Walk a mile in my shoes, they say.
Many years ago, when I still walked, I went to a shop to buy a pair of Converse sneakers.
"Would you like these ones, or the pre-grunged version?" asked the shop girl helpfully. Pre-grunged? She pulled out a pair of Converse and sure enough, they looked grubby. Fake dirt, you see - the Kurt Cobain Converse line. I was relieved to see that they didn't have any fake blood spatter. Pre-grunged, grubby - and an outrageous ten dollars more.
"I'll grunge them up soon enough," I told her cheerfully, and paid for my (non Cobain) Converse. Grunge them up I did, through paddocks and beaches and miles of bitumen and life.
But then I started using a wheelchair.
I've been wearing my battered Converse ever since. As a mark of pride, because my world, constricted by access barriers, has now narrowed. My Connies said, I thought - 'Look, I have walked 500 miles. I have hiked and run and walked and skipped. I have *lived*.'
Conversely, (ha! see what I did there?) I also own a pair of spotlessly clean hiking shoes. They cost me over two hundred dollars - I knew that walking well was getting harder, but thought 'I have a few more years hiking in me.' An optimistic miscalculation, as it turns out - the nearly new shoes have sat in the corner since, and I glare at them balefully from time to time.
I can read the above and grin that I'm so predictably human. Regret for that which is now lost, desire to 'not appear different', anger and outrage that it is harder than it should be. A faint sense of advantage over lifelong wheelchair users who have never felt sand between their toes or crawled through a cave or swung through the air or jumped out of a plane.
But yesterday, for the first time since using a wheelchair, I donned my hiking shoes - for a Scouting activity, and mostly because I did not have another pair of shoes to wear. And after scrambling through sand and dust and bits of left over Australia Day breakfast all morning, I noticed that my hiking shoes were still pristine - but my wheels were covered in dust and dirt and food and bits of bird shit. There was even a tiny feather attached to my Freewheel.
All of a sudden, I thought, 'Hey, I should wear these shoes more often.'
Nothing's changed, really. My chair is battered and broken and falling apart after two years of hard living in the Wheatbelt. I didn't need that to be pre-grunged, either.
I've spent the last few years looking at the pristine shoes of other wheelchair users, when I should have been looking at their wheels. Strikes me that this is what most people do - in order to walk a mile in someone's shoes, you need to look a little bit harder. Maybe it's time for a new pair of Converse.