For the past twelve-and-a-bit years I have been fighting to prove my worth to humanity. Sheesh! It’s been a long time!
I’ve been sitting for a long, long time. Your legs are tired of walking? Hey, my butt is tired of sitting. Wanna swap?
Since my accident, I have worked hard to restore my self-confidence and regain my sense of self-worth. I have learned to respect my body, trust my instincts, love myself and accept me for who I am. I have my own opinions, a sense of humour and know how to take care of myself. I think I can safely say that I have successfully managed to rebuild a new meaningful life in a different body. Surely all of this is sufficient to make me a woman of worth? Surely I am enough?
I have recently returned from visiting my Comrades legs. Mmm… I can now definitely confirm that he has the sexiest legs on the planet.
My heart is still running free. I know you want me to divulge all the luscious niceties. Soon. Promise.
But, something happened on one of the flights which has been playing havoc with my psyche – knocking my self-confidence and causing me to question my worth. Once again.
All the flights were fine – with the usual challenges that go hand-in-hand with walking differently and needing assistance. I will share the brutal truths with you in another post. If you like?
On one particular flight, a soft-spoken flight attendant was staring standing-by as I was being made comfortable on the plane. As the other passengers began boarding, he leaned over, smiling sweetly, and told me to call him, by pushing the flight-attendant-come-quickly-button above my head, should I need anything. He corrected himself swiftly, and smoothly, as he realised that there was no-way-in-hell I was going to be able to do that. I have no doubt that he didn’t want me yelling for him down the aisle so he suggested, smartly, that I ask her – pointing at my care assistant.
I smiled back, keeping silent. Thanks. Now go away. How nice! But, dear Sir didn’t your mother teach you that it’s rude to point?
He clasped his hands together and looked me directly in the eye.
He: Just so you know, in case of an emergency or if something goes wrong on the flight, we are going to help the other passengers <long pause> first.
My jaw dropped.
He: Maybe you can ask her to help you – pointing (again) at my care assistant who was already scared shitless as this was her first time on a plane.
I clenched my jaw and bit my tongue. I faked a smile. Dear Sir, didn’t your employer teach you that it’s rude to refer to someone as her in their presence?
The other passengers, struggling to board, forced him to retreat. He gave me one last pitiful smile as he turned and disappeared up the narrow aisle. Thank God.
I immediately tried to reassure my care assistant that all would be well. Oh my God, I hope so.
As the plane started taxiing down the runway, I was overwhelmed by emotion. My dignity felt like it had been assaulted and stripped, once again. My wounded pride was struggling to process and make sense of what he just said to me. His words stung, sore. Ouch!
I wanted to laugh at his arrogance and total disregard for the essence of human life. I wanted to cry for my undeniably pathetic reality. I wanted to scream with frustration, anger and fear. Instead, I sat staring out of the tiny window, biting the inside of my lip, until it bled.
If there was ever a time in my life when I felt most like an oxygen thief, it was at that moment.
The usual announcements were barely audible above the noise of the engines. No. I’m not Deaf.
I winced. In case of an emergency, the oxygen masks from above your head will drop down in front of you. Please put on your own mask FIRST before attempting to help other passengers.
Yes. That makes sense. I get it!
I guess I will never have the privilege of helping somebody else – not in a physical way – and never in case of an emergency on a plane.
That is – and will remain – the story of my life. Every moment of every single day is spent waiting for somebody to help me – waiting for somebody to do even the most basic things that most humans take for granted like brushing teeth or hair, washing, dressing, feeding myself or scratching an itch. And yes, an oxygen mask too.
Suddenly I felt so aware – self-conscious, awkward, insecure – humiliated by my disability, again – ashamed of ME.
I wanted to hide. I wanted to get up, sprint out of that plane and go far, far away. Dear God, please don’t let anybody notice me.
I’ve been plagued by negative thoughts ever since – a daily struggle to stay positive and motivated.
I’ve been consumed by guilt. You’re supposed to be an Inspirational Speaker, Tracy. You are meant to inspire and encourage others, not wallow in your own misery.
I have been awake deep into the night – sometimes crying, but mostly questioning – trying to understand my purpose and most importantly, my worth.
Isn’t it amazing how a few simple words can have such a powerful, destructive energy? Yes. I know. I allowed it to break me down. Again.—
I have had to cope with a lot of negative, soul-destroying comments, ignorant judgments, prejudiced criticisms and discriminatory actions by many (so-called) able-bodied human beings in the past.
Fortunately, I have the maturity (and experience) to understand that it’s not really intentional – most people don’t go out of their way to purposefully hurt my feelings. Oh God, I hope not!
But, due to ignorance, lack of experience or awareness and (for a select few) plain stupidity, hurtful things are often said and done, which I am still learning to deal with so that I may (hopefully) preserve my own sanity.
I’m not sure why the flight attendant felt the need to tell me that I would be left for last if there was an emergency. Perhaps, it is his personal fear of imperfection or disability? Perhaps, he considered it to be his duty? Whatever his reason, it doesn’t matter.
I have learned a most valuable lesson. A person’s worth should have nothing to do with their physical state but rather have everything to do with their character. Surely we are all born worthy irrespective of our physical ability? A person’s worth is in being, not in having or doing.
Worthy is the ability to know that what I contribute to the world matters. If YOU are reading this blog post right now, then I am making a small, hopefully positive, contribution to this world in my own unique way. Therefore I matter!
Besides, if you are sitting next to me on the same plane and that plane is going down, we are both going down Baby! Believe me, you too, will be paralysed – with fear! And guess which one of us will be shitting in our pants? *Wink*
How do you measure your self-worth?
I wish the air host could read this blog.
That airhost guy was a complete arse. Please don’t let his ignorance and stupidity worry you for even a moment. You give so much to the world with your speaking and writing – you’re an inspiration.
Your impact as a humand being is not that easy to describe, but all I know is that knowing you made a difference to my life and my view as a health care giver to my disabled patients. Further more how about replying to that flight attendant, “thank you so much that you are telling me that the two of us will be the last to leave the plane, you must have such a caring nature to be willing to come back for me” (tongue in cheek) Love Ina
Ina — thank you for your lovely comment. It’s wonderful that I can make a difference to your life like you do in my life.
My problem is that I struggle to think and be quick with a comment on the spot. I can think of so many “come back” lines I could have used at that moment with that flight attendant. But it’s too late now.
Next time I’ll be better prepared. I hope.
You should not have to prove your worth to humanity. People deserve a certain amount of respect regardless. It should start with unconditional love from our parents. A lot of problems arise when this is abscent.
This may be a bit harsh but I am sure you will not find a serial killer that experienced unconditional love from their parents.
That is so true, Corneil. We can only dream about that ideal world! 🙂
What a crappy thing to happen.
I have a different, contrarian view of it for you.
As I see it, the flight attendant was just a small dick, doing what dicks do. He probably meant only a little harm, or none at all. Regardless of HIS intentions, his actions were deeply hurtful to you.
This tells me that there are things rising to the surface in you. And that maybe this guy’s insensitivity is a gift to you? The gift is awareness. Awareness of something lurking. Something clawing its way to your surface.
One of the problems of looking for the positive in everything is that we stop looking at and for the negative. Not seeing negative stuff doesn’t mean it’s not there. And not seeing it has a tendency to drive it underground. Where it festers.
I’m guessing that your public speaking focuses mostly on the positive learnings from your situation. And I’m guessing that when you touch on the negatives, it’s to give perspective to people.
I’m just guessing, so I apologise if I’m getting this badly wing.
Something informing my guess is the depth of your response to the flight attendant’s insensitivity.
Thomas Moore, in the book, CARE OF THE SOUL, talks about depression as being like the giant planet, Saturn. He says that it’s so vast, we forget that wisdom lives in it. Vast, timeless wisdom. And only intrepid explorers are able to reach that wisdom.
Here’s something I see as a win from this incident…
You are allowed to give yourself permission to be a duck when appropriate. Just cos you’re an inspirational speaker doesn’t make you a doormat to other peoples’ arseholery.
Next time an equivalent insensitivity comes your way, access the burning engine of Saturn, and give back. ‘I’m a human being, and your words come across as humiliating and demeaning. I want you to go away, and I want a different flight attendant dealing with me. Go away.’
It may not HELP you, and it may not make much of a difference in the bigger scheme of things. But what it WILL do is bring the insensitivity into the light. AND it will give you a rush of REAL power… you are figuratively standing up for yourself when your legs can’t do it for you.
Roy — I love your perspective. I think, as human beings we always have things rising to the surface throughout our lives. Time (and experience) always gives new perspective.
I like the way you think. Insensitivity and the effect it has on one can be a gift of awareness. Beautiful!
Yes, you guessed right. I focus on the positive in my talks and only touch on the negative to give perspective to my audience.
Believe me, next time I get an insensitive comment like this from a flight attendant or anybody else I’m going to be ready for it.
This isn’t so much about ‘what I shoulda said’ or ‘what I WILL say NEXT TIME’.
It’s more in the realm of, ‘Stuff happens. How I respond is my choice. What my response teaches me about myself is also my choice.’
So it’s about being prepared for the learning, not for the situation.
You know… that flight attendant might very well be kicking himself in his own nuts for how he dealt with you. He might simply be unequipped to deal with situations that scare him. Or maybe he thought he was giving you a good headsup. I dunno. He could have intended all sorts of things that we have no access to.
What we DO have access to in ANY situation is our own response and motivations. We know ourselves better than anyone can know us.
In this case, in your shoes, I’d be asking myself, ‘What is it about THIS particular helplessness, humiliation, anger that is resonating so strongly with me and making me SO down? What am I NOT noticing about myself at the moment that needs attention?’
And that’s where the gift kicks in. When the hard work is done.
And in a seemingly contradictory vein… It’s probably a good idea to ‘pre-script’ some responses to possible situations. I’m almost certain you’re in a position to write an entire book on this topic! You MUST HAVE come across the most brutal comments masquerading as kindness or good intention. And you’ve probably come across things that’ll make people cringe.
Maybe part of the gift of this dude’s behaviour to you is the impetus to write a book about dealing with people’s disabilities?
Hi Tracy, it is so great to have you back again, have missed your inspiring writing ! Well I think that flight attendant is a TOTAL idiot, he should not have that job.
I can’t believe how insensitive he was to you and your care assistant. You really should complain. But anyway, I am also looking forward to some good stories from your trip ! xxx
Thank you! 🙂 I’m glad you missed me. It’s good to be back.
So beautifully written, and very poignant. Keep teaching us Tracy.
Thank you, Liz 🙂
Hi Trace, I heard about your experience from Roy and then read it this morning. It made me search for something to give you courage and inspiration because you give so much of that to others. I came up with this scripture and I hope it blesses you.
“That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness, giving thanks unto the Father, who hath made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light (Colossians 1:10-12).” Love you lots.
Paula — thank you for your lovely message. I really appreciate it! Love you lots too.
I’m so sorry that this thoughtless person hurt you. But, please don’t own this.
The flight attendant was rude and insensitive. Let him own his own bad behaviour.
Don’t think for one minute that it had anything to do with you. There’s no way he would have reserved this treatment just for you.
He would treat many people in the exact same manner. That says a lot about who he is and nothing about who you are.
Always remember that you are enough. Just as you are. Right this minute.
Be strong Tracy. The only words you should ever take to heart should come from those who love and care about you.
Anyone else just doesn’t matter. I know that it’s easy to say and hard to do.
But, you have to try. We can’t let people like him get the better of us.
Hang in there! You’ll be fine! 🙂
Jazz — it’s good to hear from you again.
I know. You are right. One shouldn’t allow insensitive comments to impact one’s life.
Thank you for your lovely kind words.
When a delicate plant that is growing in the shade is moved into harsh sunlight, then the plant will take strain. If the plant is left in the sun for very long either it will adapt or it will die. Many a gardener will prefer to take the plant back into the shade so it can continue to flourish. Few gardeners will stand back and watch the plant wilt and die if it can’t adapt. The is no shame in the plant flourishing in the shade rather than in the sun. There are plants which by nature grow in the sun and others by nature grow in the shade. There is no difference in worth between either – they are both equally worthy to grow and bring joy to the gardener and people. However, when a plant that used to grow in the sun suddenly needs to grow in the shade, not by its own choice but by that of the gardener, people will look & stare. There are not many plants like that. The plants learns to adapt to growing in the shade.
You are the plant which used to grow in the sun and were delegated to now grow in the shade. Your worth has not changed. Flying that day is like you being moved into the sun. It was hot and you started to wilt. There is no shame in that and your worth stayed the same. Then when you came back home you went back to the shade where you felt comfortable because you have learnt to adapt. You have gone through the learning and adaption whereas the flight attendant has no clue about growing in the shade. That is why he would be shitting in his pants when the plane goes down :o)
Otto — I love your use of the plant metaphor. It’s truly beautiful. Thank you! 🙂
PS I can see the flight attendant shitting in his pants. Thank you for making my day and putting a (wicked) smile on my face.
You have surely touched a very difficult subject. We would all like to feel worthy. We live in a society where the constitution embodies a spirit that everyone is equally worthy. It is politically incorrect to consider someone unworthy for just about every reason you can think of.
And yet the end result of all of this is that people still feel the need to determine the worth of everybody they encounter, as soon possible.
It has been shown by archaeologists that prehistoric man did not discard frail and injured.
Humanity did not need to trample the weak to survive.
Thanks for your comment, Corneil.
If only we could capture the values of prehistoric man and instill them in our modern day counterparts. I think life would be a lot more simple. I guess, it all boils down to RESPECT.
You are an angel on earth, thank you for keeping humble and thank you. stay safe, and thank you once again.
i meant keeping me humble.
Thank you, Elmarie.
Isn’t it amazing how we can allow one person to make us feel inadequate? Some people say things without thinking and they don’t realise that you are left dealing with an array of emotions after the fact! Don’t ever think that you aren’t worthy because you are an amazingly strong woman and you ARE making a difference!
Tracey – great name by the way 😉
I think that all of us allow the words and actions of others to make us feel inadequate at times because most of us are ruled by our emotions.
Thanks for your kind words.
First, I must thank you for your choice to share vulnerability honestly. Making that choice is proof of worth, of value in character.
Whatever else we humans expend in the way of resources, we’ll never run short of idiots or a-holes. At some point when we aren’t being burdened by one, we are sure to be one ourselves.
Therefore, I’m trying not to measure worthiness at all. I’m assuming it’s there in everyone, and the variable is a changing hierarchy based on appropriateness to the task being undertaken.
You wouldn’t be my first choice to help push my car out of the mud, Tracy, but if I were sad I doubt I could find more sympathetic or helpful company anywhere on Earth.
Mikey – thank you for your thought-provoking comment. Your strength of character and positive spirit always shines through in every word you write.
Yes, it’s important to recognize and use people for their strengths. Pushing cars out of the mud is definitely not one of my strengths. 😉
Thank you for your kind words. It would be me who would be privileged to share your sadness.
I was very angry for you when I read your blog page and can only say that this points directly to the lack of proper training of cabin crew. No person whether they be able bodied or not should be subjected to this kind of insentitive treatmnent. There are many disabled people who travel the world and so far this is the first time I have heard of this sort of thing.(only in SA?)
My husband was an airline captain for many years and he would have been shocked to hear of something like this happening on one of his flights.
Your ‘Blog page’ and all the answers sent to you should be sent to the Management of the airline concerned and c.c. to the Training section of the airline concerned; this is in the interest of the airline concerned.
Never for a moment even consider whether it is your ‘Self Worth’ or not, because you were a passenger on an airline that should be made aware of the lack of sensitivity on the part of one of their crew members.
Take heart :-0) :*
Thank you, Helen. I can only hope that by sharing my experiences it will give me the opportunity of creating more awareness and thus change a few mindsets along the way.
I would love to have an opportunity to speak to the staff at the airlines someday. Teaching/training is my passion.
Ooooohhh wouldn’t that be GREAT? I hope that such a situation should present itself one day and that you will make them see the LIGHT!
Your experience makes me MAD at the lack of social skills so many people seem to have especially in the “service ” industry.
I feel for you!!! Cant wait for the positive bits of the trip xxx
Geraldine — social skills and our service industry needs a lot of work, I agree. But in the world of disability most people just simply don’t know any better until they have had personal experience or be made aware of our plight. Hopefully, I can make a difference in this regard — one mindset at a time.
I’ll write about the rest, soon. Much love
Tracy, when I read this blog post I was ANGRY: angry with the flight attendant for being so insensitive toward you and rude to your caregiver; angry with you for not immediately dressing him down; and most of all angry with myself because I don’t know that I would have handled the situation any better than either he or you did, despite which I was (unreasonably) angry with both of you. Thank you for this post: you have taught me about the difficulties experienced by “disabled” people in a “non-disabled” world, about how “non-disabled” people react (and could better react) to “disabled” people “intruding” in the “non-disabled” world, but thank you most of all for teaching me about my own propensity to being judgmental.
You are a worthy teacher. Please join us for dinner if ever you visit Jozi.
Bill – I totally get your anger. Believe me, I was angry too – angry with him, but most of all angry with myself for not dealing with the issue properly at the time and even more so for allowing it to get me down. Unfortunately, that is one of my weaknesses – my inability to respond quickly. But, I am getting better at it – believe it or not. I can always think of a million things I should have said after the fact/incident. I will continue working on it. Thank you for your comment. It would be great to meet you someday.
Hi Tracy – I always read your posts. I’m really sorry about your horrible experience. Have you written to the airline company to explain what happened to you? Sounds to me as if its staff could do with a bit of training and awareness raising. Maybe you could make someone else’s future experience with that company better than yours as a result? If you did write, I’d be really interested to see the company’s reply. All best wishes to you.x
Hi Deborah – thanks for always reading my blog. You are a star!
I haven’t written to the airline yet, but I intend to. I’ll let you know what they say.
Every time I read your blog I thank G-d that I have all my faculties.
One day I will come and hug and kiss you for all the assholes out there that makes you feel bad.
I pray for you….
Hmmm… I look forward to that day.
I was thinking something similar today about my own self worth and the ways I have felt diminished due to illness and poor health. I believe each of us battle with it regardless of our external abilities and talents or able bodiedness. I went to the gym recently to do a “vibe” class and my body just couldn’t or wouldn’t do what the instructor was telling me. The others in the class were all magnificently fit and keeping up and here was me just doing my very best- knowing that sometimes in pushing my body I have become unwell (I had M.E for many years and was virtually housebound with fatigue and weakness) . So I did the class and felt I wa simproving. Eventually though I stopped a sit felt that I wasn’t up to scratch and that the others saw me as weak (a wimp!)
Due to the M.E. and the fact I was unable to work for a lengthy period I have studied extensively and been on an accelerated path of spiritual growth but my self worth has always been my achilles heel. I had my hand analyzed recently and was told me that my 2 life lessons were powerlessness/overwhelm and not valuing my self- I laughed as I knew it was so true! So whether we are able -bodied or disabled we all cry in the night because of harsh words or pitiful stares. I am so much better now and able to get around and work but the scar remains- like a wound I don’t like to show others!
i wish you strength and thank you for showing me some of your World. May we all come to understand each others Worlds better and from a compassionate and loving stance-not fear or pity!
Thank you for your lovely comment.
I totally agree, we all question our worth at some stage in our lives, irrespective of our physical abilities. It’s just that many of us are not brave enough to admit it. In order for me to give you a glimpse into my world, I need to bare my soul, share my truths and show you that it’s not much different from your world. After all, we all exist in the same world. My dream is to see an ideal world where all people can be tolerant and accepting of one another – celebrating uniqueness instead of condemning it. I know that that may be too much to ask but it’s not going to stop me from trying and doing my little bit for humanity.
To be honest, it’s hard reading a post such as this, where you’ve let the stupidity and ignorance of someone else get the better of you. At first, I was getting the impression that you were beginning to feel as if you don’t deserve the help you get. But, as I read on, I realized that you just lost track of yourself there, for a minute or two and by the end of it, you had come to your senses. You’re right, your worth is all relative to your character, it’s all dependant on your ability to impact those around you. It has nothing to do with whether or not you can do up your own seat belt. This experience wasn’t a measure of YOUR character, but rather a measure of the flight attendant’s character. And he was found wanting. You however, can still sit proudly, knowing that you are changing the world, one word at a time. It’s a big job, and you deserve all the help you can get.
I guess that all of us, irrespective of our ability, allow negative words or thoughts to drag us down from time to time. It’s all part of being human. I will fall again, no doubt. But, at least I know that I do have the ability to get up again.
Yes, I do need help. There is no denying that. But, what I have realized, is that each human will need help at some stage in their lives in one way or another.
Thank you for helping me to make a difference by reading and commenting on my blog.
There is a real jewel at the part where you say: “A person’s worth is in being, not in having or doing.”
As a recovering addict in therapy, I fully resonate with all the emotions you go through, sometimes I even think you’re more fortunate, people can at least SEE evidence of your physical disability.
Thank you for your comment, Mario.
Yes, I agree that a person’s worth is definitely not contingent on what he has or what he does. It’s all about one’s character – its strength and its ability to adapt to change.
I feel your pain and your longing. Stay strong and continue being brave.
Tracy, I guess I understand your point… If I ever met anyone WORTHY it is you. I know I fall in the category that said things to you out of ignorance, through a lack of experience and stupidity, but when I say that I you’re worthy, it comes from a different part of me. Inspiring people makes you WORTHY. Being a great mother makes you WORTHY. Being a friend makes you WORTHY. Loving roy makes you WORTHY. I think many other people also believe you are WORTHY.
PS. The story about the flight attendant reminds me of the time I was on a flight from Jozi to Sydney. After all the bla bla about the life jacket and the whistle I asked the flight attendant if there was a compass in the life jacket. Very puzzled she asked what I would need that for? Well, I don’t want to swim in the wrong direction and end up in Antarctica… She was a true aussie with a great sense of humour…
Thank you, Anton. 🙂
I love your story. It’s good to hear that some people still have a sense of humour. 😉