I learn so much riding the train to work. I usually sit by a sign that reads, “Please yield seat to elderly and handicapped persons.” I like to sit in those “handicapped” seats because they are shorter and my legs don’t fall asleep like they do on the “non-handicapped” seats that are so high. And let’s face it, I’m a little bit elderly and a little bit handicapped. I always pay attention as people board the train so I can yield my seat when needed. Yesterday I was on my way to my neurosurgeon appointment and a lady came in and sat beside me. Right behind her a man boarded the train and told her, “Oh, that’s how it is? You immediately sit in my seat? You don’t care that I’m handicapped?” She instantly got up and offered him her seat. He said, “Never mind” and took a seat directly behind us in an available “handicapped” seat. She and I discussed the incident. We decided she did nothing wrong, and behaved appropriately, yielding her seat like the sign said. We also talked about how we can’t read people’s minds or bodies and very often cannot tell if someone is handicapped or not. We then had a lovely conversation about our jobs at the University.

When the train stopped she stood up, as did the man who talked to her in the first place. He looked at me and said, “So, you’re a nurse, right?” I answered yes. He said, “That’s interesting because it’s usually the nurses who take the handicapped seats. It’s always the nurses.” I don’t honestly know what his point was but I looked him right in the eyes and said assertively, “I am handicapped. As a matter of fact I am on my way to see my neurosurgeon right now.”  I  pointed  to the sign to show him that it said YIELD your seat; it doesn’t say nobody but handicapped people are allowed to sit in those seats. He got off the train then so I don’t know how he might have responded.

Here’s what I liked about this: I was assertive without getting mad. I really wasn’t mad at all. I just wanted to be clear and support nurses, support my new friend, support handicapped and elderly people, and defend my own behavior (OK yes I was a little defensive). And I wanted to verbalize the lesson he tried to teach us: You can’t tell if someone is handicapped or not just by looking at them and making assumptions. I appreciated the reminder. And it feels good to be assertive. Why has it taken me all these years to learn to be assertive?

By the way, I went to the neurosurgeon because a lump appeared over my left eye at the surgical site and I was concerned a tumor was growing back again. He said it’s not really a lump – the dent next to it makes it look like a lump! The dent is because the bone that he took out and then put back in is losing mass and might eventually have to be re-built. But nothing to worry about now. Oh, the fun of brain surgery… This Tuesday marked the 3-year anniversary of that life-changing event. And life is good!

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