Yesterday was a crisp, blue-skied September Saturday. My family and I, along with Sam’s best friend, paid a visit to the Kaleido Family Street Art Festival.
We had a blast participating in various forms of street art, watching an African ariel and drum cirque perform, and experiencing a powwow. I got to paint bright purple dots on a giant duck, as part of a collective community painting project.
There were food trucks galore, but my kids especially loved the bannock given out at the powwow.
The festival was down the block from where my grandma lived in a tiny house for five decades, my second home all throughout my childhood. It’s in a neighborhood that over the years has had its share of socioeconomic challenges and crime.
Ten years ago, after a frightening encounter with local troublemakers, one young mother decided to “take back the neighbourhood.” She implemented various initiatives including this annual street art festival, which now draws tens of thousands of people from all over the city. It’s a story of how one determined person can change everything.
It’s a blue-skied kind of story. In writing this blog post, I looked up the deifinition of blue-skied in The Free Dictionary and was enchanted: Not limited by conventional notions of what is practical or feasible; imaginative or visionary.
It’s how I dream of living: to not be stopped by the obstacles in my life, but to seek imaginative and visionary solutions.
Last year when we were asked if Joe could move in with our family on one day’s notice, I had people tell me it was a terrible idea and I was absolutely crazy. On paper, my disabilities and own needs were too high to become a fulltime, live caregiver of a young man with disabilities. But God put an imaginative, blue-skied spark in my heart, and I knew in my spirit it was the right decision for my family. And, while it certainly has not been an easy situation, having precious Joe join our family has been one of the most wonderful things to happen to our family.
Yesterday at the festival, we had some interesting blue-skied interactions with strangers. Because of my atypical wheelchair with leg extenders that have my legs sticking out, I don’t tend to blend in with the crowd, and so as almost always happens when I go out, a lot of strangers approached me to say hello. I’ve met some interesting people this way and yesterday was no exception.
In the first blue-skied interaction, the cutest little boy ever, his face covered in blue face paint and his smile bright and friendly, zipped up to me in his power wheelchair. He was eager to interact and seemed to have none of the self-consciousness that I sometimes feel in my own wheelchair. This was a child determined to live life well on his terms.
Not long afterward, there was a black-skied interaction that brought me to a blue sky realization. An elderly woman using a walker approached Eric and me to tell us she “raised a handicapped child who could do nothing” and it was amazing to see me “being taken out in public.”
This saddened me for her former child. The thing is, nobody can do “nothing.” Even a child with extremely severe cognitive and physical disabilities who cannot move, communicate or intentionally interact is doing “something” through their presence, life, and selfhood. In my former career as a physical therapist specializing in pediatrics, I met incredible individuals with the most severe forms of physical and cognitive disabilities, whose souls touched mine and who I remember vividly to this day.
The lady then added it must have taken a lot of courage for me to go out (given my disabilities). This upset me. To tell me this is to put me in the class of “other” and to stay a step away from me, seeing my differences instead of my personhood.
It isn’t truly courageous for me to do something anyone else would do, such as go out to a public art festival with my family. There is little difference between a person who can’t walk so uses a wheelchair to be able to fully participate in a fun festival, and a person whose eyes don’t have clear vision, so uses a pair of glasses to be able to fully participate in a fun festival.
Yesterday was just me living life as large as I can, celebrating a sunny September Saturday with joy- just like the thousands of other festival goers. Just like the endearing little boy with the bright smile that I’d earlier encountered as he zipped energetically along in his power chair. He was a happy little boy having fun on a blue-skied day.
I was steamed for a while. However, I’ve been reading a great book this past week that has encouraged me to try to realize people typically do the best they can with the tools they have on hand. And also, to try to find the best possible reasoning for why someone may do or say a certain thing. I couldn’t think of anything positive about this woman’s reasoning and was thinking she was ignorant, so I asked Eric for his thoughts.
“Maybe she was scared herself to go to the festival,” he answered quietly.
That stopped my angry heart in its tracks. How quick I had been to judge this woman with a heart of superiority, to think her ignorant. However, a heart of compassion is open to noticing the fear a person may be feeling themselves, or the pain they may be in. Pain that is kept so close to their own hearts that it cannot be readily seen by me. How easy it is to judge, but if I really want to have blue-skied thinking, a heart of compassion is the way to begin.
The final blue-skied interaction occurred a little later on when I locked eyes with another elderly woman with a gentle smile. She too was enjoying the festival, and like me, she too was being pushed in a wheelchair by her loving husband. But unlike my husband, her husband was quite elderly and a little frail. Pushing a wheelchair did not look easy for him, but I watched as he carefully, painstakingly, pushed her up and down the street, all around the festival.
Earlier in the festival, I’d participated in a “share your love” booth covered in hearts where I wrote in chalk my definition of love. I’d written, “Love is gratitude for life, each other, and shared connection.”
But as I watched this sweet elderly couple having a grand time together, delighting in a blue-skied day, I thought to myself, “now that is a picture of what true love really looks like.”