Please Don’t Pray for Me
Dear stranger who announces that you are praying for me,
These moments feel more like an attack and an invasion of privacy than well wishes. That deep inhalation you take before grabbing my hand out of my lap and looking deep into my eyes – the moments before you say the dreaded and unnecessary thing – are all for your benefit. I get nothing but an injection of pure, unadulterated rage out of this encounter.
There is a reason, dear stranger, that I am looking at the floor, my phone, a magazine. There is a reason my eyes are trained away from yours. I can feel it coming because I feel you looking at me – all sad eyes and repeated glances in my direction – and from the way you say, “Good morning” when I enter the room. It is not my last morning on this planet. It is not that good – or bad – of a morning either…until you begin proclaiming.
Know this: It is wildly inappropriate for you to approach me while I am in the middle of a PT session, checking out at the grocery store, entering the Post Office to buy stamps, waiting for my dog at vet – while I am waiting in any number of lines at any number of businesses. This out-of-the-blue affirmation serves three purposes, and I’ll tell you, dear stranger, none of them are good.
1. You identify me as different
You identify me as different, as suffering or having no quality of life, as un-able, and most importantly, as being on the whole less than you.
I don’t think any of these things are your express purpose in publicly declaring that you are praying for me, and I know it’s really difficult for able-bodied folks to see those of us with visible disabilities as having a good life. But by immediately judging the visibly disabled as suffering, as people in need of prayers and good will, you assume that we are both unable to have “normal” lives and that the lives we currently lead are miserable, limited, and far less meaningful or contented than your own.
I realize that I walk with a cane, that I have a wonky gait and a complicated leg brace on my right leg, and that I shave my head. I am aware that I stand out, but that’s not intentional – or avoidable – and it is definitely not an invitation for you to drop your baggage at my feet. Dear stranger, try to let me blend in as much as I can. Or at least pretend that you don’t think the disabled are lepers in need of your mercy and good cheer. Fake it until you make it, if you have to.
2. You pity me
This is something I have gotten used to. Even my mother pities me some days and requires a stern reminder of why she shouldn’t, but dear stranger, you don’t know me. You don’t know that I shave my head because I hate my hair and have a beautiful skull that deserves to be shown off. You don’t know that I have a job I love, two dogs and a husband I love even more, amazing friends, and a life that I am not all that miserable about. Just because my body is a piece of shit doesn’t mean my life is shit, too.
My physical struggles have taught me a lot, and these are lessons you likely won’t understand until you’re facing life-altering or life-threatening illness. I’m a few steps ahead of you, even if those steps are hesitant and janky.
I move through my crippled life with a lot of gratitude – and a lot of frustration and grief, of course. But the frustration and grief are mine to own, mine to identify with, mine to comment on. You don’t get to puke your pity and prayers at what is mine to grieve, dear stranger. You can and should bear witness silently from where you sit. You might learn something.
3. You are afraid you could one day be disabled
Judging my physical differences as less-than and then adding pity to the mix tells me a lot about you. I now know that you are terrified you will one day face something akin to the physical struggles I face. You are praying for me, maybe, but you are also praying that you don’t ever become like me.
This bit makes me sad for you. Your imagination is limited. Your faith in yourself and your ability to be resilient are in need of some TLC.
The moral of the story is this, dear stranger: Say your prayer if you want to, but keep it to yourself. It’s the announcement more than the prayer that is the real issue anyway.