I’ve never really been known for my ability to blend.
Maybe I should just blame it on my genetics and the fact I easily stood a good foot above most of my classmates for the majority of my childhood years. After all, when your “person” is composed predominantly of legs and your haircut isn’t exactly subtle, well, you’re kind of asking for it. I guess I should also mention I’m a middle child and I definitely grew up with that “middle child syndrome.” What does that mean? Well, I was plenty loud (read: obnoxious), basically all the time, to ensure I wasn’t forgotten about. And I sure wasn’t.
Yet, funny story; looking back, I could and did “blend” on occasion. I guess it was more of a when-it-suited-me kind of situation. Those days in class where you really didn’t want to be called on so you sat in the middle of the classroom, avoiding the extremes of front or back in order to best meld with the crowd. Or how about those times you’re at the grocery store to pick up those pseudo embarrassing personal hygiene products or some new underwear (even though everyone uses them) and you slowly meander to the aisle, keeping a casual pace so as not to draw attention to yourself. Or when you’re waiting for your delicious warm beverage to be made at Starbucks, you take a step back in order to 1) be out of the way and 2) to observe your surroundings as a non-participant.
It can be nice to blend.
Comically, I mentioned being 6 feet tall was one of the reasons I didn’t typically blend as a kid/high schooler/undergraduate student. Let me tell ya, cutting it down to 4.5 feet sure doesn’t help either — somebody add a point to my “extremes are bad for blending” theory. Naturally, I don’t think my struggles blending now are strictly due to that foot and a half height difference. Even though there’s a pretty high prevalence of Americans who self-identify as being disabled, you don’t see very many wheelers (especially young ones) rollin around the city of Chicago. So I get it, I don’t really blend. I think the hard part of that comes from my more recent realization that I really can NEVER blend.
Yea, I know it’s a bit sad that it’s taken me 4+ years to truly recognize that no matter how much I want to look like or be like everyone else, I never will.
“But Sam, why would you want to be like everyone else?! Differences and being unique is what makes the world diverse and awesome!”
True. But the ability to blend in is an ability that should be more appreciated than it is.
Or at least that’s what I thought since starting med school until last week.
I think it’s a pretty common feeling when you’re starting something new that you try and simply exist in the background as you test the water and figure out the situation. New job, new school, whatever it is, when you just get started you want to blend in and not draw any attention to yourself so if (well, when) you mess up — nobody is likely to notice. I thought when I started school that I was a fairly confident person and relatively comfortable in my own disabled skin, but I had every and all intentions of blending in with the 160+ 1st year medical student crowd. My plan: 1) Try and sit in an “unremarkable position” whenever in a lecture hall that wasn’t on steps (yea, sadly that happened less than I would have hoped). 2) Don’t say a whole lot during class but still participate. 3) (And most importantly) don’t bring up the fact that there are extremely few people with disabilities in the medical field and don’t draw attention to yourself by trying to take action to change that.
In my head, it seemed like a pretty legit plan — until I realized how untrue I was being to myself, my classmates, and all I’ve every really stood/sat for since my injury.
The realization moment? Well — I guess it was a bit more of a collection of serendipitous God wink moments. You see, one day I had had a bunch of required things at school in the morning but had a few hours break time before another required class later in the evening. I decided to go home for that time instead of spending it in the library, which is a tad abnormal for me but I was in a bit of a funk and Ingrid (the kitten) is typically a good funk antidote. True to her charm, I left my apartment feeling much better and headed along my usual route back to school.
Moment 1) I smile, say hi, or have inconsequential conversations with the various doorman of a hotel a block from my apartment. The doorman for the evening was one I hadn’t seen in quite some time and when he saw me coming, he broke into this big grin and exclaimed, “Hey! I haven’t seen you in so long! How’s it going?” — as if we’d been friends for forever. Again, we talk about the weather, I don’t think he even knows my name.
Moment 2) I crossed Michigan Ave and sitting right on the corner was a homeless woman I had seen a few times before, chatting with a gentleman. We’ve never talked, but I always try to smile and nod my head in acknowledgment. As I was rolling past she comments to the man she’s talking to, “This lady is so nice, she’s smiling every time I’ve ever seen her.” Again, we’ve never talked.
Moment 3) I’m just about to campus and am rolling past the last hotel (again with doorman) before the hospitals start to spring up. Doorman smiles, waves, and comments, “Hey! Aren’t you going the wrong way?! It’s 5 o’clock, shouldn’t you be going home?”
In a span of 15 minutes, three people whom I don’t even know their names, recognized, commented, or interacted with me in some way and showed that I mattered to them. As I rolled the last few blocks to class, I couldn’t help but wonder if what had just happened to me, all of those interactions and acknowledgements, would have happened if I walked and looked like everyone else.
That’s a big question. Maybe yes, maybe no. But that maybe no carries a lot of weight.
Day-by-day and week-by-week, I’m coming to realize just how unique of a position I’m in. I have a pretty substantial knowledge of what it’s like to walk, be abled, and never really consider the disabled population (yea, 21 years worth of knowledge). But now, I also know what it’s like to wheel, be disabled, and recognize the countless disability cultures – from blind, to deaf, to mobility impairments – and the impact that culture has on an individual’s life. Looking at it like that, it seems pretty self-centered to want to hide that knowledge and attempt (unsuccessfully) to blend in.
Needless to say, in my plethora of free time I’m starting to work with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion on issues related to accessibility in healthcare and education in addition to being in the process of assembling a student organization to put on various lunch talks related to various disability cultures and rights.
It’s exciting stuff (at least I think it’s exciting). But what’s even more exciting is how excited I am to get started and share what I’ve learned (with the help of speakers way more knowledgeable than myself) with my peers to hopefully impact them and their future practice as physicians in a powerful and positive manner.
So yea, I’ve never been good at blending.
But really, why should I bother trying to start now?
standing sitting out and trying to make a difference.