If you’re anything like me (and 90% of the country) it’s been difficult to be on social media these past couple weeks. An enjoyable scroll through Facebook is now filled with political propaganda and that distant aunt no one has heard from in twenty years is now the new Aristotle.
I’ve always been a fan of politics on social media. Though it gets out of hand at times, people are protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution to speak freely about politics and the actions of the federal government. The freedom of speech is at the center of democracy and the ability to converse with other citizens creates an informed majority that can then vote accordingly to their views. So if Aunt Aristotle still wants to talk about Hillary’s e-mails, let her knock herself out!
For my fellow Americans who need a brief history lesson, the Bill of Rights are the first ten amendments of the Constitution. They were added by the Anti-federalists at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 to protect the rights of an individual against the power of a centralized government. All the other amendments outline the rights the government has over the people. So cling tightly to those first ten, people! We’re gonna need them!
Odds are you’ve been thinking about yourself. You’ve been thinking about your family, your friends, and those inalienable rights. In time of stress and division, it’s only natural to cling to what’s yours and what’s familiar.
Well today, I encourage you to remove your head from your rear end and see things from a different angle.
About two months ago I was standing in an elevator at the Shands Medical Plaza in Gainesville. I was alone in the elevator trying to remember which floor my doctor’s appointment was on. I’d been seeing a lot of specialists lately and things were blurring together. Taking a wild guess that maybe it was the third floor, I pressed the button and the elevator lifted. To my dismay, I got the floor wrong and the elevator doors closed behind me before I could step back in. I called the elevator again and waited, my arms crossed over my chest.
As I waited for the elevator, a man in a wheelchair caught my eye. He was maybe in his late thirties with long hair and blue eyes. He also had one leg.
I turned my attention back to the elevator when I felt the man pull his wheelchair up close to me. I felt his eyes on me so I looked down at him and lent him a half-hearted smile. We barely made eye contact. I didn’t want to gawk at his one leg. I didn’t want to make him feel any different from me. I tried to treat him like he was any other person standing next to me waiting for an elevator. But, by human nature, you start to feel uneasy when faced with something that is simply different from you. You wish you didn’t feel this way but sometimes it’s just a reflex. I knew that he knew that I was uncomfortable.
I was relieved when the elevator door opened but the feeling quickly fleeted as the man rolled in after me. I was against the back of the elevator and his wheelchair faced me. As soon as the door closed, he spoke.
“You know, if you end up in an elevator with me, you have to either sing a song or say the alphabet backwards.”
A gave him a look. Good one.
“I’m serious,” he said. “Take your pick.”
“I guess I’m singing because I can’t say the alphabet backwards,” I said to him. I laughed. He was easing my nerves but I really didn’t want to sing for this man. I tried to think of a song just in case he pressured me. ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ was the first song that came to my mind and there was no way I was singing that to a one-legged man in an elevator at 9AM on a Friday morning.
“You don’t know how to say the alphabet backwards? What if you get stopped at a DUI checkpoint?”
“Guess I’m going to jail,” I joked with him. He had a point, maybe I should learn the alphabet backwards.
Right when I thought I was in the clear, the one-legged man looked me dead in the eye and sang the alphabet backwards to me. There was nothing I could do but look at him. While he sang, I wondered what I had done to be in this position. If only I had gotten the elevator floor right the first time.
When he finished, I gave him a round of applause. “That’s pretty impressive,” I complimented.
“Well, when I was a kid, I spent a lot of time in the hospital,” he began. “On top of my bed behind me, there were paper cutouts of the alphabet but in front of me was a mirror. So I had nothing to do all day but stare in the mirror and eventually I learned the alphabet backwards. That was the best use of my time while I waited for the doctors.”
I felt like such an ass.
The elevator doors opened and that was that. I bid him a good day and was on my way.
This story crosses my mind quite frequently. Not only was it completely odd, but it just made me see things in a different light. There I was, an able-bodied woman in an elevator, just slightly peeved from a hectic morning. I couldn’t be bothered with a one-legged man, but he bothered with me.I’m sure he’s been in that situation before. Many people won’t look at him or feel uncomfortable starring at his lack of a leg. Instead of subsiding to the fact that some may consider him an outsider, he makes himself the center of attention while easing those around him. He made an uncomfortable situation feel normal.
When you open your eyes, you may just see the beauty in the disaster. You may see the world at a new angle.
You may just learn the alphabet backwards.