Moving Forward Series
Meena Dhanjal Outlaw
We have a movie night now with the girls. I am at the movie theater with my friends waiting for more to show up. Tonight, we are watching an Indian movie.
While meandering our way through the Saturday night crowd, the door to our theater is opened by one of my friends to let me in.
I immediately head to the only spots available for a person using a wheelchair: up front. As I nestle comfortably in my wheelchair spot, my friends sit on either side of me in the seats provided. I am the only one in our group who is disabled.
There are five women sitting on either side of me. Two, I have only met for the first time tonight. One is new to my group of friends I normally hang out with. Our children play together. When time permits, we all like to have a girls’ night out. The three other friends that normally join us cannot make it tonight. I have one of them with me tonight, who I happen to very close to.
As the theater darkens and the movie begins, the new friend to my usual group encourages my one friend to move to the row of seats behind me that are above the steps.
They walk up the first flight of steps and make their way to the seats. The lady that initiates this says to me,
“Meena, you can just move back and sit directly in front of us”.
“I’ll block the walkway,” I say.
I can tell my friend hesitates as she follows the rest of the women. I am sitting alone.
However, this situation is nothing new to me. In the eighteen years I have used a wheelchair to get around, I have encountered all sorts of behavior and physical obstacles that limit my access to enjoying fun things. I have grown so accustomed to it that it really doesn’t even bother me any more.
The movie begins and as I focus I notice my friend sits back down in the seat next to me.
This particular friend never has to be asked to accompany me. I don’t ever pressure her or make any suggestions of any kind. She is the one that deliberately keeps my portable ramp in her garage so that I can go to her house without obstacle. She is also the one that understands the complexity of my situation when I approach a barrier. She’ll have already figured out a solution before I have to think about it.
I lean in and tell her she doesn’t need to sit so close if she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t say a word. Instead, she just smiles big as she always does and stays seated.
Then ‘that’ lady comes down and whispers into my friend’s ear. This lady thinks I can’t hear what she is saying, but I overhear her asking my friend why she is sitting here? My friend smiles big again and declines to move.
It’s these types of unspoken acts of kindness and generosity that someone like me may rarely encounter. Not because I don’t have friends. Most friends don’t think as far as this dear friend does. She may disagree with any of the other friends, but she always thinks of me. She is also the one that organizes dinner plans within our group when it’s my birthday.
When I reflect on this, it fills my heart with joy and appreciation for her acceptance.
Yeah, to be accepted is a subconscious goal of anyone living with a disability, within a world that still doesn’t completely understands the obstacles one faces.
As I sit next to my dear friend, I soak in the entire experience. We laugh at the movie together with the unspoken and instinctive knowledge of what inclusion is really about.