Given Notice

I was raised to pay attention to others. I thought I did a pretty good job. I thought I looked out for my fellow human being. As l have grown older, and have learned more, I realized I did not do a great job of it. But, that could just be perspective…

My family has recently returned from vacation, and, while on that vacation I noticed one thing happen over and over again: Nobody notices. To help put this into perspective let me explain a few things. I have a sister with brain damage, a cousin with some disabilities, and I have a cousin whose husband is deaf. As a result of these relationships, and my mother’s teachings of respect, I thought I had a decent view of humanity and how to treat others. I thought I knew how to watch out for other people. I now think that I did not know enough.

Almost a year ago my wife—during a time of intense stress—developed shingles. Usually, the symptoms are harsh and then fade away without residual problems. Usually. Sometimes, rarely, there are complications that remain with the individual, long after the heat has dissipated and the blisters fade. One of the complications that can remain is called postherpetic neuralgia (for more on this topic, visit WebMD). Basically, it’s nerve damage—temporary or permanent. My wife is learning to cope with this. It’s not always easy because it’s not always predictable.

For her, some days she can move about with ease and has the energy to do so. Other days, moving hurts (walking, standing, sitting, existing) and there is no energy to do anything. Then, of course, there are the combination days where she might have energy but there is pain, or no energy and no pain. She has to take it day by day. Kind of a wake-up-and-how-do-I-feel? sort of thing. However, she is tough. So, she does. She gets up every day and does. Every day.

I give you this information so that you might understand what I am about to tell you. Because of this neuralgia, my wife knew she would not be able to handle walking about a theme park for four days. She knew she might be able to walk short periods of time and ride a few rides (ones that were not too rough). She also knew that she would need a wheelchair for the rest of the time. She also knew that I wouldn’t mind pushing her around—and, she was right.

Now, I like to think that I am a reasonably attentive fellow. I would like to think that I pay attention to my surroundings. But, I don’t think that I am way more observant than your average human being. Maybe a little above, but not way above (working at a middle school you have to be aware of what’s/who’s around you). Anyway, with that in mind, as I maneuvered my wife through the theme park, I quickly, and increasingly, became aware that almost nobody pays attention to anything around them! It was insane!

A few years ago, my oldest rolled her vehicle (four times—it was trashed) and walked away without a scratch. She did have pretty bad whiplash and needed lots of rest. We had already had a family vacation planned before she had the accident, and so, we just put her in a wheelchair and I pushed her around (I didn’t mind doing this either). She could handle light motion rides and could walk most of the time, but she did need to sit—once in a while—while the spinning in her head caused her mild vertigo and nausea. And, to the best of my recollection, the people at that theme park (the same one my family just went to) were pretty observant and we had very few bumps and/or crashes (their fault, not mine).

Well, on this recent vacation, it seemed as though nobody cared about anything but themselves. Everywhere we went it was as though nobody saw us until the last possible second. As I maneuvered my wife in and out of the foot traffic I was always trying to find the paths of least resistance and of greatest space (wheelchairs need adjusting and breaking room. ever try to stop a moving wheelchair, while it has a passenger? it doesn’t just stop on a dime! It doesn’t). I tried to stay in the most direct route—while following the walkways—to our destination, so as not to force other people into awkward walk patterns and to help avoid collisions. It didn’t seem to help much.

Every time I would find a possible opening along our route, the people in front of us—walking the same direction we were—would walk into us. Now, you might be saying, “Well, they were in front of you. How did you expect them to see you?” To which I would reply, “I didn’t. That’s why I would try and move to their side so that their peripheral vision hopefully would let them spot us.” It didn’t. They were almost always on their phones or devices. You could hear the social media playing as these people (who paid good money for entrance into the theme park) walked along, oblivious of everyone around them.

In order to survive, I had to watch the hundreds of people around us. The ones coming toward us as well as the ones walking in our same basic direction. I had to observe their body language, anticipate their potential to change directions or stop… People don’t pay attention. They don’t.

I lost track of how many groups of people who looked me in the eye as our two groups approached and then didn’t move. It was like playing Chicken over and over. Quick note: If you’re not familiar with Chicken—not a chicken, the game Chicken—it is simple. Two parties approach each other and the first one to move away loses. Simple. The worst was when I was headed downhill. Gravity is a law. Not a suggestion. It works. It works well. It works very well. I had a regular-sized, adult human being in a wheelchair, moving downhill, with gravity encouraging me to go faster. I would be doing my best to keep the wheelchair from rolling away from me at 25 mph into small children and adults. The oncoming party would be like, “We are more capable of moving out of your way, but, it would slow us down and be an inconvenience for us, so, we’re not going to move.” So, then I’m forced to try to find an opening to veer off to so as to avoid breaking the leg of a small child (because the children are always out in front of the parents being herded). Then I would get the dirty looks for almost hitting them.

It also stressed my wife out because she thought I was going to hit somebody. Which, I would have if I wasn’t paying attention.

The number of times people would just jump out in front of us—from the crowd—and then look down (after I had to jerk the wheelchair to a stop) at us and say, “Oh, sorry.” Sorry?! Really? How about, just look ahead. Pay attention. Notice what’s around you. Stop looking at your phones all the time!!!

There are people out there that can only do so much. I lost track of the times we were at a standstill, not because of our choice, but because people just walked around us and it was either be nice and sit—instead of moving to like, oh, I don’t know, let’s say, the bathroom!—or I could move forward and hit someone and then say, “Sorry.” and not really mean it because I wouldn’t have been sorry because they cut in front of us and we just needed to move forward.

All that said, there were plenty of people that held doors for us, helped clear a walkway, asked if they could help, let us move ahead, and more. There were plenty of those kinds of people. Enough to outweigh all the negative. I only focused on the negative—for this post—to try and draw attention to a group of people that may need more of it. I guess I am asking you, readers, to try and be more observant of those around you who may need help. They might be older, disabled, have their hands full, or whatever. Just try to be more helpful to them. And, watch your language.

When I say ‘watch your language’ I mean, try to be considerate of what you say. While at work—at the middle school—I saw a twelve-year-old walking toward me. In her right hand, she had her violin (in case). In her left arm, she had books and papers in a stack that was about to spill all over the floor. Her backpack was precariously perched upon one shoulder, about to slide off. I asked her, “Do you need another hand?” She looked me right in the eye and said, “No.” Just as she said that a paper that was covering her left hand flipped up and revealed, to me, that she had no left hand. This girl only had one hand. I may have accidentally insulted her and/or hurt her feelings. But, how could I have known? And, that’s my point.

So, again, put your phone down and try to be more observant to those around you and see if they might be in need. Open a door, let them go first, help them out—if they want it. And, maybe, try to think about what you’re going to say before you say it.

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