Two weeks ago, on a Wednesday morning, I was riding in a Lyft to work with a driver from Somalia. Because I can’t have any conversation with someone without blindness coming up, (truly, the thing I find least interesting about myself is apparently the most interesting to everyone else), we got into it. He asked me if something happened to my eyes. I explained that I was just “born this way.” He asked about my job. I told him tech, just like everyone else in Seattle. (Except for all the egregiously underpaid folks who make tech workers’ coffee and serve us quiche. But that’s another post.)
Then he started in about how god was good to me for giving me a good job. I always get a sinking feeling at this point. I am not religious and even though I respect other’s right to religion, I don’t like when someone brings up god like they think we are on the same page about it. It tends to happen to me weirdly often in Lyfts and cabs, where I am trapped for the duration of the ride and don’t feel like I can say anything particularly controversial. So I usually just sit and feel awkward and try to steer the conversation elsewhere.
This guy though. He said, “Sometimes god gives someone everything, everything, except they don’t have a job.” His voice started to pitch erratically, and I thought, omg, he seems like he’s going to cry! Then I thought, he can’t be about to cry, right? But he was, crying openly as he drove and tried to speak.
“If you were born in Africa, you would not have this. You are so lucky. When I heard you have a job, I thought, thank god, how lucky. People in Africa, if you have a disability, they beat you up. Your parents might throw you out.”
He was weeping now, and my own eyes started welling because I often teeter on the verge of crying when I see someone else cry. And because, well, he would know. I only have small experiences of living abroad. Living in South America for a summer was indeed revealing; people seemed startled by me and, though most were extremely kind, they were also incredulous that I was there. In Spain, people said, “You’re so brave” at every turn. I vaguely know that comparatively, the U.S. is a good place to be if you have a disability, but good god, I spend so much time swimming through the muck of ignorance and ableism on a daily basis that I am challenged constantly to remember that.
It’s worth remembering though. It’s just luck that I was born here and given opportunities here. It’s luck that my parents were unendingly supportive of me.
And of course, on the other hand, perhaps a Lyft ride wasn’t the place for this guy to unload his grief. It’s not the first time someone has cried about blind people’s suffering in my vicinity, though, so I tried to take it in stride.
I don’t really know how to end this story. I started writing it shortly after it happened, and have been sitting on it trying to figure out what I have to say about it. Perhaps this story is not for analysis and tidy endings. It was just a thing that happened to me, and I’m trying to honor its lessons, whenever they present themselves.