The event made me sad in a whole lot of ways, but that wasn’t going to stop me from going. Bill, the beloved senior pastor of the church that I have attended for the last 26 years was retiring, and at the beginning of last November, there was a celebration to send him and his wife off to the new chapter of their lives. Because Bill has done so much for me over the years, coupled with the fact that he is one of my favorite people on the planet, I wanted to be there. In order to get a headcount for the catering company, an RSVP was required, and when I saw the invitation included in my email, I sent a message back that I was planning to attend with one of my caregivers.
I have been a member of the congregation for a long time, so the church is very familiar to me and I navigate my way around pretty well. I didn’t think going to this retirement celebration was going to be any different than the many events that I have attended at my church in the past. But I had not taken the pandemic into consideration.
About five days before the celebration was taking place, I got an email from one of the women who was organizing the whole thing. I don’t know Kiana very well, but I have always liked her. She has always been friendly and sensitive to my needs every time the two of us have interacted. She told me that because of Covid, we were all going to be having dinner on the north lawn outside the church, and she wanted to know if getting over the grass in my wheelchair was going to be a problem for me. She also wanted to know what she could do to make me more comfortable while I was there.
There were a couple of things about her gesture that I thought were incredibly kind. First, when she initially thought that being outside on the grass might potentially be an issue for me in my wheelchair, she didn’t make any assumptions. The first thing she did was to ask me what I wanted to do and she made it clear that she was going to take her direction from me before she did anything else. I appreciated that she understood that I was the one who knew how to best handle the situation. Secondly, she told me about the issue well in advance so that I could think about what I wanted to do without any pressure whatsoever. So many well-meaning people throughout my life would not have thought about this challenge beforehand. Instead, they would have known there was a difficulty only when they saw me struggling to get my wheelchair over the curb. At that point, those same well-meaning people would have asked other people that I didn’t know to help me without asking me first if that was okay or asking me the best way to navigate my wheelchair. When people do that kind of thing, although I know they mean well, I lose my humanity and become a burden instead of a person. That hurts my soul. But Kiana was different from the beginning.
We emailed back and forth about what I needed in order to feel both comfortable and included eating dinner with everyone outside. When we got there, I saw that she had reserved two seats, for me and my caregiver, at the table that was closest to the parking lot so that there was not much grass to get my wheelchair over. There wasn’t any other reserved seating anywhere. She also checked on me repeatedly during dinner to see if she could do anything else for me.
I am willing to bet that if anyone were to ask Kiana if what she did to make me comfortable at Pastor Bill’s retirement dinner was a big deal she would say no. She would probably say that she didn’t put forth a whole lot of effort at all. But she would be wrong. When she wanted to help me, she gave me choices, and she did so in such a way that I felt powerful throughout the whole experience. And because she did that I was able to focus on the festivities instead of feeling frustrated.
Bill is retired now and although I miss seeing him on a regular basis, we keep in touch over Zoom. I have wonderful memories of conversations with him and the countless times he has shown me kindness. But I will remember his retirement party for a different reason. It was there that Kiana made sure that I was included in a way that
was incredibly empowering, and she trusted my judgment to let her know how that could happen.
That means everything to me.