Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color


Today, I experienced such callous behavior that I came very close to losing my faith in humanity. Only five people out tens of thousands came to my aid when I was in need.
One of the neurological deficits I have sustained since my brain injury is referred to as stationary ataxia—when I am standing in place or moving slowly, my balance is precarious. Crowded or noisy conditions tend to aggravate my deficits, especially my problematic balance. In order to avoid stumbling around like a drunk, I carry a cane with me when I anticipate trouble.
I was at the Denver airport, which was particularly crowded today. I knew I was in trouble when I entered the terminal, and indeed, by the time I reached the security checkpoint, I had to lean heavily on my cane, otherwise I would have lost my balance. Even with my cane, I often lurched and swayed as I awaited my turn.
Not one person ahead of me offered me their place in line.
When I reached my gate, all but one seat were taken, including those reserved for the disabled. Everyone avoided making eye contact with me, including young men and women who should have been perfectly able to stand during the thirty minute wait until boarding.
Not one person offered me their seat.
As I approached the one empty seat, I pictured myself settling into it with a sigh of relief.
Noticing a bag resting in front of the seat, I made the mistake of asking the gentleman sitting beside it whether the seat was taken.
He must have noticed my cane as he looked me up and down . “Oh no, she’ll be right back.”
She didn’t come back until more than ten minutes later.
I should have been more assertive. But it shouldn’t have been necessary for me to be more assertive.
On the other hand, the woman who was in front of me in the line to go through security, took me in in one glance, and without saying a word, set a bin on the conveyor belt for me, and unasked, she helped me push my luggage through the X-ray machine. Two of the security personnel were also extremely helpful, offering me a cane while mine went through the machine and waving me through a quicker scanning process. And on the train towards the gates, a mother told her young son to vacate his seat for me.
The walk from the train to my gate was quite arduous–weaving through the crowds, walking around groups of people standing in my way–leaving me drained, my eyes brimming with tears.
I asked a United employee at the desk whether I could pre-board the aircraft, explaining my difficulties. “Of course!” was her immediate response.
I was the first to board the plane.
After having stood for half an hour, leaning on my cane, swaying and lurching, I made my way down the jetway only to wait while the pilot, co-pilots, and flight attendants finished their idle chatter and stepped aside to let me on to the plane–a couple of them were staring right at me and my cane the entire time.
Five people, a trivial minority in that airport, saw me in my plight and took action.
I am appalled.
What about you? Do you avoid making eye contact with those in need? Do you think to offer your seat to a pregnant woman, to a man carrying a toddler, or to a person using a cane?