It was the summer before freshman year, right before school started. My family and I had gone shopping for school clothes. That’s the first time I noticed how many people stare at me.
The stares were everywhere. From a woman looking at dresses, from a couple picking out shoes, from a little boy holding his mom’s hand. And then, when we were in Old Navy, a little girl said, “She’s weird.”
The best way I can think to describe that pain is it was akin to a knife slicing through cake. It hurt unlike anything I’ve ever felt before. I felt vulnerable, like someone had ripped me open and seen every thought I’ve ever had.
That was only the beginning. From that day on, I noticed every stare, every glance, every hushed whisper someone said as they passed me. There were days when I woke up and felt consumed by that knife-slicing pain, and it took everything I had to make it through the day without breaking down and completely losing it. Maybe, I thought, maybe that little girl was right. Maybe I am weird. Maybe I am strange. Maybe something is wrong with me.
Now, three years later, I’ve learned how to handle the stares, and that pain is almost nonexistent. It took faith, it took reassurance that I was not, in fact, weird or strange, and there was nothing wrong with me. It also took love. Love from my family, love from my friends, and realizing that the Lord loves me because I’m me. God loves me, and maybe, He’s using me to open minds and teach others that it’s okay to be different.
That being said, I still see the stares. I still see them, and sometimes, I still feel that intense, stifling pain. Thankfully, that’s rare. Now, though, instead of wondering if others think something is wrong with me, I wonder something else: Why don’t people ask what’s going on, instead of staring?
I don’t mind explaining. Sometimes, when little kids see me in my walker, they ask, “Why do you have that?” Usually, their moms scold them and apologize to me. Please don’t apologize. I love that question. Why? Because it gives me a chance to explain my disability, and show them that while I use a walker, I’m just like them. And by doing that, maybe, the next time they see someone using a walker or a wheelchair or crutches, they won’t stare, because then, they’ll understand that that person just gets around differently than they do.
So, the next time you see someone in a walker or wheelchair and you want to ask why he or she uses it, ask. Maybe they won’t want to explain, but maybe they will. It’s okay to ask, and you never know what kind of doors you can open just by asking a question.