Living with a handicap: ten months on

There is a man who walks the roads around where I work. I see him sometimes around lunch hour. His left arm seems to be twisted, against his will, straining away from him. The thumb points outwards and the palm faces away and it looks like it hurts all the time.

For the longest time I’ve been too fearful to ask. Afraid to engage. Because it’s not just the hand. He has lots of problems. There’s the stoop. He’s virtually doubled up. And the shuffled limp. And the padded, bright yellow safety helmet that suggests a wrong softness within. It lets little wisps of old man white hair poke out here and there. Today in the slim breeze by the rail crossing those wisps seemed to reach for me and repel me at the same moment: Stay away. I’ll make you confront your good fortune and your cosy life and things might not ever be so comfortable again.

I should have stepped back.

But I am not myself these days. Changes happened back there somewhere. If the little boy in The Sixth Sense could see dead people, then I seem to have acquired the gift of seeing live ones. Ones who had hitherto been marginalised by the fit, healthy Leni Riefenstahl-sponsored part of my brain that refused to look directly – really, truly look – at anybody with an obvious mental or physical condition. What if they tore my comfort zone from around me? What if… what if I caught something from them? The cells of my fit body would recoil from the very thought of such grotesquerie.

Until Jacob.

Leni Riefenstahl my backside. God has no more love for my beautiful chromosomal symmetry than he does for my ‘damaged’ son’s awkward perfection. And something happened inside at a level that I don’t ever expect to understand. I saw beyond, to what the old man was. Not some sideshow freak, but a man with more difficulties than me.

The barrier was still down, the DART pulling out from the platform towards town. The helmet looked uncomfortable. I leaned down and saw the person in his eyes. I’ve been so foolish for so long. I smiled a smile that reflected, I hope, the love I felt for humanity.

‘How are you getting on today?’

‘Oh fuck off and ask me arse.’


14 comments on “Living with a handicap: ten months on

  1. enc says:

    This was touching and wonderful and funny. Nice one, Nick.

  2. Sesame says:

    Great response..was with u to that point and was not expecting that…class..

  3. Elbog says:

    It has been said that unrequited love is the purest love. Carry on in the comfort and knowledge of your slow but steady ascendance toward enlightenment. I hope to someday refer to you as “Old Saint Nick.”
    You did the right thing. You’re still better, for it.
    Great piece.

  4. Siofa says:

    Feel the fear and do it anyway, brave heart.

  5. oh, I got a laugh out of that. I’m still not brave enough yet (being my introverted self)to approach people the way you did. But I get you there with the smiling, trying to convey the “I understand, I have a special needs baby”, which of course then makes me feel as if I am patronising the person in some way… I’ve a lot to learn yet.
    What’s the Lamh for ‘Oh fuck off and ask me arse.’ I must teach it to Cathal.

  6. hammie says:

    he he he he he he ha ha ha ha, feck you are funny.

  7. This is so great. As Sesame commented, I “was with you”, and I certainly didn’t expect the end.

    Makes you think, doesn’t it, about our attitudes, judgement of people, etc… Makes me think…

    And I have not seen the “Cuckoo’s nest” in Years. Must find it and watch it again, with my new eyes 😉

  8. Excellent.
    I think the response reinforces your own point brilliantly!

  9. K8 says:

    As Jacob most likely shows his love and appreciation by barfing up a smidge of his last meal, the same probably applies to the old man! Reading between the insults, he probably meant ‘Ah grand, thanks!’
    Great clip- one of my all time favourites is that flick!

  10. Suzie Smith says:

    I was really getting into your story and thinking good for you and good for Jacob because he has taught you something, just wait for all the things he will teach you! Then the end came and cracked me up. Still laughing!

  11. hmmm, moving out of comfort zones, seeing past the perceptions of things, and then at the end, a most profound statement to leave me pondering!! ;D

    good on you for taking the time to speak with him!! 🙂

  12. Christine says:

    That was great!

    You have definitely “acquired the gift of seeing live ones”….as the man you met so beautifully and eloquently pointed out.

  13. Sharon says:

    Class man!

    Unlike other people, you’ve noticed now that he’s human, and a grumpy fucker and all.

    But you’re right, things do change, and we change when children like ours arrive.
    Kiss that boy of yours from me.

  14. Sister Wolf says:

    Very inspiring even with the comic ending. I need to be a better person. Thanks for the reminder. xo

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