The other day I gained a slight glimpse of what it feels like to be in other people’s shoes. My husband and I attended several wedding this past week which was at times exhausting, given my not-so-distant (3 1/2 weeks ago!) surgery on my ankle. But it definitely was exciting to get out and see people. The fresh air, the drive to the venues with the car windows wide open, the chats with old friends, the expanse of the hotels where I scooted around on my “knee rider,” and the sitting and dining with good friends at these events, were huge boosts to my mood. Hey, after being home almost 24/7 for so many months, I welcomed the change at these friends’ happy occasions.
At the first wedding, which was in a large Sheraton hotel, my husband and I glided (well I glided, he walked) through the lobby towards where the ballroom was. Oh. Steps.
No problem, I thought. Only 3 steps. I’ve done those before. It’s just a matter of angling my scooter and edging up one step at a time. As long as the steps are piled close together without too much thickness, (hey, ever thought someone could be analyzing the construction of steps?), I was fine.
But what we found on the other side of the steps, stumped me — and my husband.
Escalators. Nope. Those won’t work.
So we went around the back, found a ramp, and got back to where we started. After some asking around (should have done that to begin with!), we found the elevators which took us to the handicap accessible lobby, which took us by ramp to the ballroom.
Ding. Ding. Ding. Bells went off in my head.
This is what people who have disabilities go through all the time. They can’t just go, climb and attend events. They have to plan out their entrance to wherever they are going. When the place is familiar, they already know what to expect, but when the place is new (as this hotel was for my husband and I), they need to seek out the handicap accessible ramps, elevators and other accommodations.
It ain’t easy.
My aha moments continued as I went to the next wedding, the following evening. This one was at a Hilton hotel that I’d been to in the past, so I knew that the parking structure’s elevator took us straight up to the ballroom area with the foyer and lobby outside the ballroom.
But then I remembered the restrooms. They were downstairs. I recalled using them at past weddings there, and going down the elegant winding staircase in my high-heeled shoes toward the restrooms.
I decided then and there I was going to ask where the elevators to go down were. I looked around and saw that the elevators where we arrived had a button to go down and the only thing was that one had to then navigate around the bend back to the restrooms, once downstairs.
In the end, I sat mostly in my seat at that wedding, and enjoyed the people at my table. Another realization. People with disabilities don’t get to move around freely as much, without depending on someone to push them around in a wheelchair, or bumping around in a scooter like I have.
The third wedding this week was when the aha moments of the past few nights were sealed in my mind forever.
My husband and I arrived at the synagogue where the wedding was to take place. This was a large, elegant building with towering staircases (see where this is going?) that were white, marble, and very beautiful structurally.
Beautiful, but impossible to navigate.
As we strolled (I scooted; my husband walked) down the street and arrived at the front of the building, we saw the 30 stairs looming large in front of me. We looked to both sides of the building to find a ramp.
No ramp on either side.
We asked the guard who was standing at the staircase and she frowned,
“Oh there’s a ramp over there,” she said, pointing to the area near the parking lot where we had left our car. “But that’s taken over by the catering truck. You can’t go there.”
Uh. Oh. Should we just go home? This doesn’t make sense.
My husband is not one to give up on these matters, and so he went to the caterer at the ramp and asked what to do.
“Well, it’s really dangerous to come through here,” he admitted. “Why don’t you try in the back entrance where the kids’ playground is? I think there’s a ramp to get in the backway.”
We thanked the guy, and went down the alleyway, through the parking lot, (I bumped; my husband walked) toward the playground area. We opened the gate (whew. It was opened), and there were 2 steps to go downward. No problem. My husband helped me edge downward with the scooter.
Then came a short pathway to go toward the door, and a 3-step staircase (Nope, not a ramp. Oh well..) to get into the ballroom.
Seldom do we get to try on other people’s shoes and situations. We are fortunate to know and understand ourselves, what makes us tick, how to label our own feelings and deal with them. That’s a pretty big task if we want to be self-aware and conscious in our actions.
But other people? We can only know what they are feeling by listening to what they tell us, watching carefully and asking questions if we are unsure. Other than that, it is presumptuous to think we know what someone else is going through. It’s insensitive to think we know what others are thinking, because we don’t. It’s silly to think we can “understand” what others’ experiences are. We can’t really do that.
Our Jewish Sages teach us, “Don’t judge another until you are in his place,” because you just never know anything until you are exactly in their shoes. And let’s face it; even if you experience something similar to them, it will never be exactly the same.