I was a young man being forced to use a cane and it was hard. It seemed out of place to me and to others. Canes were for old people with
bad hips or a silly little man with a moustache and black bowler hat in the era of silent movies. He may have been funny but the reality was that people laughed, from comfortable seats in theatres, at the comedic misfit. The difference between Charlie Chaplin and me was that he twirled his cane and I hobbled on mine.
As my disease progressed, I had to resort to two canes. My body contorted with spasticity and it frightened people. The sight of a young man on two canes seemed to remind them that they too were mortals. Children stared from behind clothes racks at shopping malls. Their parents scolded them not stare at "that man" -- then discreetly stared themselves from the end of the aisle.
Later, with metal crutches, the sight of me took on a sideshow quality. People stared out of pity. They were friendly enough but passed by quickly.
During remissions when physical function returned, I was invited into new friendships until the next attack. My social calendar became blank again. Don't get me wrong, new friends were not unkind, just hard to find.
When I started using a mobility scooter, people began taking liberties with jokes about my disability to ease their own discomfort.
"Got a licence to drive that thing?"
"Don't get any speeding tickets."
"Hey look! Here comes speedy Gonzales"
Oh, if I had a dollar for every time I heard those rib-ticklers! The jokes may have eased other peoples' unease with my disability but they made my heart ache. The problem was that it was my legs that did not work right. It was a source of pain and grief to me. Strangers and acquaintances should not have thought they could make jokes at something that was breaking my heart. I did not find jokes amusing about my disability or the tools I was forced to use. I still don't. It was as inappropriate as if they were to joke about somebody's poor vision by saying, "Hey, have you tried to start any fires with those coke-bottle glasses?"
There are people who can take liberties with my disability but they are not strangers on the street or acquaintances in cafes, stores or church foyers. People who could take such liberties are a few loved-ones who have been with me throughout my suffering; if anyone has earned the right to make smart-cracks about my disability, it is them. Yet, they do not. They witnessed the anguish and the tears throughout the years that took me through each loss of function.
Now, in advanced disability, the jokes have diminished along with meaningful human contact. I have learnt to turn isolation into solitude. There is one constant that has remained with me throughout every phase of disease and disability and the smarting of ill-placed jokes and sparks of loneliness: God has been with me.
After the last page of each book closes and the music dies away and the snickers all cease, it is Christ who comforts and consoles me. He will do the same for you if you allow Him when your heart is breaking. So let me end this post with words and music that start Charlie Chaplin's song: Smile, though your heart is aching.
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