Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Observing life from a different angle

      You’re not dragging me into a discussion about the number of flats, stilettos or platform shoes necessary in one’s closet for good living.
     Instead, I want to point your sneakers in another direction. Set your pedometer, and keep pace with me — or, I may be the one tagging along.
    Walking in someone else’s shoes humbles you to the core. I took that journey not long ago assisting someone who relies on a wheelchair.
    For three years I have avoided writing a column about shoes. Otherwise, you could be reading about foot apparel for the next few columns, and that would only be the tip of the iceberg, err…shoe pile as far as I am concerned.
     Any male of the species in his right mind would immediately walk his fingers to the sports section. Frankly, I wouldn’t blame anyone  — male or female — for checking batting averages rather than trending styles.
     On the other hand, all my trusty women readers would finally be able to say to their significant others, “I told you so. The columnist thinks like me.”

     First of all, I never realized how fast I do walk. I take it for granted, and keep moving. I’m the woman who parks two blocks away and uses the trek to the store for more exercise. I’m the one who is outside walking in subzero temperatures to get a breath of fresh air with chains on my Uggs.
     A wheelchair reduces your speed down into the slow lane, makes you appreciate the cracks in the sidewalk and the imperfections in nature. The accomplishment of making your destination is almost secondary to what you sense along the way.
     Perhaps, the goal is to take one step at a time for improved health, and the wheelchair is there to remind you of where you are coming from with fortitude and personal grit.
     Once I had an elementary student that required a wheelchair, and to get the sense of what she was about as a unique person, I used one in the classroom for seven hours to get a similar perspective. Eye-opening. I missed not looking out the window at the activity on the playground. Instead though, I saw the books on the bottom shelf of the library collection much better. I discovered that my teacher’s desk was situated in a poor location. I take for granted my freedom to navigate at will in tight and uneven spaces.
     Airports have become so large that it takes someone in a marathon fitness preparedness stage to maneuver from one end to another to catch a hurried connection. It certainly is not for the faint at heart either, and I don’t mean to those with heart conditions. Bad knees and arthritic backs take their toll, too, reducing peak performance.

    How do people manage even with wheelchairs and motored carts to make tight connections when their stamina is no longer the best in older age? Those moving sidewalks are so long, too.
     More than once recently I am saddened to hear friends saying that they are about to give up on flying because it is a young person’s world, and so stressful mentally, too.
     Big airports — JFK is the worst — require you move from one terminal to another, often using a mode of transportation that is overcrowded adding precious minutes into your schedule. Often I have to hoof it outside weaving in and out of construction.
     Schiphol Amsterdam Airport is designed for the sake of efficiency; it necessitates taking a bus from one end to a middle transfer location when you fly in on a small regional commuter. Then it’s a matter of a lengthy walk to the next gate.
      Another problem that I have faced is that even though building construction requires for handicap accessible entrances and parking, it is not always the case. You would think so. Numerous times transporting my friend have I come to unwelcoming entrances for someone in a wheelchair, and also, a lack of close curbside parking. I do the quick drop-off, and then return to park my car out in the hinterland.
    Soon the weather will become a big factor. The thought of blowing winds and raw temperatures adds to the difficulty for any handicapped person.
     People that require wheelchairs prepare ahead for their outings, and they are aware of the places that are convenient and which ones are too difficult. They are in tune to all that information while I take it for granted when I want to go someplace unfamiliar.
     I am much more appreciative of the adult or child who stops in his own haste to help with a door, or gets out of the way momentarily so the wheelchair can get through the hallway. A random act of kindness goes a long way.
     Now I have started looking at every single place that I go, and consider how I would manage in a wheelchair.  Even my own front door has three steps down from the driveway, and not inviting.
     Our public libraries do a terrific service assisting patrons that can’t get out too frequently. Online card catalogs are handy for selecting books, and home deliveries are a lifesaver, too. Libraries are right up to code in their accessibility allowing for participation in scheduled activities.
     As I am finishing up writing, I look down at my feet. I ‘m wearing comfy scuffed slippers with broken down backs. It really doesn’t matter. The wheelchair incident is a case in point.