While riding the elevator this morning, a stranger paid me the kind of compliment that normally sets off alarm bells.
“You seem so independent,” he chirped, pushing the elevator button for me as he did so. (The irony, my God the irony.)
“Well, I’m used to being blind, so it’s no big.”
“But you seem like someone who doesn’t blame the world for your problems, you know?”
“I mean … I just sort of get on and do, right? That’s all you can do.”
“Exactly! See, not everyone gets on and does. You’re choosing to do it. I’m telling you, you’re a ray of sunshine.”
I did my usual smile and nod thing, internally preparing myself for the usual inspiration porn doom spiral. The script, well-rehearsed by now, goes something like this:
I’m not inspiring. There’s nothing praiseworthy about living my little life. People think I’m impressive but I’m not. I am reduced to their daily hit of inspiration. They’ll never really see me. I’ll never get past this. Bring me my saddest violin. Life’s but a walking shadow. Et cetera et cetera.
This time, for reasons I don’t yet understand, a different script presented itself: What if he was
right? Not precisely in the way he intended, of course. In the immortal words of so many of my visually impaired friends, ‘blindness is whatever.’ (We’re an eloquent bunch.)
But could I, just this once, flip the script? Could I worry less about feeling guilty because I don’t educate every single person I meet? Could he be right in another way? Could I be praiseworthy for “getting on and doing” for reasons other than my most prominent disability?
A mere hour before this interaction, I was talking myself out of bed. My tension pain was flaring up. My recently-healed back injury had left a grumpy ghost behind, always most irritating in the mornings. My depression was pressing down more heavily than usual, insisting that my very happy life was actually not happy at all. I was dealing with a longstanding accessibility issue at work, and I didn’t want to confront it today.
And I ignored all those reasons to stay down, got up, and faced the day. Not such a grandiose achievement, nothing cinematic, but still: I carried on and did what needed done, independently, because that’s what I do.
Maybe my resolve, my tired but determined air, was visible to this kind stranger. Perhaps he saw it, and admired it, even if he attributed it to the wrong struggles.
So was his compliment as off-base as I’d assumed? Was I allowed to interpret it in a way that made more
sense to me? Is flipping the script, disrupting those nasty doom spirals, a legitimate way to deal with those moments where education just doesn’t fit? Do I ask myself way too many questions?
I’m gonna say yes. For the sake of my sanity, my energy, and my need to take a break sometimes: Yes!
Here’s to the noble art of letting the little things go.
Here’s to living as the person you are, not the one you think you ought to be.
Here’s to life being so much more than an endless parade of teachable moments, not all of which you can
possibly be expected to seize.
Here’s to chilling out and, every now and then, taking that problematic compliment—because guess what?
You’re tired. I’m tired. You’re doing cool things despite the obstacles, and so am I.
So, by all means flip the script when you can. It’s good for the soul.