Thursday, July 9, 2015

"You can watch"

This is at once a story and a rant.

Earlier this week, my sister and I travelled to Squamish, where she planned to rock-climb and I planned to tackle a popular hiking trail. After booking the trip, she told me that the trail that I planned would be too challenging for me, and that I should do something easier. That leaves me with little; the best hikes in the area are somewhat advanced, or involve riding a gondola to them (we'd budgeted for that for the second day of our trip, together, rather than for our solo days), or are really quite similar to what I'd done previously in Vancouver, or simply pale in comparison to what I had done previously in Whistler - and frankly, none of the remaining hikes were the one that I had planned to do when scheduling my summer to accommodate this trip.

There are forest fires nearby. The BC forest fires have worsened air quality dramatically in some areas of the province, Squamish included. The mountains receded into a cloud of particulate matter that infiltrated my lungs, leaving me wheezy, dizzy, and too weak to hike at all. I want to go home; it is too hot; it is too dry; it is too everything. I resigned myself to a day in the air-conditioned library, just to breathe. There is nothing for me here if I can't be with the mountains.

"You can watch me climb," she says, in a text.

You can watch. You can watch. Three simple words, ostensibly stating what I can do, yet an implied proclamation of what I cannot. I can watch others do what I ache to do, and what I can no longer do. I don't know if I'll ever be strong enough to climb again, and have given away my gear; it's easier to make peace with that away from the rock walls. So I cannot climb; I can merely watch, waiting for a turn that won't come.

You can watch. A friend described those words as violence. Yes, violence - it excises intentions of doing, planning, trying, hoping; instead, implants stagnation, life on the sidelines.

"You can watch." It is less an invitation as an evaluation of what is worth watching - of whom we bother to watch; when we watch; why we watch. Unintentional, but only because what we watch is coded into how we view people and their activities. Why watch writhing, weeping, wilting, waking, worrying, wanting? Disability is invisible, except when it is hyper-visible.

This summer, my mother has started snapping candid iPhone photos of me doing perfectly ordinary physical things that were easy before I got sick, impossible a few months ago, and are still now somewhat challenging. With a disability, people watch because it is exceptional that this person is doing a particular thing. When someone does not have a disability, people watch because the activity is exceptional, or it is performed with exceptional skill in relation to humanity in general. Speed. Artistry. Finesse. Who applauds a non-disabled woman who swims, slowly? walks with trepidation down a log? makes a simple salad? We applaud the ordinary when it is performed by children. When we watch, when we suggest watching, we judge. I love children, but don't want to be judged, again, as a child.