Archive for January, 2013

It’s always nice when we can put to language those phenomena which we’ve experienced for days, perhaps years, without a way to explain.  I have what the disabled community calls an “invisible disability”, meaning that when you look at me, it’s not immediate to anyone that something’s wrong.  I mean if it’s one of my bad days and there are electrodes sticking out from under my clothes, there’s a hint, but usually I look pretty average.


It’s something that those of us with invisible disabilities sometimes get frustrated by, because no one knows that we’re different.  Not that we want to be different of course, but since we are, we want some measure of understanding.  The other day, my mother and I were at the post office, trying to get me a new passport.  I felt like I was going to throw up, pass out, or both.  People kind of walked around me, trying not to stare rudely, as I sat hunched over, using a sales rack as a seat.  I was holding onto the counter when it was our turn.  My mom finally asked the clerk, “Do you need her for anything else?  Can she go outside?  She’s about to pass out.”  The clerk kind of looked at me with a bit of skepticism and derision, “Do you need a drink of water?” Annoyed, I said what I’ve found can often be magic words, “I have a medical condition”.  The clerk, like most of America, is uncomfortable with that and no longer feels qualified to judge me…which he did five minutes ago when he thought I was just a sullen, whiny, teenager.


I’ve complained about how the subway signs say “give up your seats to the elderly and those with disabilities”, but I know when I’m not feeling well that I can’t ask for someone’s seat, I look like a hardy, teenage girl…and we all know how entitled and selfish we young people are.  A friend who has a disability says that she’s always grateful when her face gets covered with a rash…because then people can see that something’s wrong and they believe her when she tries to explain her limitations.


The experience has made me think.  If I look perfectly normal to everyone else…then how do I know that someone that I think is part of the “everyone else” isn’t suffering from an invisible disability as well?


We judge people without full information.  We make assumptions.  We tend to forget that we don’t have all the puzzle pieces of everyone’s life, even those of strangers’ lives.  It’s something that as Christians, we’re called to think about, however.  The Bible and Jesus repeatedly tell us not to judge.  We usually assume that to mean we shouldn’t judge what other people do.  But what about judging what we don’t know?  What about the judgment we make when we don’t give someone money on the street because we think they might use it for drugs?  What about when we think about how our friend has been hard to reach lately, and we assume that they’re just being unreliable and careless towards us…instead of thinking that maybe there is something going on that is taking their attention and worry elsewhere?


The fact is…we all have our invisible disabilities.  We all have those things in our life, in our past, that make it harder for us to function, harder for us to connect, harder for us to do whatever it is.  We all have our faults and our baggage…and so does everyone you come into contact with.  Maybe that clerk who was snippy to you at the grocery store just found out that her daughter’s sick.  Maybe your brother’s working too much to visit because he’s concerned about losing his job.  Maybe they don’t.  Maybe they’re just having a bad day.  Or maybe they’re just not quite-so-pleasant-or-considerate people.  The point is that you can’t know.  God knows you can’t know.  Only he knows.  And he doesn’t expect or want you to treat people like you do know…like you’re him.  Take into consideration when you’re dealing with people the amount that you are unaware of in their lives…and then see if you can’t find some patience, cut them some slack, and try to follow Jesus’ example in not judging those around you.  We are not omniscient, that is solely the purview of God…we should not act otherwise.


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