Monthly Online Magazine
by and for those with MS,
Tables of Contents
Playing this page: Sleepwalk
The Eyes of Strangers
By River Urke
I remember as a child a family where the father walked with a cane and his left hand was curled inward. I thought it was weird and I felt bad for the two kids. I remember thinking that the kids must feel so embarrassed of their dad.
Now, I am that dad minus the curled in left hand with a child at my side. I walk at a slow pace with a cane and sometimes stumble and fall. I wonder about the thoughts of the children we pass on the streets and in the malls. Do they feel bad for my daughter? Do they think she’s embarrassed of me?
I was thirty-four years old when I became disabled due to the progression of Multiple Sclerosis. At first, there were no visible signs that marked me as disabled to the strangers I came across on my journeys. Then around a year ago, I lost some of the muscles and nerve signals in my right leg and I was put on high fall alert. At that moment life changed for me and I have had to use a cane ever since.
In the past, I have worked as a job counselor for challenged individuals that are disabled physically and mentally. I will never forget how they were treated when we were out in the public eye. How people perceived the men and women I worked with as children and how the majority of parents did not stop their children from pointing and staring.
I was astounded that I noticed immediately the difference in how I was treated and perceived by strangers walking with a cane. I felt judged, alone, and scared amongst them and not the outgoing woman I am usually. The behavior reminded me of how the people I worked with many years ago were treated but with obvious differences too. In some ways I am treated harsher and in other ways more humane.
Over time, I have compiled five responses people have when they see me walking with a cane. There are the people that completely ignore me as if I’m invisible nearly running me over and the ones that stare while backing up like I’m contagious. Then there are people that stare with pity written across their faces and other people that are overzealous with nervousness trying to help but only making the matter worse. Lastly, there are the gracious people that hold no fear and have hearts full of gold.
I have raised my daughter from a young age not to point and stare but to be gracious. In turn her heart sings free of judgment while her feet stop and her hands reach out to help when they are needed. I know she does not feel embarrassed by my disability but proud of her mom instead.
Excerpt from a poem I wrote:
I freeze at their thoughts of me
Reach River by email to comment: firstname.lastname@example.org