Gwynneth VanLaven, writing in the Washington Post, says her visible disability makes her a target for strangers who offer well-meaning but unwanted advice in a futile attempt to “fix” her. To them, she says, she represents their worst fears: “I am vulnerability incarnate.”
VanLaven, who was hurt when she was hit by a car in 2007, says she really wants people to listen to her and bear witness to her experience — not offer miracle cures or accounts of other car crashes. An excerpt:
People are trying to relate, but they are relating out of fear. I think this is why the community’s love can sometimes feel suffocating. While well intentioned, the intervention of friends and strangers can sometimes feel like it has more to do with them than with me. I sometimes feel ignored when someone approaches me about my disability. Aren’t I more than a wounded lady? It feels like I’m wearing a scarlet D for “disabled-too-soon” and nobody can see past the fears it strikes in them.
… Active listening requires putting aside the anxieties of feeling vulnerable. When you see me rolling by on my scooter or hobbling along with my cane, the most difficult response may be to stay quiet. This means sitting with the feeling that the healthy can be suddenly struck down, that this fate could be yours or your daughter’s.