I cannot imagine that I am the only person uncomfortable around handicapped people, but I’ve don’t recall ever reading someone else’s reasoning, so here goes my own.
Handicapped people make me uncomfortable. It’s not so much that their handicap itself makes me uncomfortable, but I am unpleasantly perplexed as to my own uncertain social obligations in regard to their handicaps.
I am a very private person. Intruding upon another’s personal space seems to me one of the more egregious wrongs to do a person. Yet with the handicapped, that personal space is undefined and not easily intuited. I also resent the handicapped because I feel an obligation to help them. I’m the type that holds the door open for people and gives up my seat on the subway. With the handicapped, the necessity of assistance is greater, and generally more involved. I hate that I don’t want to help them more than momentarily. I realize that my point of view is condescending. I feel further guilt for the condescension. I remember many years ago, at college, helping a developmentally disabled person, stuck in a wheelchair, get to a men’s room. I was cheery and happy to lend the assistance, but when he asked for help to get on the toilet and do his business, I also cheerfully fled with banal excuses. I felt terrible to have fled, but more relieved not to be wiping his ass.
I watch two young children, and yet with them the pressure is less because the expectation of autonomy isn’t there. But since one expects a grown person to be self-sufficient, one resents it when they are not. Should one come to the handicapped’s assistance, one resents being the only person stuck with the chore.
Let me give a small illustration. The other day, I was in a diner and an old man was using a walker to get to his table. His progress was very slow, a snail’s pace of a few feet a minute. I had seen him come in earlier, and assumed he was with company. Yet here he was, unaccompanied, moving at a glacial pace to his table, and, incidentally, blocking my passage. Yet I did not come to his assistance. First, I wondered where the rest of his party was. Secondly, I did not want the trouble of guiding him all the way to his seat, and then there was the possibility that he didn’t want any help. So I patiently waited for him to proceed and then I moved past him and back to my party. My behaviour was no worse or better than the dozens of other people in the dining room, yet I resent my own and others’ inaction and the lack of charity it revealed. It’s a terrible example of my point, perhaps because my point is itself a terrible one. The terror is not in it’s overt malignancy, but rather in the repulsion that remains hidden and secret.
The physically handicapped are not the only ones handicapped. There are the mentally handicapped. To this I do not only mean the psychotic and the neurotic, but all of us whose thinking doesn’t work quite right, who could use a little help to function normally: the shy, the stupid, the tactless. Then there are the socially handicapped: the lonely. There are the financially handicapped, which is anyone poorer than you are. Of course, you are financially handicapped in the eyes of those richer than you. Do the rich despise the poor as I despised that old man? And to the blind resent the sighted as the poor resent the rich? The world is filled with broken people desperately in need of help, yet to help them all sufficiently is impossible.
So what’s to be done? I have no solution, just as a blind woman can’t see. Don’t hate me for my foolishness, or resent me for my honesty, or scold me for turning over rocks best left unturned.
My purpose in writing is not just catharsis, but a hope for more openness. How much does one discuss a handicap with a handicapped person? On the one hand, one does not wish to be boorish. On the other hand, shouldn’t one discuss obvious and important things, at least in passing to acknowledge their existence? One fears starting a conversation that, while new to you, is tiresomely old to the handicapped. But am I really not supposed to ask my child’s pediatrician, Dr. Quinn, if she’s also a medicine woman? She had hear the joke before.
Should I resent the more erudite for their ability to convey their thoughts better than myself? I know for sure that I resent unsolicited criticism of my writing. Praise me or shut up. Hey, I’ve already forgotten about the handicapped, those needy assholes.