By my own admission, I have, at times, a lousy job. Relative top other wages around me it pays poorly, it is hard work and, working within the retail sector your face gets rather tired from carrying a permanent smile.
Yet I am lucky, for as I work the whole of life passes before me, and, standing behind a hot deli counter I am invisible as a person to all but the trained or retail eye. Don’t get me wrong; customers do see me, some will even swear that they know me, but most of the time I just nod, make polite conversation, serve them to the best of my ability, and then watch them walk away.
Yet I see them, and I hear them, in all their glory, and at times I see or hear things which I would rather not see or hear. Such was the case two days ago when two middle aged women caught sight of a group of special need individuals who had come into the supermarket with their carers.
“Look at that lot.” One woman said to the other. “They’re from the ……….. Centre, they’re not normal, they shouldn’t be allowed in here!”
Mercifully none of the group, apart from one carer didn’t seem to hear her, and the guy who did hear her, just gazed sadly at the woman in question before ushering the group onwards and away. Yet as all the parties involved separated it left me thinking.
We have laws to protect such individuals. We have dedicated centres whereby their needs may be met to the full, and education programs so that integration may occur, where possible, within the community; yet within the minds of so many people, centuries old blind and ignorant bigotry still seems to hold sway
Other questions then came to mind, such as what causes such intolerance, can any of us truly state that we are free from such unpleasant forces, and if we were to be confronted by such factors what would we do then?
Would we have the strength to freely associate ourselves with such a group as stood before me, would we feel comfortable if they struck up a dialogue, and how would we feel if, through no fault of their own, they could only greet us with a shout or a scream?
It is easy enough for us to say that we could handle such a situation, and that we would not try and hide or move away, but can many of us know that unless we have faced such a situation to the full?
I am lucky as, back in London, I found myself in that position. I found that any fears I had were groundless, but in the beginning, I freely admit I failed. My road to Damascus occurred on an underground platform in Central london, at approximately 5.45 pm on the Northern Line.
The platform was packed with commuters, just like me, when from the far end of the platform we heard a cry. A faint cry to begin with, but then second cry followed, and it formed into just one word
She was an old lady, or by her appearance she seemed to be an old lady, and half sitting, half lying on the bench like a bundle of old clothes left outside for the dustcart, it was clear that she was in trouble, and that help needed to be near at hand.
So what did we all do; we all turned and looked the other way. This wasn’t our problem, and we weren’t responsible. She was just one of many down and outs that littered the streets of London. What could we do, we weren’t social workers, and anyway we needed to catch our train. If someone had looked into our eyes though they would have seen a different message, for in our eyes lay the message that she was Beyond the pale. Up until that point in my life I had never felt so ashamed
I was lucky, as l profited in so many ways through that incident. Soon I was a volunteer at a city of london drop in shelter, and though I was initially as much use as a chocolate fireguard, I soon became a humble if appreciated member of that team. I was a tea and soup maker, a bread slicer, and a wash and shower room cleaner, as well as performing a whole host of other mundane duties, but at least I was able to give something back to the community that surrounded me, and allow the onsite professional workers to fully ply their trade.
It also showed me one other thing though, and it is with this topic that the post will draw to a close. It showed me how woefully unprepared most of us are to deal with such situations. We can say we feel sorry for those suffer any mental, physical, or social “disabilities”-please note the inverted commas. We can be told by the powers to be that such individuals should be given full acceptance within society, but in both situations are we not merely spouting out words. Where is the physical training and mental preparation, who teaches us, or really encourages us not to be afraid?
I am now living on the Isle of Man, many miles away from London, and I do not know what happened to the lady on the platform. I do not have answers to all the questions raised in the post before you, but I urge any reader to try and face up to what lies out there, and try and come to terms with what lies beyond the pale.
It doesn’t mean you can’t fail, as not everybody can deal with such a challenge, and, under such circumstances, there is no disgrace in failure, but at least try and do something. Your efforts will be appreciated, you will receive the support of all those around you; so long as you are honest in your aims; and you may well come out of such an experience a better and mentally richer person, with a lot more knowledge of life inside.
So long folks, another post on normality will be coming down the line soon, but if anyone wants to consider the issues in this post a little more deeply, then click on the following link for The Paradox of Mind Chapter 10, where perceptions of disability, and care in the community, are addressed in a little more detail.
This is a tough post, but I make no apologies for it’s content. To put it quite bluntly we have to bring such individuals back from beyond the pale.
- Paul Burstow writes… The care bill must deliver for carers (libdemvoice.org)
Categories: Growing pains