As a less healthy man I now realize that some of my friends are fighting the very same battles. The good news is that I know it and I have the solution to their problem, CALL, TEXT or MESSAGE ME! Do not be afraid. People are pleasantly surprised when they see me. Actually, relieved is a better description of the look on their faces. I may not be able to walk much and my body is frail but I am the same man. Always quick with a witty (sometimes inappropriate) retort. Happy to see an old friend. Happier to welcome the ones back who seemed to have run in the opposite direction when they found out that I had a terminal disease. Some have told me that they were expecting me to look far worse than I actually do. 'Umm, thanks I guess!' I know that they mean it in a good way. They probably were expecting me to look like Stephen Hawking!
What I am trying to say is don't be afraid to check in. That doesn't just go for me but for others who have a terminal illness, the elderly and others who were once active, vital members of society and have been marginalized by age or poor health. We are still just as vital but in a different capacity. Everyone reading this should look in the mirror and ask yourself if you have been guilty of this seemingly benign form of neglect. I am sad to say that on more than one occasion I have been. Before I was in a wheelchair I would steer clear of people in them. I just didn't know what to do or say. So I would ignore them or look for an excuse to leave them, feeling simultaneous relief and shame. What I should have done is slaughtered the giant elephant in the room and asked why they were in a wheelchair in the first place. Sure one in a thousand might have been bothered but that would be their problem. More than likely they would have been happy to share their story since most everyone likes to talk about themselves (heck, that's why I write this blog). Instead, I missed out on engaging in a possibly very interesting interaction with another human being. I now, being the new wheelchair on the block, will volunteer my story to break the ice. For example, on July fourth my son and a friend wanted to go downhill skateboarding with some more advanced riders. I didn't know these riders very well and wanted to speak with them. So I rolled down to the place where they were to be picked up. My sons friends father was also waiting there. The boys not wanting to look uncool stayed away from us. So we exchanged the usual pleasantries and the conversation fell into a lull. I could tell he was curious about why I was in the chair but was uncomfortable asking about it. So I volunteered the information which prompted the standard " I am so sorry!" (which is fine just don't pity me). I said thank you and then answered a few questions about the disease and then we went onto tales of daredevildom from our own youth. We spent about an hour talking before we met the boys friends. He ended up inviting us over to watch the fireworks from their home that evening.
Yes, he was a stranger who did not know me when I was healthy. I understand that for a few that it may be difficult to see me this way but those are not my issues. I do understand but I don't condone these actions. That sounds spiteful but in due time I will be gone and will never think about it again. But those who chose to avoid me will have some regret that will never be resolved because they didn't reach out to a friend. I have these regrets and I don't want to be your regret. A quick chat would be a nice start! I'm here for you! Operators are standing by!