Wednesday, November 14, 2012


As I was sitting in the audience enjoying a university production of "Ajax in Iraq" I couldn't help reflecting on all the instances I've missed out on a plays, exhibits and movies when I lived in Poland, because of my disability. Here it's just so easy. I have a free evening, I say to myself: I want to see a stage show, what's playing? My disability will never be an issue. Getting into the building will not be a problem. They will have anything in place for me if I tell them I'm in a wheelchair and even if there was some kind of misunderstanding, usually they will just pull a sit out when they see me so I can park there. Buildings old and new, the procedure is pretty much the same. I have no doubt, that from their perspective navigating customers with special needs may be a pretty elaborate production, but from where I'm sitting all I have to do is show up. I didn't get to experience that in Poland. Heck, until multiplex cinemas became widespread in Poland in the late 1990's I didn't go movies that often at all. Somebody had to pull me up the stairs to the building in my wheelchair, then walk up with me up along the isle in to my sit. Pretty steep and as I grew I could easily tip somebody behind me, a step lower who was leading me behind out of balance. When I was very young my dad tried to accommodate me and get me included in those school trips to the opera, museum or the planetarium. Getting me on that bus was often challenge enough. The ride leading up to the event was not enjoyable at all. I knew a moment of truth was arriving. I had to muster all my strength to help my dad if we decided to walk up the stairs. There would always be stairs, you can be sure of that. Every such escapade was painful and stressful for all of us. My dad would pay for each one with incredible back pain, my underarms hurt from where he was pulling me and I would just end up feeling guilty. Guilty and scared that I'm putting him through this and he is trying and failing. Even when my class was planing a trip in advance all I could think of is that I would most likely not go or imagined the pain and the complications if I did. Outside of school trips we didn't even think of planning trying to going to those places on our own time. Granted, my family was never into art that much and after a long week nobody really had any energy to plan a fun a productive way to spend time other than reading, shopping and TV.

But there were shows I would have loved to see. "Metro"- Poland's most famous musical, I must be the last person in Warsaw to not have seen it.  But if you hurt the ones you love to see it, you learn not to ask. How selfish would it have been of me? When I was older,  before the multiplex area, my brother and his girlfriend would take me to see a movie a few times. It wasn't often and I could probably name all of them. Didn't help with his back problem either. When the new multiscreen cinemas popped up everywhere I discovered I could do it by myself. Just order a paratransit ride for every Friday, grab some corn and see not one movie but two. i guess, I've had a lot to make up for. But for once I could just enjoy myself and I wasn't a burden. When I visited  New York I saw "Rent" and "Spamelot" on Broadway. Funny thing. Not all sidewalks had curbs, but the theaters were wheelchair accessible. In Gainesville I've had an annual subscription to the shows at The Hippodrome Theatre for a few years now. I've seen countless student productions, travelling productions of musicals, ballet,  and concerts. Some are better than others, but I came, I saw and I took something from it. I've been to galleries, premieres and openings. It brings me a lot of joy to see something as it happens before me live. Culture. I may differ from my parents on this,  but I love how it enhances my life, changes my perspective, challenges, moves and inspires. And for someone like me, always watching the life from sidelines until I moved here it makes me feel like I'm experiencing something real, like I'm finally included, without guilt.

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