My day with Dempsey, Jerry and Mark started at 9 a.m. with a trip to the Museum of Science and History in downtown Owensboro. After conquering the downtown parking situation, we headed to the Museum, which involved crossing a street at the light.
Ashley and Kalinn pushed Mark and Dempsey ahead in their wheelchairs. I stay behind with Jerry as he slowly moves himself along the sidewalk in his electric wheelchair. The crosswalk light changed to “Walk”, so the others begin to cross. Jerry and I arrived at the corner of Daviess and Second Streets just as the light changed, so we’d wait for the next “Walk” signal. Despite Jerry’s independence, I fought the urge to help him along. Doing so would disable him in his ability of mobility, and I realized I discounted his ability by thinking he can’t get across the street on his own. I remembered Shellie and her “I can do it” attitude, hoping for a paradigm shift in my thinking. Let him do this, Carolyn, I heard in my head.
When the crosswalk light signaled the all clear, I said, “Let’s go, Jerry,” but noticed he was struggling to access the joystick on his wheelchair. Some individuals with developmental disabilities experience uncontrollable, involuntary and inconsistent movements in their body, a condition called athetosis. Jerry experiences these involuntary movements, and in this moment was challenged to access the joystick on his wheelchair with his hand. I suddenly felt a sense of urgency as the pressure of the crosswalk light blinked at us: “WALK WALK! WALK!” Annoyed with its nagging, I thought, Damn it! We’re working on it! My mind started racing: We’re holding up people who want to turn right or left onto the street. We’re not going to make this crosswalk light again. I want to help but I need to let him do it! AUGH!
I took a deep breath, and suddenly, Jerry was moving ahead of me into the crosswalk! Following alongside at what felt to be a painfully slow pace, my thoughts started yammering again. We’re going too slow! We’re not going to make it! Crap, the crosswalk warning is flashing! At this point, we’re in the middle of the street and cars are still waiting on us to turn. Then I thought, What are they going to do, run over us? I took another deep breath and decided if anyone wanted to run over Jerry, they’ll have to go through me first! We reach the opposite corner, and I admit I felt a huge sense of relief.
This one simple activity taught me to relax and stop worrying about what everyone else was thinking or whether we’re inconveniencing anyone as we slowly made our way across the street. I wondered if Jerry or anyone else in his wheelchair worries about people hitting them. Do they feel vulnerable? Or that they’re inconveniencing others as they move through a crosswalk? Did Jerry feel me being a mother hen? Did he sense my self-consciousness? I decided I’d ask these questions when I spend one-on-one time interviewing him and some of our WFC Peeps.
Upon arriving to the front doors of the museum, Ashley and Kalinn inform us the Museum was closed for maintenance on Mondays. You’re kidding me! I thought. All that effort to find a parking spot, to cross the street, and we have to turn around and go back?!? As Ashley and Kalinn sorted out Plan B, a little voice mocked me. Yeah, Carolyn, you’re really inconvenienced here. I’m not the one who faced the obstacles and put forth the effort to overcome them, get around them to come to the museum. I decided not to complain, but I did feel bad for the guys. They were excited about their museum visit and their disappointment was evident. How I felt in this situation really didn’t matter.
I realized how invaluable Dempsey, Mark, and especially Jerry are as teachers on the importance of going with the flow, a lesson this recovering "Type A - Perfectionist" gal has spent several years learning to practice in her life. I’m realizing time spent with those I serve at Wendell Foster’s Campus is a huge classroom for learning. My stroll with Jerry across Second Street would be the first lesson for the day, taking my understanding of “going with the flow” to a whole new level. Dempsey would soon remind me of another annoying lesson and simple fact of life: change happens.
In the Next Blog Entry: Change Happens - “We stood in front of the doors, like deer in headlights, a bit thrown off by the agenda change. After a few minutes, we decided we needed to head back to the van. . . .”
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