I will tell you what I do. First you should know that when I was in Highschool my friends from when I was younger had no interest in a friendship with me. In fact they had no interest in me at all. I use to come home crying and lock myself in my room wondering what I did to them. I told my Mom over and over again that it was like I was invisible. That was probably the worse feeling in my life ever. I will never forget those 4 horrible years of feeling like that. So now when I see someone that is in a wheelchair or very disabled or just having a tough time and challenged I make it a point to see them and say hello to them and start a conversation. I find it so upsetting when I see people act like they don’t see them and look the other way. Like they are not there. Invisible.
My mother always tells this story as one of the greatest lessons she learned from me. Here it is – When I was younger, around 12, I was planning a trip to an adaptive ski camp in VT and I spoke to the girl on the phone about me coming there in a couple of months. She and I made friends quickly and we became pen pals. Months later we went to the mountain in Vermont and when I was checking in I couldn’t see her, but I heard her in another room. I hollered out for her and she was so excited to know I was there. She said I am coming right out Collette! When she came out she was in a wheelchair with no legs and no arms and she was only like 25 years old. I was so shocked I shouted out OH MY GOD WHAT HAPPEN TO YOU? My Mom says she wanted drop to the floor and crawl out of the room. But we began to talk and she told me she was an expert adaptive skier who skied all over the world, had so many gold medals. I asked her HOW THE HECK DO YOU SKI YOU HAVE NO ARMS OR LEGS? Again my Mom wanted to hide. She told me what happen to her when she was a baby and asked me if I wanted to see her photo album of all the things she’s done and all the awards she has received. I said OK, BUT I DON’T REALLY GET IT. YOU HAVE NO ARMS AND NO LEGS. We went into her office and her pictures were unbelievable. She skied in snow, on water, jumped out of planes, and I don’t even remember everything. It was amazing. She was proud, I was prouder. I hugged her and told her how proud I was of her and how she is such an inspiration and HERO to me.
You could see she was so excited to share her story and her journey with me. I realized she was excited because I asked her about herself and probably not many people do. In fact hardly anyone at all. Like she is invisible. Meanwhile this is the kind of person that can make us all better people. She is a real hero. She has an amazing story and deserves so much credit and attention for it. And no one asks.
We all need to be seen and acknowledged. We need to realize that for others even if it feels uncomfortable. My Mom now talks to every person she sees that’s in a wheelchair and struggling. I would not always recommend asking them what happen to them, like I did, but I do and it has been a beautiful experience. Next time you see someone acknowledge them and say hello and start a conversation. Everyone has a story to tell that can teach us a lesson.
Bravo Collette- keep teaching!