I got my first look of pity today. The young cashier at the grocery store. He looked athletic, like a kid with a letterman’s jacket. He saw me trying to walk to the counter to pay my bill. At first he looked horrified. And then he got that “There but for the grace of God go I. look” Oh, child, if you only knew.

When I was a kid, my mother crashed into another vehicle. This was before the days of seat belt restriction and car seat. I was thrown into the dashboard and shattered both my knee cap. I also had hysterical blindness for about an hour after the incident. My mother thought feeding us was a burden, forget about medical care. I was taken to the doctor once at the school’s insistence. He said I wouldn’t be able to walk by the time I was thirty. Well, I held out til fifty. It’s a matter of pride I proved him wrong.

I always had trouble with my knees, but I was young and, as young people tend to be, immortal. I am hiker by nature. I spent most of my life just walking, usually about 20 miles a day. I worked retail and walked a lot there and on days off, as I did as a child, I wandered in the woods. Once, when I was a kid, we walked the entire length and circumference of Topeka. When I am upset, I walk. So see, walking in integral to my person.

So last year I started having more trouble the usual. Standing issues. Walking issues. My doctors diagnosed me with Osteoarthritis, which comes from things like untended shattered knee caps. I will beg your pardon for not sending hearts and flowers to my mother on Mother’s day. I have a daily reminder of her love every time I get up to pee.

But pity. Wow. I never thought myself a person needing pity. He looked at me and I knew I had lost the one thing he can’t live without. My mobility. Now I am in treatment, getting injections in my knees every two weeks which might make me mobile again for seven months, when I assume I have to go through that crap again. But I will walk. Yet, for a moment. I had this flash. This is what being disabled feels like. Really disabled. The looks of passers by. the look of pity. I’m not disabled. I’m one of those get it done no matter what people. Hell, I made a movie three weeks ago. That differently able crap is nonsense.

Now, I will admit at this point when I do walk, I’m like something in a horror movie. A shambling mass. But pity? When you see that in someone else’s eyes, it’s dehumanizing. Those who receive pity know what it really means, Its code for “I don’t know what horror has befallen you but I pray it doesn’t affect me!” It’s like they think you are genetically bad like some abhorrent child who was locked in an attic for years and have escaped and are you a cannibal? Pity sucks.

I’ve always made an effort to look at people – all people – as human beings. It was a courtesy, I know they don’t want or need my condescending sorrow for their plight. It’s not a plight, it’s a life. It’s what we have. We don’t make the best of it, we revel in being alive. Not having legs, or missing an arm of being blind doesn’t and shouldn’t stop anyone. Life is about fortitude and people don’t overcome their lives, they live them. I’m ok with where I am. I don’t let it stop me. I’ve written several movies and actually directed one. I’ve done more while unable to walk them most people do in their whole lives with all their faculties. It really is just a meat suit. It just holds you in place while you kick life in the testicles. The shape of it doesn’t matter, it’s the will of the spirit inside.

There has to be a better word. Not this new age handy capable crap. No, Something better. Over achiever. Or what about person. And as a counselor of some 30 years, let me tell you, everyone is handicapped. Everyone has some demon, and those with outward stuff tend to be better of inside. I’ve never met a crazy deaf person, or a bully in a wheelchair. Or a mean Downs person.

So next time you are in the store and see someone in a wheel chair or hobbling along on bad knees, or missing an arm, don’t look at them with pity. Instead, you should marvel that they are here, fighting the good fight like everyone else. They don’t need you to send them prayers. They need you to let them get on with their lives. And before you help, make sure it’s needed or wanted. And when them look at us, just give a smile. Maybe a wave. It’s not that hard.

Remember, “there but for the Grace of God go you.” Would you stand, or fall? There is no pity for one who stands no matter what. Imagine the strength. Be a friendly face in the crowd. Be the change that needs to be in the world. Knees don’t last forever.