When I first boarded the airplane and walked back to 45E with the other folks who needed "extra time boarding," I saw that my seat, selected as a window seat at purchase, was actually in the middle. Arranging things and hoping for the best, I sat and waited for my seat mates.
A nice gentleman came up with that look we all know: "that's my seat" as he looked from me to the window seat next to him. I asked if he would mind switching with me since I am handicapped. Graciously, he said no, of course not, and I moved over into the window seat, leaning my cane against the wall tidily...taking off my Aspen collar for a cooling moment before takeoff, stowing my rolling backpack under the seat in front of me.
However, another woman interrupted my thoughts asking, "Are you supposed to be in that seat?" It turned out that the gentleman next to me was in the wrong line of seats. I asked her if I could switch with her (I was already settled into her seat) since I was disabled, etc. She said, quite unbelievably, "I'd rather have the seat I chose for myself."
I couldn't believe the heartlessness of someone who had been pleaded with by a disabled person. I had to put my collar back on, strain my neck area and skull base area (remember I'd just been told by my surgeon that my Cspine could slice through my spinal cord during an MVA) to reach down and get my backpack, slide it back down under the middle seat in front of me...pick up my things, including my lunch I was trying to eat....cane etc...and then slide out and stand up so that this person could get into the seat she had selected for herself.
Other passengers rolled their eyes at me, also unbelieving at what they'd just witnessed. When I sat back down, I did say to her, "I chose a window seat as well, but when I got my ticket, that's not what I got." She chose to completely ignore me.
I sat all the way (3 hour flight) with my arms pinched forward holding onto my cane so it wouldn't bother my seat mates and because she was fidgeting constantly turning pages in a magazine with that left elbow of hers poking me so much I got bruised.
I wrote this poem on the back of an envelope on top of my tray:
I was once strong like you.
I strode out with arms swinging
I helped my elders and weaker others
I lifted heavy things, for me and for
those who needed burdens lightened.
I was thin and strong and no mountain
looked too high for me to climb.
No distance too far
but what I knew I could do it.
I was smart once, too. I am still, but my disability clouds who I am in your eyes.
And now, I am weak and need your help.
Need you to see me, to understand without pity
or disdain or superiority.
Need you to see me as your peer, only slower than you.
Need you to smile at me and not look through me.
Need you to slow down, to be in step with me--
not carry me or wheel me, but just
slow down thought...pace...talk.
Because life here in the slow lane is not all bad
And in this world of pain and confusion and
nausea and weakness and crawling,
strength can be found...enough for both of us.
I am no hero, but I am a champion.
Each minute, I must find a way
to stand on weak legs,
to squelch nausea,
to understand my surroundings,
to breathe, to swallow, to think,
to put on a good face
I might be stronger now than I was back then,
when my world sped by and each minute full of throbbing
life, pounding hooves, big hearts, steep trails.
I might be stronger than you.