Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Marty Test

Before Marty's strokes, before she was relegated to a wheelchair, before her ability to communicate was burned away by the brain injury from the strokes I never really paid attention to people in wheelchairs. I was like most of the rest of the world, I saw someone in a wheelchair, I saw someone debilitated in some capacity, I saw someone who was different, and I looked past them. I wasn't necessarily afraid, I was unnecessarily uncomfortable.

I see it a lot now, almost exclusively with adults, a lot with young adults. It's a bit scary for them to see Marty, to see someone like her who can't move for themselves, who can't really take care of themselves, we are completely dependent on others. Some do as I did and look past her, some avert their eyes, the very young often stare because the wheelchair, the broken body is new to them, it's foreign to them.

I look to see how people react to Marty in her new condition. It's become something of a test, the Marty test. It's funny and a little bit sad the people who flunk the test. It's not a hard test, it's really pretty easy, you simply have to recognize that it's Marty, be able to engage with her on some level and touch her; so simple yet so hard for some. I do understand, though I no longer have sympathy for the failure to reach out and touch the least of us.

I've seen how a few, just a small number of her old friends, have been washed away by the discomfort. I'm not sure if it's the change in Marty from gregarious, engaging and physical to her new quiet, internal reflective self. I'm not sure if they think the stroke is communicable and they are afraid they will suddenly be "stroked". I suspect it is a little of both. I'm not sure I would act much differently if they were the ones in the wheelchair and I was one who just simply didn't understand the beauty of touching Marty as she is now.

Lyle, Erin's boy, and Sammy and Luke, family friends, always pass the Marty test with flying colors. Lyle is an adult who had to pass the test to move into our family, the other two are children who simply revel in the company of others. Since Lyle first came into our home he was never afraid to talk to Marty directly, to touch Marty, to kiss her cheek when offered. Lyle laughs with Marty, he jokes with Marty, he treats Marty as his prospective mother-in-law, and he passes the test easily. His comfort with Marty is part of who he is.

Luke and Sammy are kids. I’m not sure if it’s because their mother is a physician or simply because they are kids but they talk to Marty, they ask Marty questions and are thrilled when she answers them. The comfort they both have with Marty, and I suspect anyone like Marty, is what gives them the passing grade, they aren’t afraid, they aren’t restrained, they treat Marty like a regular person which is all that’s really required.

Here’s the truth. Marty is different. She is different in many ways from what she was; she is different in many ways from the norm, whatever that is. What so many overlook, what so many don’t understand is that Marty still feels, she still is very intuitive, she still knows who is comfortable around her, she still listens and understands clearly, she just doesn’t carry the conversation anymore. I don’t think that kind of thing is that important to her any longer.

The test, oh, there really isn’t one. Maybe there should be. Really it’s just a way of saying and recognizing some people who have difficulty relating to people who are different. I can tell you, if there was test, all you would need to do to pass is treat Marty like a real human being, like the person she has always been, and then just maybe touch her a little bit, she likes that, so do I.

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