This post first appeared in Life As a Human
We were so smitten with it that we wanted to share
Recently, I was reading part two of an article by Bob Burg called “To Have A Body”. In it, he discusses how too often as humans we judge others by their appearance, like judging a book by its cover. Bob’s article brought back a memory I would like to share with you.
First, a little bit about where I was and what I was doing at that point in my life.
I was feeling great and probably a little too smug. It was 1990 and I had just won the national Strategic Account Executive of the Year award for Toshiba. My career was in overdrive and everything was going my way. The local university had asked if I would take part in a technology show by setting up a booth to display the latest laptop computers and talk about the future of the industry. At the time, Toshiba had the most innovative products on the market and had the lion’s share of that marketplace.
For many reasons, I was delighted and excited to take part in the technology show. I was passionate about the technology and loved to talk about it. Now I was going to be able to do so at a university venue to academics, many of whom were from the various science faculties. I love science! What could be better?
We set up a beautiful booth and displayed our best products. On the first day, the booth quickly filled with professors and students all wanting to talk about their various projects and discuss how our technology could help them further their research. I was fascinated and enjoying every moment.
It was about noon, and there were many people waiting to speak with me. Just then, a woman in a wheelchair rolled into the booth. She was a quadriplegic. She had a tube close to her mouth that she would blow into to move and steer her motorized wheelchair. She also had a whiteboard on her lap that she could write on using a long erasable marker, again using her mouth to do so. As well, she had a bib of sorts, as she would salivate quite a bit whilst using her mouth to write or drive her wheelchair.
She wanted some information. I felt very awkward as I approached her. She had written a note that was difficult to read. The note asked if I could give her some information about a particular laptop computer. What, I wondered, would she do with a laptop computer? I grabbed a brochure and placed it in a basket she had on the wheelchair. She wrote another question on her board. The communication between us was slow and very difficult to understand. I was aware of the others waiting in the booth and I was anxious to get back to them. When I had answered her, she grunted a thank you, smiled as best she could and slowly left the booth. I could tell she wanted to ask more questions.
As she rolled out of the booth, I engaged a professor who was studying quasars. Wow! Astronomy, my favorite science. I was elated… for about one minute. I could not get the woman in the wheelchair out of my mind and began to feel awful for not having spent more time with her. She deserved every bit as much of my attention as anyone else.
I felt I had let her down because I was unwilling to spend the time with her. In a way, I had judged her. I had made a decision to spend as little time as possible with her so I could get back to those who were easier to communicate with, mostly because I was interested in what they had to say. Though I was polite, I never gave her the courtesy of showing her the same level of interest.
The next day, the booth was packed. Around mid-morning, the woman in the wheelchair returned. When I saw her, I respectfully broke off from the conversation I was having with a physicist. I walked over to her and said hello. On her lap was a neatly typed note with several questions. With an awkward tilt of her head, she motioned to the note so I picked it up and read it. After I had answered each question, she again grunted a thank you and motioned that she was going to leave. I stopped her and asked her what she was researching. She began to write on her board. This was going to take a while. I grabbed a chair and sat next to her so we could communicate more easily and gave her 100% of my attention. She was doing some very interesting research! She also had a tremendous sense of humor and not one ounce of self-pity.
I asked her how she had managed to type the note she had brought with her and she explained that she had an interface that allowed her to use the blow tube to type by blowing in patterns similar to Morse code. She wanted to incorporate a laptop and a small printer into her chair so she could type messages wherever she went.
We spoke for about an hour. By the end, the communication was getting much easier. During that time, I had wiped her chin for her a few times with Kleenex that she kept in her basket. She finally told me that I really needed to get back to the others who had been waiting patiently. Sighing, I agreed and gave her all of my contact information and invited her to contact me anytime at all. I told her I would be happy to drive out to the university so I could answer her questions and carry on our conversation. Alas, we never saw each other again.
The one hour I spent with her ranks as one of the most humbling and beautiful hours I have ever spent with another human being. Trapped inside her broken body was a beautiful mind and a wonderfully creative imagination. Despite her appearance, she was as graceful as any human I have ever met. Though I am sure she didn’t know it, she brought me back down to ground and taught me lessons I will never forget.
As we move through our lives, we meet people whom we sometimes judge too quickly. I believe some of these people are angels sent to teach us valuable lessons. The woman in the wheelchair certainly was — and if she happens to read this, I have these words for her:
From the depth of my heart … thank you!
About Gil Namur- Life as a Human
Life As A Human’s President (and chief bottle washer!), has been writing music, lyrics and poetry since he was a youngster. Spurred on by his friends and family (his daughter Robin in particular), in January of 2009, Gil started writing motivational and inspirational articles at his blog synaptici.com.
Gil is a musician at heart and has recorded an instrumental jazz/rock CD called Old Dog New Tricks. He has a burning passion for the arts and sciences (especially astronomy) and loves all things entrepreneurial. In his late 40’s, he took up Karate and is now close to his black belt.