progressIt was a practice that was living up to its name because I certainly wasn’t improving. That day on the track I couldn’t make anything work. My body was just not in synch with my chair. The wind was almost blowing me backward and I was having trouble staying in my lane. Much effort was put into getting it all together and on that day it just wasn’t going to happen. After more than an hour of disastrous laps, I vented how I was feeling to one of my coaches. “I can’t do anything right today, and my times are a mess!” I wailed. “At this rate, there is NO WAY I am going to qualify for the national competition this summer! What is the point?” The thought of quitting everything I was doing in sports was so close it scared me spitless.

My coach was quiet for what seemed like a long time. “Lorraine,” he said gently, but in a voice that made me listen. “I know today’s practice has been hard for you and on days like this, it seems like nothing will ever go right again. But if you keep working and giving this all you’ve got, eventually you will get where you want to be. It’s on days like this that it is good to remember the progress. A few months ago, your time in the 400 meter was about twenty seconds slower than your average is right now. Six months ago you didn’t think you would ever get the hang of using your track chair. When you first started racing, pursuing national records in your track events wasn’t even on your radar. You had a less than stellar practice today, but don’t lose sight of where you have come from. Take a few minutes to breathe. Feel free to go home early if you need a break right now. But as you feel the frustration I encourage you to also remember the progress.”

A few days ago, a caregiver and I set out to run some errands. Cash some checks. Make a payment on my Target card. Get a haircut. Grab some lunch. There was nothing to make me think that this day would be anything but typical.

Since there is a branch of my bank in Target, we went there first. I went up to the teller and let her know I had some checks to cash. She told me to put my bank card in the machine on the counter. Doing so is usually a bit out of my reach. The cord attached to the machine isn’t long enough to make it to my lap and the machine itself is bolted to its spot. Therefore I usually have a caregiver swipe my card for me. And that usually means the rest of the interaction is between my caregiver and the teller. It’s understandable since my caregiver does what is necessary to complete the transaction. But a few days ago, the particular teller who was there never stopped asking me questions. When she had money to give me she looked me directly in the eye as she did so. Then she wished me a good day.

When we pulled in the parking lot of the restaurant we had decided on for lunch, a man who must have been the manager asked us if we needed his help getting my wheelchair out of his car. We declined, but I was so impressed he thought to ask. Not many people do that.

When we went to the place I go to get my haircut, a customer that was waiting took the initiative to open the door for us. The woman who usually cuts my hair was not available so one of the other stylists asked me if I wanted to wait for my regular hairdresser or if she could cut my hair. I was grateful she gave me the choice and I opted for her. She made polite conversation with me during the entire process. When it was time for me to pay the bill, she pushed my wheelchair to the counter and she asked me what way I wanted to face and how it would be easiest for me to sign the credit card receipt.

The whole experience made me think. I spend a lot of time writing about situations where I am not treated respectfully. I think it is okay to point that out. But as my caregiver and I were running errands the other day, there were numerous interactions where people could not have been nicer. And they were back to back.

I’ve said often that I long for a world where everyone is always treated equally. Society isn’t there yet.

The next time I get frustrated because somebody treats me “less than,” rather than let the anger marinate all day, it would probably be in my best interest to take time to breathe and remember the progress.