Are you a big kid like me who likes to break bubbles in bubble wrap in packages? Even if you’re not as easily amused as I am, would you help break bubbles of a different kind—the ones that surround those of us with disabilities?
Recently, I went to the funeral of an amazing woman at my church in Eau Claire. My Yellow Lab guide dog and I got there and got in line to sign the condolence book. The isolation bubble began forming for me when the person standing by the book asked in a surprised tone if I was sure I wanted to sign the book. Maybe they were holding out a pen toward me which I didn’t see? Or maybe the fact that I was digging around in my purse looking for my signature stamp threw them off. I suppressed my tendency to say something snarky and just said, “Yes, I do.”
Then the usher seated us in an empty pew and the bubble settled around me. Nobody sat in the row with us. Time passed; the church filled, and still we sat in the pew by ourselves.
If this was a cartoon, the thoughts bubble over my head would contain thoughts like “Please, somebody break the bubble of isolation and sit near me. Jesus would I’m sure” or “I took a shower this morning and the dog hasn’t rolled in anything. Please sit here!”
What were people who knew me but sat elsewhere thinking? “There’s Kathie and her guide dog. I could sit by them, but I don’t usually, so would I have to help them or what? I’ll just sit somewhere else.”
One of the tough parts about being blind is that I can’t spot a friend to sit by unless they’re talking loudly when I walk in. At parties, I usually roost somewhere and wait to see who comes up to greet me. My guide dog can nose people in greeting who smell interesting, but that isn’t always a good thing depending on where she noses. She often helps in bubble-breaking because she’s a kid magnet and then parents come forward to drag the kids away. Friends with other disabilities tell me it’s not just blind folks who live in the bubble of isolation.
After the funeral, several people said “hi” and we chatted briefly as we exited the church. Sweet relief!
Sometimes the isolation bubble is broken in amazing ways. A fall trip to the local farmers’ market to pick out gourds as little gifts for friends is a good example. After having great fun pawing through all the gourds with all their interesting twists and turns, I went to pay the Hmong farmer for my choice gourds. He said, “No pay.” He was giving them to me. I said, “No. I’ll pay.” He said no again and tapped his heart and said, “Gift from the heart.” I have a hard time accepting charity, but this was different. Clearly he knew the truth of Anne Frank’s quote, “No one has ever become poor by giving.” I relished giving the gourds out and telling each recipient the story of this man who had reached through my bubble of isolation.
I have to work on the bubble over my head to not dwell on “Why don’t they talk to me?” thoughts. Please help me and other people with disabilities next time you see us out and about by breaking through the bubble with a “Hi, may I sit here?” Then we can pop the bubble of isolation together.
Katherine Schneider is a retired clinical psychologist and author living in Eau Claire. Her most recent book is Occupying Aging: Delights, Disabilities and Daily Life. She blogs at kathiecomments.wordpress.com