We encounter strangers all the time. Each day goes by in a blur of new faces, some we like and others we don’t. Often we are quick to judge a person we don’t know by what we can see on the outside.
I know it’s a cliché, but don’t judge a book by its cover.
I’m holding my hands up right now and saying I am guilty. If I could get on my knees and beg forgiveness I would, but I’m not sure I’d get up. Well, not gracefully anyway.
I have looked at those sat on the seats on buses and trains reserved for the old and infirm and immediately thought “you look to healthy to be sat there”. I’ve judged a young mum playing on her phone while her kids run wild and said to myself “you should be paying more attention to your brat”. And I’ve given the stink-eye to people crowding into the lift, simmering with rage when they get out on the first floor.
We all do it and we really shouldn’t feel offended when other people do it to us. This fact has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to swallow since my diagnosis at the ripe old age of 24.
The truth is that I don’t look sick on most days. I don’t currently need a walking aid, I’m not in a wheelchair and I am able, for the most part, to travel alone. I look like a normal, if not a bit chubby, young person.
On my worst days I need to sit at the front of the bus or use the disable toilets and I have in the past been asked to explain my actions. At first, I was angry and would tell the person they were a gutter rat for thinking they could ask me to explain myself. I mean, how dare they!
However, I have now realised that if I’m being asked why I need to sit at the front or use a special toilet it’s because the person, for the most part, thinks someone else could benefit from it and are not just being rude, again for the most part. I honestly believe that the older generation believe us young ‘uns have no manners, which they can’t be blamed for really.
Tennesse Williams’ Blanche DuBois famously said “I can always rely on the kindness of strangers”, but that simply isn’t true. Just like you can’t magically see into the life of a stranger, they can’t peer into your body and see the dastardly MS.
If you need a seat on the train, ask. It’s hard to do at first but the vast majority of people are more than willing to stand up because they assume you must need it if you’ve plucked up the courage to request it. If there is a huge queue for the loo and you can’t hold it, ask if you can cut in and explain that you have an illness/condition.
Last year I missed a train from Leeds to Manchester, which I had reserved a seat on. The train I managed to catch was packed like sardines in a tin and I couldn’t sit down anywhere. I called my boyfriend and started sobbing as my legs really hurt, but I was too nervous to ask someone if I could have their seat.
A woman overheard and stood up for me without saying a word. This really touched me as she could have been on her feet all day, but still offered me her seat.
You’ll be surprised at how kind strangers can be if you just talk to them.