Why Don’t You Believe Me?
by Justin Hancock
Hello friends. Yesterday, almost exactly 24 hours from when I am sitting down to write this, I was given a crystal clear example of how important people’s stories are. And how important it is that Christians, and indeed fellow humans, believe people’s stories when they care enough to interact with us and open up to getting to know another person. If you’ve read any of my previous blogs, you might know that I’ve been a long time customer of DART, or Dallas Rapid Area Transit, and their paratransit services. It is a door to door pick up service for those with disabilities.
Now in the almost eight years that I have been riding with DART paratransit, it can’t always be said that I’ve had the easiest of experiences. Sometimes, you encounter a driver who really doesn’t want to be there, or wants you to move quickly so they can get to their next pick up. About once every year or year and a half, you will find yourself pushing two to two and a half hours on a bus because of rerouting from construction or other DART system quirks. By in large though, these are travel challenges that one comes to expect and deal with. DART even makes it clear when you sign a contract to use their services, that they will never keep you in a bus for more than three hours. But exceptionally long drive times do occasionally occur. I’ve learned to live with these idiosyncrasies as a part of my basic travel experience. What I experienced yesterday was something else entirely.
I was going to Parkland Hospital in Dallas to receive a treatment of medication that I take every three to six months to help with tone, resulting from my cerebral palsy. Because of the abundance of addresses in the Parkland/UT Southwestern complex, I have learned that the easiest commute for me is to have the driver drop me off at the DART rail station, then roll wherever I need to go in the medical complex. This was the scenario I set up for yesterday’s trip, and it is something I have done, by now, dozens upon dozens of times. In fact I had another doctor’s appointment this morning in which I planned for the same thing and it worked flawlessly. Yesterday, however, not so much.
We arrived at the medical complex and the DART driver starts looking for the address he has been given. A which point I say, “It’s the DART station. I confirmed with the operator yesterday.”
I guess one thing I should mention is that the driver was of a different nationality then my own. But, seemed to understand English well enough. I literally encounter drivers of various nationalities every week, and it is very rarely a problem. But for some reason when I mentioned that the drop off was at the train station, he said, “No, no, no. It’s a building. I need to drop you off at a building at Parkland.”
At this point, I calmly said, “Sir, the reservation I made yesterday was for the train station. If you drop me off anywhere in the train station, I will roll to the doctor’s office.”
Or that’s what I would have said if he had ever let me finish. After about ten minutes of him being very nervous and me trying to calmly insist that I had no problem with him and if he would just listen we could talk about this, I began to get the uncomfortable feeling that I was being ignored and my humanity began to slip further from me the more he refused to listen. At one point, we stopped a man on the street who, thankfully, came to my side of the car and asked me where I wanted to go. I told him what I had been saying, and he told the driver, and the driver still said, “No, no, no, I must take him to THIS address.”
At one point, the Good Samaritan we were talking to looked at the driver and said, “This man is mentally competent. He is fully aware of where he needs to go. Why don’t you take him there?” But to no avail.
The longer we sat in the cab, driving around, the less like a person I felt. I was not being heard or granted the respect that I might know my own surroundings and in that moment, know my own story. After ten to fifteen more minutes (now almost half and hour in total since we first arrived at my destination), and one more venture out of the cab by the driver, he finally called the dispatch. The dispatcher of course said, “He needs to go to the train station. That’s the trip he set up yesterday.”
I don’t mind telling you that there was a small part of me that was gratified to see the driver executing the quickest come down in history, being profusely apologetic. I could not get out of the cab fast enough. His apology rang hollow as he took my picture to verify that he had dropped me off, in case I disappeared between there and the doctor’s office.
So what’s the point of this story? While I have done a crazy amount of reflecting the last twenty four hours, I think it is this: human identity, story, and self worth are so fragile. When we interact with anyone, no matter how small or insignificant the interaction may seem, we’re putting a piece of ourselves on the line. We are saying, “I trust you to treat me with dignity and hear me.” When we are not heard, it can be devastatingly painful, as it was for me yesterday. When you are an individual with a disability, this risk seems magnified because disabled people are not granted the immediate checked box of being able bodied in an able body world. Many disabled persons expect to be overlooked and marginalized. Can you imagine having those fears confirmed? By someone who is suppose to open your world?
I guess my ultimate takeaway is this: self worth is a fragile thing. As people who profess Jesus Christ, I would hope that we would treat everyone as though they were valued brothers and sisters within the family of God. I think that starts by slowing down and taking the time to pause a moment to not just hear somebody, but really listen and honor them. By doing so, we can recognize the gift of God, and the simultaneous vulnerability that is contained within human interaction.
Blessings in Christ,