Silence: A Missed Opportunity for Education?

My mouth is dry. My heart is pounding. I'm beginning to sweat.
No, I'm not about to perform on a stage or give a speech to a roomful of people... and yet... everyone is looking at me—not at him—waiting, expecting me to do something.

Or are they?
I've just arrived at a small get together, hobbling in with my walker. I’ve barely have made it through the door when I hear someone, over all other conversation already in progress, loudly exclaim:
“Hey, gimpy!”
Those words have stopped me in my tracks, and I scan the space for the source. Ah. Right there. It came from someone a few decades older than me, with a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other and a proud grin on his face.
I don't recognize this stranger, though I was later told I’d briefly met him once before.
This man doesn't know who I am or anything about me. He doesn't know I’m temporarily using a walker because I recently had surgery on one of my legs and I cannot put weight on it for two and a half months. He probably doesn't know I have MS either, and if he does, he certainly doesn't know anything about it or why what he did was so tasteless. He doesn't know that, someday, I may need to use a walking aid to get around.
Even if he was privy to any of that information, is it any of his business?
I've written before, here and on my personal blog, about how illuminating this injury recovery has been in offering me small glimpses into what my reality could be if my MS progresses in that direction. And that's why this man’s failed hilarity stung the way it did.
So, what do I do? Do I perpetuate the scene he created, only moments after walking through the door, and make the rest of the evening uncomfortable for everyone? If I call him out, will everyone think I'm dramatic or overly sensitive or unable to take a “joke?” Do I offer an explanation? Do I owe him one? Is that really what he's after, or does he just want a reaction from me? Do I do what I usually do and crack a self-deprecating joke and sacrifice my mental and emotional peace for the rest of the night? Or do I do nothing and wonder if I’m condoning the behavior?
I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but to me, a “joke” of this nature—no matter how innocent and no matter who it’s coming from—is cruel. These trite one liners are things I’ve heard ever since my diagnosis. I go about my day, dodging eye contact with people and abruptly changing conversation topics, knowing that a cheap joke could be on the tip of anyone’s tongue. And it’s not just a quick, fleeting comment. No. It’s a reminder. It’s a reminder of a life I didn’t choose, the life I didn’t dream of as a child.
It’s a life we all live, loud and proud, but always on edge, anticipating the next time we have to make the decision:
Do I call him/her out and risk ruining the night for innocent bystanders? Or do I suffer alone and risk contributing to the core problem by remaining silent?
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Cat Stappas

Cat was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2013 and writes about her experiences in her blog, It's Only A Bruise. She hopes to make the dark corners of the internet a little bit less scary for both the newly and the long-time diagnosed with some honesty, positivity and — sometimes — some tongue-in-cheek humor. You can read her blog here and follow her on FacebookTwitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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  • Avatar
    bubbadog66  Dec 13, 2017 4:40 AM
    It's none of my business what people think of me. I found restraint of tongue & pen is best when i'm angry, ragefully and justifiably angry....i'm over sensitive it seems. Yes, such comments as "gimpy" are cruel failed humor. I feel bad for them. They do not know what they do not know. My mom always told me if i have nothing to say to say nothing at all...great advice! Who knows what skeletons in HIS (their) closet yield this kinda dark and cruel humor!? Maybe his experiences makes MY need for durable medical equipment an uncomfortable situation for him?? Sure it hurts but it is a part of MY life now...such awkward comments have become typical. The price i pay to "play" with the healthy "ignorant" people. Yes, it is but just a moment, another unpredictable moment. I find holding "tight" helps me appreciate more the moments where i encounter an interested and compassionate old soul. Wish i could say i've never been the brunt of a bad joke but i cannot. I'm so grateful that i treat others as i wanna be MS makes this skill much easier, a perk of the nightmare one might say....grrrrr.
  • Avatar
    maria1  Dec 13, 2017 6:16 PM
    Hey Cat, The guy is probably a drunk and would not remember saying anything to you, nor that you commented. I wouldn't take it personally, jerks are like tape recorders, and monkeys, they repeat what they hear.

    When my aunt had both her hips replaced and waddled into a room, barely, with a walker, she with a big grin began to sing, "Look at me I am walking."

    The cup is halp full, not half empty.
  • Kathy Reagan Young   Dec 14, 2017 10:29 PM
    As always - excellent article. It’s a dance we’vemall done: donwe take the opportunity to teach or just let it go. For me - it’s based on how strong I’m feeling that day! Thanks for sharing your perspective Cat. It’s always a good one!
  • Jeff   Dec 16, 2017 8:24 PM
    Hi, Cat. I think you should do what you want. If you want to recognize the man and his remark, you should. Or, if you would rather ignore the remark, you should. My response in a situation like this would be to recognize the man and his remark but to give no quarter. Something like: “Hi, I’m Jeff. What’s your name?” After receiving his name, I would tell him that I know his remark was meant to be friendly, but a remark like that should be reserved for someone he knew well enough to know it was okay to be that personal and familiar. I think a response like this shows no hurt or anger and might help the gentleman to be better in the future. Thank you for your writing.