My heroes walk among us. They resemble you and me. They do not wear capes. One might say their identities remain secret. They do not have hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers. They rarely call attention to themselves. They are discreet and careful, and I believe most passersby do not pay them much notice.
I see them sometimes, moving through the world. They rarely appear to notice me. I usually behave as though I do not see them, trying to be as discreet as them. But it’s hard for me not to stare, because I admire them and want to be like them. No matter how often it happens, when I see one in person, my heart swells up and I think “how brave” and “how impressive.”
Lately, I’ve been imitating them more than I ever did before. But I’m not as good as them. I’m too aware of others; I’m not discreet enough.
There are all kinds of heroes, and I also admire activists and environmentalists and other “ists.” But today I’m talking about the chaperones of the disabled. In my travels in the last month, in Nevada and Arizona and Utah and Puerto Rico, I’ve occasionally seen them walking around with their disabled companions. And I think, how brave, how impressive. Their companions can never give them as much as they’re getting, and in fact their companions often make their lives very hard, and yet here they are, doing their best to show the world to someone who often behaves as though s/he doesn’t want to see it. Because it’s important that disabled people don’t live a life shuttered in their homes.
One way to know my heroes is that their companions appear obviously disabled. Another way is the hand-holding, often paired with a certain (however slight) directing/dragging, to get the companion to keep going forward on the path and not, say, into car traffic.
This is the part I’ve been emulating lately. After wifey and I walked Dar all the way to the Narrows in Zion, we’ve become more ambitious. Up to the top of Angel Island? Why not? Are people looking at us for holding the hand of a nine-year-old? Does that seem a littleweird? Who cares! It’s working…
…until it isn’t. For example, on Sunday, I accompanied Dar (and others, including his brother) to the revamped Oakland Zoo. If you haven’t been you really should go. It’s a real zoo now! The upper area is gorgeous, and not just because of the panoramic view of the Bay Area. On the boardwalked California Trail, you stroll amongst bears, mountain lions, bald eagles, California condors, and more. As did Dar, mostly without incident.
But…Dar’s brother insisted on doing some of the kiddie rides. And in that area, Dar insisted on hanging out onthe train tracks, in the same place where the kiddie train sometimes goes. Why would Dar demand to be in such a dangerous place? Why does he do anything? He’ll never tell.
Unfortunately, it’s pretty much on the first page of the Dad Handbook that you don’t allow your kids to play in front of moving metal transport. So I kept pulling him away from the tracks…and he kept trying to go back.
“No, Dar!” I said. “NOT available.”
A zoo can be a good place to muffle many of Dar’s noises. Except his occasional dentist-drill-level screaming. Which happened around that time. While shrieking, Dar skip-ran through a group of onlookers. Oh, he got their attention. And bonus, I got their attention, as a presumed child abuser. As I followed Dar, I tried to look as nonchalant and passive as possible. So that when their smartphone videos go to the police/youtube, I will look (correctly) as though this is tedious and typical.
You hear a nine-year-old at Defcon 1, you assume something terrible. I wanted to say, “you know the toddler screams you’ve been ignoring all day? Just treat this like that.” But that doesn’t work. What would work better would be me just ignoring everyone.
I don’t. But I should. Like my heroes.