Square Pegs and Observations

A couple weeks ago I was proved wrong, and though now that I think about it - it shouldn't be a complete surprise that I was wrong. Nevertheless the moment struck me in a jarring way, so much so that seconds after it happened I thought: this is totally blog content material! So here we are:

Earlier that evening a torrential downpour had taken many by surprise, especially this population of young students - many of whom probably checked on weather.com and seen that 10% chance of Precipitation. No one was expecting there to be rain, much less thunderstorms that my friend had compared to "monsoon season in India.." as he strolled unflinchingly beneath pelting raindrops. I held my umbrella, no - I gripped it in my right hand, tightening my fist every time lightning flashed as I tried to prepare myself for the thunder to follow.
From (too many) previous experiences, I have learned to always keep an umbrella hanging from the back handlebars on my wheelchair. "You're practical.." he had noted. I shrugged and nodded, I probably went into some rambling description of how getting wet doesn't bother me, it's the sitting in a wet chair that bothers me. It's the feeling of your underwear clinging in all the wrong ways to your skin. And the way the raindrops slip into the collar of your shirt as it treks down the back of your seat, and then it all stays there like a slow waterfall, building and pooling around you. This is most noticeable when you go to rest your arms on the arm rest and find it wading in a puddle of fallen sky. By then we'd reached the subway station, got on and went our separate ways - and I thought to myself: one can never complain about too many new friends, especially observant people. There are not enough observant people in my life, I decided.
When I got to my stop I waited outside the bookstore for the van to pick me up. I watched how the new students seemed particularly keen on watching where they were going. Old students were content to lose themselves inside earbuds, or glared angrily at the new students who were walking too slowly towards their Friday night plans. New students clung to one another in packs, their eyes reflected the shine of their new environment. Returning students saw their future, they were already looking forward to May or thinking back to sun-soaked summers.

"Hey, do you need any help?" An older gentleman asked me.
"No I'm all set, thanks. I'm just waiting for someone" I responded. I saw wisps of silver hair poking from underneath a baseball cap emblazoned with a white H against a deep crimson background. He was wearing a dress shirt and khakis, just about to cross the street when he turned to me.
"Well, keep up the good work. I give props to you, keep doing what you do!" That was when I saw the CVS bag hanging on a silver hook, where I had expected his hand to be. His other hand hung by his side.

Wait what? I thought to myself. What good work am I doing? Shouldn't you, a fellow person with a disability know better than to say that? Why are you giving me 'props' for doing something as simple as sitting and waiting? I was shocked. Silenced. I could only stare back at him, one eyebrow arched questioningly,
"Uhh.. okay." And then the neon signs had switched, and the gentleman had 35 seconds to cross the street.

As I sat there waiting I came to realize why I was so bothered by this brief exchange. Yes it was the condescending words, it was the wildly wrong assumptions he was making, it was the wildly wrong assumptions I was making.. but most of all I felt slightly insulted because this gentleman had behaved contrary to how I had categorized him to behave. He had treated me as if he were not disabled. As if he did not know how irritating getting praise for sitting and waiting, for simply living my everyday life would be.
But just as I think he was in the wrong to have said what he said, maybe I am also in the wrong to have assumed he would fit inside that square peg that I assume he belonged in.   

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