The idea was born on Christmas Eve 2016. I was leaving our church service with a beloved caregiver when Pastor Bill came over to say hello. After giving me a big hug, he said: “Hey Lorraine, next year I want you to do one of the readings for the service. Remind me.”
Bill and I have been friends for more than twenty years. He has supported me through medical procedures, strained relationships, and has handed me tissues when I have cried in his office after people have broken my heart. One of the things I appreciate about Bill is that he always meets me where I am. He listens with compassion when he needs to, offers advice when I ask for it and has a great way of presenting all the perspectives of a situation. This past October, I was sitting in his office telling him some things that had happened in my life recently. Before I left I said: “You wanted me to remind you that you asked me to read one of the readings at the Christmas Eve service this year.”
“That’s right,” he responded with a grin. “Thanks for letting me know.”
“Bill, how are we going to do this logistically?” The altar in the sanctuary is up several steps and I wasn’t sure how we were going to get my wheelchair up there. I think about stuff like that. I have to. Most of the time it doesn’t occur to other people. And even though that makes sense because people tend to spend time thinking about the things that affect them, I have had experiences in the past when plans had to be canceled because accessibility was not considered. Not this time.
“Don’t worry about it. I got it. Just talk to Kristin (his secretary) and practice the reading she gives you.”
I am not usually comfortable trusting other people in terms of accessibility, but I trusted Bill. Over the next few weeks, I touched base with Kristin and Bill numerous times. Every once in a while I couldn’t resist asking the question. “How are we going to do this?”
Bill’s response was always the same. “Don’t worry about it. I got it.”
In the days leading up to Christmas Eve, I had to step out of my comfort zone in various ways. I practiced saying the reading that I was assigned out loud dozens of times. It got to the point that I would swear my service dog was covering her ears. Since I don’t have many regularly scheduled caregivers these days, a friend of mine who is a nurse at the hospital offered to come to my house and help me with having a shower and getting dressed for the service. Then I asked a few people from the congregation if they would mind giving me a ride. Even though neither had done so before, it was coordinated that one couple would take me to the service and another family would bring me home.
When I arrived at the sanctuary and took my usual seat which is the pew in the front row, (It has a cut out which means there is room to accommodate my wheelchair) I noticed that there was a chair on the floor in front of the altar. The chair had a microphone on it. Within a few minutes, pastor Bill was beside me asking me a question. “When it is time for you to read, would you like for me to push you up front or would you rather push yourself?” Since one of the foot pedals on my chair was broken and being wonky, I chose the first option.
At the designated time in the service, Bill left the area where he was sitting with Karen, his wife. He came over to me and pushed my wheelchair in front of the altar so that I could see everyone in attendance. Then he sat in the chair that was there and he held the microphone while I read the third reading. When I was finished, he put the microphone back on the chair, pushed me back to my original seat, gave me a big hug and then returned to where he had been sitting with Karen.
What impressed me most about the whole thing was that it was simply part of the service. Nobody made a big deal about it. Fifteen people were not involved in it. My disability was accommodated exactly in the way it needed to be, and then all of us moved on. The reason the whole thing had me in tears is that given my circumstances recently, I really needed a tangible reminder that there are people in my life who see me as a human being before they see my disability. It was awesome.
Even though I have dozens of people in my life who care about me, I have never been a person to have a huge group of connections. Instead, I have a small group of people that I am very close to. There is Andrea, who has known me for more than two decades and understands how I think. Dale and I met on my second day of classes at Emporia State University and he has been looking out for me ever since. Brandon and his wife Rachel help me dance in all kinds of ways and several former caregivers are among those whom I have truly bonded with.
And there is pastor Bill. He gets it.