice cream and stuck my foot out to trip him after I saw him making fun of you...then I would have asked you if I could ride in your basket.