I found myself here. I felt the frustration. I didn’t chose to come, but there I was. That is likely how many in a wheelchair would describe it. In an usual way, I was there.
Since my sweetheart has been in a chair, I’ve tried to imagine how it feels. I watch her struggles. I rejoice in her triumphs that I know were hard won. I pry till I learn the nerve pain is really bad. Still, I do not know how it feels. I’ve never been naive enough to think so.
I suppose I know what a spouse could know. I know what someone not living so closely to someone in a chair could never know. I can walk in a room and in a 5-second glance tell if my Alicia is having a bad day. But I don’t know how it feels.
I stumbled into the closest discovery I’ve had so far. It came here in London, England during one of the greatest trips of my life. When I get to go somewhere I am the type who will study what interests me and figure out how to see it. Sometimes it’s a hot tourist spot, often it’s more out of the way. Many told me the best sites to see, particularly for one interested in Christian History. So, as always, I had my list and nothing would stop me. Drive, public transport, whatever it takes.
So off we went. In London it’s not a good idea to drive because of lack of parking and congestion, so the Tube, or London’s subway system, was the best option. Did we see most things? Yes, but with what difficulty!
Then we found out. Not even a third of the stations are accessible. You can get to most places but at twice the effort. Olympic Park could be done from where we stayed in a little over an hour usually, but it took us two. The real kicker was that a Tube station is next door to our hotel, but we had to go farther and catch a city bus back to the hotel. Our hearts would sink as we passed the Hatton Cross station knowing that we’d be back upstairs at the same station unloading from the bus in 20 or 30 minutes depending on the bus schedule!
It’s not fair! It’s not right! But it is what it is and there is nothing we could do about it. We saw parts of London that no visitor ever sees to get to what many do see. Alicia was interviewed by a few TV stations and newspapers about what she thought about accessibility in London. All I can say is that city officials better be glad they asked her instead of me! As much as I loved the city, I did not like their ridiculous lack of accessibility.
Finally, I saw the truth. It was a parable of my best friend’s life, a microcosm of my wife’s daily existence. Every day is a day with double the effort to do what others do. Does she go ahead and live life? Yes, like we went ahead and saw the sites, but it was (and is) harder. For the first time ever, I had the same limitations she did. Since we wouldn’t separate, I was stuck as well. Yes, this happens in small ways in the Reagan family often, but never of this magnitude. It so dramatically affected our time getting anywhere.
Today, she had to recover from overdoing it the last few days and stayed in the hotel while I worked and then saw a few sites on my own that were important to me (Charles Spurgeon sites). So off I went running out of that disabled world back to my able-bodied existence. I made my way through multiple sets of stairs in old Tube stations and covered territory we could never have covered as easily had she been with me. My entire route was inaccessible!
It hit me how I was more frustrated about the inaccessibility than she was. (We are both overjoyed at the trip overall). When I asked her about it she said she has had over 3 years to get used to it. My emotion, on its small scale, is one she has faced in multiple crashing waves over and over. This is true for all in a chair or facing other disabilities.
So I tip my hat to all in a chair who are living life for all its worth. I still don’t know how it feels, but I respect its challenges even more. I thank the Lord my Alicia never lets the frustrations conquer her, or ultimately, us. I’m glad I had my little trip into the disability world to see just a little clearer.