Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Dinosaur Etiquette

One of my personal fantasies of heaven is a room full of books, and me with unlimited time to read all of them. I always have a smile on my face when I go to the library. All those words that I haven’t yet read, by authors I haven’t yet gotten acquainted with ....................

I was sitting in the line to check out the stack of books that were resting in my lap when a young mother and her tow headed son came up behind me. I automatically re-adjusted my wheelchair so that they would have more room. I was in my own wonderful universe thinking about all the good reading that I was going to take home with me when I felt a tug on my sleeve. I looked up and into the eyes of the little boy.

His face was all wrinkled as if he was in deep thought. He was so cute. I was immediately captivated. He pulled on my sleeve a second time and said, in a very inquisitive voice, “Why are sitting in that funny thing?”

I laughed, but he didn’t think his question was funny. He didn’t join me in the laughter. He was after a serious answer to a very serious question. So I leaned down to his level and said, “This thing is called a wheelchair and I have to sit in it because I had polio, but it will never happen to you. Do you know why? Because the doctor gives you medicine -------

All of a sudden his mother, in a very sharp voice, said, “Timmy, come over here right now!”

Her face was bright red and it was obvious that Timmy had embarrassed her. She probably would have liked to ask the question herself but proper etiquette required that she ignore the fact that I was ’different’. Her son had not yet acquired ’proper etiquette’. He was just a guileless little boy, filled with natural curiosity, that hadn’t yet learned that good manners say you don’t ask ‘why?”.

I tried to explain to his mother that I wasn’t offended, but she was too embarrassed to hear me. She took her son’s hand and walked away. But as she was pulling on his arm he turned around to get one last look at the ’funny thing’ and he lifted his arm and waved to me.

It was a minor exchange, but it left me feeling alone and isolated. I wish she would have let him talk to me. He and I both would probably have learned something new that day.

My generation was the last generation to deal with polio out breaks. Most people, including many doctors, don?t know anything about polio, and when I tell them the reason for the legs that don?t work well any more I receive a blank look. I think that is wonderful. The Salk vaccine did that!

But there is a slew of us that suffered the effects of a bout with polio, and now are finding that it can come back to haunt a body already damaged. Sometimes I feel like a dinosaur. And as I told someone the other day, ?A dinosaur can be lonely too.?

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