I thought I'd cured myself of my chronic "foot-in-mouth-itis" -- that is, saying things to people based on assumption, being totally wrong, then feeling like a jerk. But alas, it lingers. I get in my van outside the medical supply store. Even though I have a blue tag, I parked in the space next to the disabled space. There's now a guy sitting in his car parked in the disabled space with no tag showing. Since being a caregiver to my quadriplegic sister and now being disabled myself, I have become something of a vigilante about this issue.
I open my passenger side window and politely say: "I'm leaving -- you can have this space if you want."
"What do you mean?" he asks.
"If you don't have a tag you can use this space," I say.
"I do have a tag, it's just not up. I'm in a chair," he says.
Ouch, I think, I've done it again.
"So sorry..." I explain what I just said about being vigilant for abusers. He agrees. "I'm Robert," I say.
"My name's Teddy."
"If I may ask, what's going on with you?"
"Oh I'm just picking up some supplies."
"I mean, how did you come to be in a chair?"
"I got shot in the neck, twice."
"Wow, from here you don't have the air of being disabled at all. You have very strong spirit and energy!"
"That's what they tell me," he says.
We cover a lot of ground about spirit, achievement with disability, and non-disabled people not understanding what it's like. "You can't know until you've been there." says Teddy.
Maria, a transplanted New Yorker who works at the store, comes out and greets Teddy with a hug She sees we've been talking and tells Teddy about my current exhibit at nearby Aventura Hospital. She offers him a chocolate covered potato chip from a box then comes over to my window and offers me one. It's delicious.
"Want another?" she asks.
"Give me your card," she says, and I do. She brings it over to Teddy.
When she goes back inside, I ask Teddy if we can make a photo, and tell him about what I do. "If you email me, I'll send you the picture." I thank him, apologize once again for my gaffe, and tell him this quote from Heraclitus: "You won't discover the limits of the soul, however far you go." He repeats it to himself.
We bid each other farewell and I exit the parking lot, waiting to enter traffic on Biscayne Boulevard. I hear a soft car horn and in my rearview mirror see Teddy drive by behind me onto a side road, giving me a thumbs up.
For more by Robert G. Zuckerman, click here.
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