Not long ago Matt Milstead pulled his nice BMW into a parking spot at his local YMCA and headed in to play a little basket ball.

Someone noticed that the spot was marked as handicapped and when Matt returned he found a note on his car.  Later on FB Matt posted a link that asked “Who would write that?” and posted a picture of the note. *

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Who would write that?  The short answer?  How about the person who is sick and tired of able bodied people taking parking spots meant for people who aren’t as able?

Except…. Wait for it….

Matt’s in a wheelchair. Did you guess that already?  Yeah, he was parked in a spot designated for people just like him.  Go figure.  Oops!   Could you hear the pin drop?  Thought so.

 “He who knows, does not speak.  He who speaks, does not know.” Lao Tzu

Now Matt is also married, and his wife Leslie understandably took a little bit of exception at the attitude shown by the person who wrote that note.  She posted her own letter to the author of the note.

“To the author of the note left on my husband’s car at the David D Hunting YMCA:

 I wanted to tell you a little bit about my husband since you took the time to write him in the parking lot last night.

 You were so close on the age, he’s actually 36, and he is a professional with a full time job. He is also a quadriplegic, which for him means that he can no longer move his legs or his fingers in either hand. He has no grip.

So, if you are willing to give him your functioning hands and legs for the rest of your life in exchange for his 6-year old BMW and handicapped parking pass, I’m sure he’d make that trade.

 As for ‘having the world by the ass’…you think he’s some arrogant jerk who wants to park his fancy car in a handicapped spot and strut into the YMCA in Grand Rapids, MI because he thinks he’s a bad ass? Why are you so confident that a handicapped person couldn’t be a hard worker who is successful and owns a nice vehicle?

 I would say he’s a good guy dealing with some tough circumstances that he refuses to be knocked down by. Thankfully, he just shakes his head at people like you who leave notes on his car. Trust me, you aren’t the first. Ignorance is everywhere.

 P.S. Look Matt Milstead up on Facebook. You’ll get to see lots of pictures of that wheelchair you had questions about.”

Now, as you probably figured out, this incident is getting a fair bit of attention.

People are responding with similar stories and frustrations.  Their disability is not obvious, or people make unwarranted assumptions about them because of some “thing”.  I mean really, who expects a quadriplegic to drive a 6 year old BMW… Anybody?  Now the question really is…. Why wouldn’t we?   There was a lot of discussion about just how insensitive we humans can be.  Point taken.  We really can be.

What struck me next was that most of the irked, were upset because of the assumptions made by the writer.  Assumptions and labels are dangerous things; even if they aren’t totally inaccurate, they are almost always at the least very limiting. The author of that note pretty much proved that.  I realized that we were all just as guilty of making assumptions; but about “who the idiot was” that would write such a thing.  We assumed it was some person with their head stuck up in a very dark, dank place so to speak.

It made me stop and ponder his question. What would cause a person to write that note?  To make those assumptions?  To be so quick to judge and to label someone they have obviously never seen let alone met?  And then to take the time and effort to write a note?

The first thing that sprang to mind was that maybe, just maybe… it was someone who really did want to see the wheelchair and assumed that anyone in a wheelchair that drove that car must be HOT!  Just maybe, it was an honest compliment, but alas, I may be grasping here as there was no phone number or other contact details.  One could always hope!

Next I had to admit it could have been me.  I mean I don’t make a habit of doing things like that, but on a day when I was really frustrated, overwhelmed, felt unappreciated or unheard, and I thought I saw a “real” injustice, I just might decide that I could make the world right by fixing this… By really giving this jerk a piece of my mind.  In these situations, I don’t think we’re really trying to “fix the world”.  It’s our excuse while we’re subconsciously trying to make ourselves feel better in the moment by believing that the person deserves to be as miserable as we feel.  That by making them feel guilty or ashamed we’ve somehow improved the world as we know it.  Um.  No.

 “You must stick to your conviction, but be ready to abandon your assumptions.” Denis Waitley

Maybe it was someone who was handicapped themselves and they really wanted that spot.  They assumed that some able bodied, thoughtless jerk had again shown they had no compassion and no idea what it was like to be in their position.  They may have even made their own silly assumptions about what a person with a disability might drive.

 “Your assumptions are your windows on the world.  Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.”  Ala Alda

It could have been the loved one of a person with a disability who was tired of seeing all the challenges their loved one had to experience and this just seemed like the final straw and they just had to say something finally!   They just assumed that this BMW was not driven by anyone who might be disabled.  I know that since my father in law became wheelchair bound I see things in a totally different way than I did before.

 “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”  Buddha

Maybe it was someone who simply wants to make the world a better place for people but hasn’t quite figured out how to do it in a kind and constructive way rather than being offensive and insensitive.

 “There is great force hidden in a gentle command.”  George Herbert

The point is, unless the person comes forward, we do not know their story any more than they knew Matt’s story.  To assume we do know their story is to risk being just as mistaken, judgmental and hurtful as they were.  My mom used to say “Two wrongs don’t make a right, they just make a bigger wrong.”  She also used to remind me that “If you have nothing nice to say about a person, don’t say anything at all”; “you can’t judge a book by it’s cover”; and “clean your own doorstep before you clean someone else’s.”

It doesn’t matter who wrote that note.  It has created dialogue, it has made people look at themselves and others in a new light.  It doesn’t matter if the author of the note has seen the story or “learned” anything from it.  It matters that I saw it.  It matters that I learned something.  For that I’m grateful.  How about you?

As Kelly Clarkson, and many others before her have said, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”… well, at least usually.

 “We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they really are or the way they should be.  And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of these assumptions.” S. Covey

Truth:  We make assumptions about people and situations everyday.

Dare:  Identify and challenge your everyday assumptions.  See a whole new world come into focus.

* After publishing this blog I realized that Leslie’s letter was posted to FB first. After it gained attention, Matt posted a link to an article which was titled “Who Would Write That?”.

©J. Fries/Rise Like Air 2013

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