Sunday, May 29, 2016
$350 Fine For People Like Me
Dear Gentleman in the Dollar General parking lot,
I’m sorry that I made you angry today. You parked a couple of parking spaces down from me and because of me you were unable to use a handicapped parking space. As you walked into the store with your cane you saw me unload my purchases, return my cart to the store and jog back to my car that was in the store’s only handicapped spot. As I jogged past you I heard you shout “there are $350 fines for people like you!” I knew exactly what you were saying and I want you to know that I understand.
To you it appeared that I was perfectly able bodied person who parked in a spot reserved for those with disabilities. You are correct. I am in excellent health. I am strong and active. I can walk and even run long distances. I do not take these things for granted. I know that they are priceless gifts and I am so very thankful them. I am also fully aware of the penalty for such an offense. I did not need that handicapped spot, but there’s something you don’t know about me. I would never, ever use a handicapped parking space unless I absolutely needed it because I know, from experience, that there aren’t enough spaces for the number of disabled people. I know also that many people do not abide by the law on this matter. If you had pulled into the parking lot just a few moments earlier you would have seen me rolling a wheelchair up the ramp of our accessible van. My 15 year old son was in that wheelchair. You would have seen me secure his wheelchair in place with straps and retractors. You see, my son has cerebral palsy and has never walked independently. For the past two and a half years he has been completely wheelchair bound. I do not need handicapped parking at all, but my son does and his wheelchair van leaves me no choice but to take the large, van accessible spots.
I didn’t respond to you when you shouted at me. Anger emanated from you and, I confess, that I felt angry too. I was angry for having been falsely accused. I have learned that when I’m angry it is often best to say nothing lest I regret the things I might say, so I just got in the van and drove away as you scowled at me. My anger continued until I remembered that I don’t know your story. I don’t know why you need to use a cane. Perhaps you are a war veteran and were injured defending my freedom. If that is the case, sir, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Or maybe you have a disease, like MS or Parkinson’s or something else that causes great pain to your body. It may be that you’ve only recently required the use of the cane and are struggling to accept what you cannot change. Today may not have been a good day for you and you were smarting from the injustices of life only to have me, a perfectly healthy young woman, take the parking spot that you thought was rightfully yours. I understand your frustration.
This is not the first time something like this has happened to me and it probably won’t be the last. Maybe it would be better if I didn’t return my shopping cart to the designated spot so that others wouldn’t have to see me, a very fit woman, walking easily to my van. However, my parents taught me to be respectful and to always return things to their rightful place. I would prefer not sacrifice respect for the sake of appearances.
I understand hardships. I have hardships too. Mine are different than yours but they are hardships, nonetheless, and they make me feel irritable and grumpy. Just this week I had to take two of my children to the doctor’s office. The entrance was not wheelchair friendly and I had a mighty struggle getting my son in the door. By the time I got them inside I was hot and sweaty and felt like crying. If, at that moment, someone did something that I felt was unjust, I may have acted just like you did to me.
I don’t know whether or not you believe in prayer, but I do. Prayer helps me accept the things that I wish were different. It helps me find joy in the hard times. Prayer helps me love people who sometimes seem unlovable and forgive those who are never sorry. I want you to know, sir, that when I got home today I prayed for you. I forgive you for falsely accusing me because I don’t know your story, just as you do not know mine.
People Like Me
P.S. I wish you could meet my two sons in the picture below. They bring so much joy to hearts that hurt.