Dan and I celebrated our 12th anniversary, both of our birthdays and Christmas this past weekend. Our plan was to travel 90 minutes to Grand Rapids to see the musical Wicked in the afternoon and an O.A.R. concert in the evening.
The music for both events had been on a continuous loop in our heads and in our van throughout the months leading up to Saturday’s performances. We justified all the expenses from the day as being a trifecta sort of celebration for our big days.
It truly was money well spent and many good memories were made.
But something still is on my mind from the weekend that has nothing to do with songs from Wicked or O.A.R. I fear I may have knowingly ignored a teachable moment about how to interact with a person in a wheelchair.
Here’s what happened:
When Dan and I entered the theater, an usher showed us to our seats. As she motioned to where I could park and sit in my wheelchair, she told me that, “My caretaker could sit in the chair next to me.”
Her word choice was the first sign that she potentially could benefit from sensitivity lessons.
Caretaker? Do I look like a funeral plot? Never mind the fact that a disabled woman living with Multiple Sclerosis could have a handsome husband by her side. But I forgave her choice of words. Caretaker, caregiver. After all, it’s just a word, right?
But wait. There’s more.
We did not have lunch before the play, so we were going to satisfy our hunger with a Snickers candy bar we bought at the theater’s concession stand. However, I wondered whether it was OK for us to eat food in the theater before the performance began.
Dan was being courteous and asked our usher that very question. Her response stunned us both. While motioning to me, she asked Dan, “Does she need to eat for nutritional purposes? Because if she does, we can bend the rules for her.”
He replied, “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask her?”
I realize she was trying to be kind, but she did not understand how insulting she was being. Rather than direct her question to me, she assumed that because of my wheelchair I wasn’t able to think or speak for myself.
Instead of letting her question upset me, I informed her in my most patient, college-educated voice that it also was Dan who was hungry. Again, I didn’t want to be rude because we have season tickets for the venue, and I didn’t want to start off on the wrong foot.
However, a moment presented itself for me to educate someone on the etiquette on how to best interact with a person who uses a wheelchair.
And do you blame me? After all, I was there to have fun, spend time with my husband and not let my disability steal the spotlight.
Looking back on it now, I wonder if our usher was the kind of person who learned by doing. She started talking to me. Asking me questions. She wanted to know if I enjoyed Wicked (of course!) and whether we’d be back for another musical this season.
And those exchanges were enough for me. Besides, we had an O.A.R. concert to get to in a couple of hours. What an epic weekend!
Happy anniversary, birthday and Christmas, indeed.