“At the supermarket, I begin unloading my cart. The cashier quickly checks the items of the person ahead of me. Trying to keep up, the conveyor belt moves along revealing gaps in my performance. My speed is apparently not up to par as the woman behind me not so subtly makes me aware. As I turn to the cart my eyes catch hers which flash down to the remaining items, then to the belt, instructing me. I avert my gaze and concentrate on the task. As I rise, groceries in hand, she leans toward me, a gesture of assistance. Nothing is said, and I would take her body language as kindness, but I am all too familiar with the true motivation.
“My groceries begin to pile at the end of the belt. I am not meeting the standard and my judge is much less subtle in her critique. I begin bagging items, but as things overlap it becomes more difficult. I hear her clear her throat and shuffle her feet. She notices my difficulty in opening a bag, rolls her eyes, grabs a magazine, glances and shoves it back in the rack. The cashier finishes and assists with the bagging, frustrating me as items are bagged haphazardly, but to my judge a relief as she exhales a heavy sigh. It isn’t until I have difficulty removing my card that her impatience, and lack of humanity, are truly revealed. As I struggle, the cashier offers assistance, which I decline. Like a racehorse at the gate, the woman next in line shuffles, and sighs heavily, eyes rolling inside her head that can’t decide in which direction to look, all the while snorting mumbled WTFs .
“As I am still packing the trunk, she whisks past, quickly and efficiently loads her groceries and drives off. I think, “I wish I were that quick, but no, not at that cost.” Then I wish I had said what always comes to mind, “I have Parkinson’s. What’s your struggle?” But, I remembered, as she exited, she paused, looking directly at me. The handicap spaces are directly in front of the exits. Perhaps her speed was prompted by a mitigating factor?
“I don’t expect a stranger to stop and ask, to take the time, to want to know. What I HOPE is that a stranger would take note and have compassion, patience and not see me as lesser.
“And yet, for me, hope it is not a word that I hold much stock in; it’s a difficult concept. I try not to think about the future. I try to live in the moment, that’s what helps me get through the day-to-day. I used to think about the future all the time, unlike my husband who still does (he fantasises about me being cured), but all I could see was pain and suffering. It caused more damage in the day-to-day, so much so that it made it difficult, impossible at times, to live. I plan for the future, in my head mostly, because it’s hard to know what will be.
“What I do know is that I’m a survivor. Two years ago I jumped off a thirty-foot cliff (into water, of course); last year I swam through caves; this spring I’m doing a 40-mile bike tour of all five boroughs of NYC. I jump in rain puddles, climb snow pile hills, laugh until it hurts. I guess if there’s anything I would hope for it’s that I never lose my spirit – the drive or desire to live, really live life, every day.”
Photo credit: Robert Olsson
Editing credit: Robert Olsson