In My Skin

  • Sitting on someone else’s pee unexpectedly in a public bathroom
  • Nails on a chalkboard
  • Being cornered by a “close talker”
  • Being cornered by a “close talker” who spits while they speak
  • Driving behind a slow vehicle on a one-lane road
  • Driving behind a tractor on a one lane road (worse)

 Preface

July 4, 1976

It was another hot, sticky summer in Urbana, the town where I grew up in Central Illinois.  Within a month we would be leaving to live in Islamabad, Pakistan.  But for now, celebrating the 4th of July in the year of the Bicentennial was in our immediate focus.

When my parents and brothers, Peter and Ted, and I arrived that evening in the field near the University of Illinois Stadium, I became somewhat overcome by my surroundings.  There were hundreds, if not thousands of people, spreading their blankets, preparing for the dazzling show in the sky.   Peter and Ted began running around and my parents were distracted trying to keep their eyes on them amid the crowd. I thought this was my chance.  Maybe, just maybe, in this massive crowd, I would finally see another kid born like me, with one finger on each hand, one toe on each foot.  As we passed through the throngs, I looked at every person’s hands.  Even as the fireworks drew everyone else’s attention skyward , I continued my search from our blanket.

Only seven years of age, I longed to know that I was not the only one in this world, different like me.  Although too young to articulate, I loathed how I felt when others kids stared at me in public.  My brothers were always there for me, but even they could never fully appreciate my experience.

 August 2012

Recently, I had to go to the Midwest on a business trip.  As much as I am grateful for my job, I never like to leave my family, so I left quite late in the evening.  When I got to the airport, to my dismay, I was at the wrong terminal, and had to make a mad dash across the airport.  This served to increase my stress and darken my mood.   Upon finally reaching the gate, the agent took one look at me and offered to move me to a seat at “the front of the plane,” which I readily accepted.  I had thought she meant to upgrade me to First Class, but I was to be disappointed.  The plane was so small there was no First Class – just a seat next to another unoccupied seat, which gave me room to move around.  But it didn’t matter.  Easy come, easy go, I thought.

What did bother me, actually, was that a few minutes earlier, when she was ready to board the plane’s passengers, she motioned me to come.  “Yes?”  “Ma’am, go ahead.”  She motioned me to walk aboard.  So consumed in my book, at that moment, I hadn’t noticed that no one else had entered the plane, at least not yet.  Over the loudspeaker behind me, I heard, “If there is anyone else that needs extra assistance, please come up for early boarding.”  There it was.  You hear people use the expression, “it made my skin crawl,” which doesn’t really make literal sense to me, but at that moment the concept applied.

Often friends will tell me they don’t even notice my physical difference.  I appreciate that, given I typically forget about it myself, unless reminded by the world of strangers.  I also know people who have issues, or their kids have issues, that don’t show on the surface.  They, too, frequently forget my difference and as a result don’t see the big deal in missing a few fingers.  As nice as this sounds, it also teaches me that there are very few physically “perfect” people who can actually relate to those of us who are not.  I get that.  And once you have someone with a physical difference in your life, you certainly can forget all about it.  But we don’t.  Believe me, we would love to, but we can’t.  Being reminded of your difference when it is otherwise a non-issue….how best can I explain?

The other evening I was at “Back to School” night.  At the end of the evening, I ran into another mother, and realized I had not put in any money for class dues.  As I reached for my wallet to grab the cash, the mother, with (I am certain), the BEST of intentions began to physically try and help me take the money out of my wallet, as she said aloud, “Oh, can I help you?”  I smiled and said politely, “No, thanks, I got it.” Reflecting that evening as I sat listening to some favorite music (which always makes me feel good), it hit me.  I think I can help people with no physical difference relate to how it feels when someone else makes you feel inadequate.  Here we go:  Imagine how you feel when you are experiencing your worst possible pet peeve. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard, or inadvertently sitting on someone else’s pee….really.

As I wrote some of this blog while on the plane coming home, something happened—all of a sudden, without warning.  Lightning struck our plane.  We heard a thud, saw a flash of light.  It was, for at least a short moment, frightening. Fortunately, all was okay and we landed safely with no other disturbance.  But I realized something by it.  Again it served as a descriptive tool.  Just as lightening can strike out of nowhere, even when the day is otherwise sunny, every time someone calls out my difference, even with the very best of intentions, I feel the jolt.  It’s typically unexpected, and, keeping it real— depending on my mood that day, it can even feel more harsh than your worst pet peeve.

So why give all these analogies? Even though only some of us look or feel different, all of us can identify with a pet peeve.  My hope is to help a reader to understand what it might feel like to live in my skin.  Once you can truly relate, then as I stated in my promo video, “Unless you remind them of their difference, people are functioning simply in their own definition of normal, capable of doing everything, within their means.”

 

 

Postscript

This weekend “Finding Nemo” is being released again, this time in 3-D.  I have always loved that movie, and the fact that Nemo had an undeveloped “little fin” and he felt like no one ever understood him clearly resonates.  When I was seven, I never had any organization around like, The Lucky Fin Project, created by Molly Stapelman.  The Lucky Fin Project is designed to not only embrace difference, but brilliantly exposes kids that look different, to other kids that are similar. Not that it really matters how everyone looks.  But the Project lets kids who may never meet each other see and relate to how each other feels—the epitome of celebration of difference. 

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10 Responses to “In My Skin”

  1. Johanna RossellSeptember 17, 2012 at 4:32 am #

    Haha… Like descriptive examples! I think most people offer help with good intentions… That’s why it’s so important to have blogs like this to educate people on “putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes”, because even the best intentions could deliver a negative output, after all is it is all about the perception of the act… Thanks for another great blog Meg

    • MegZuckerSeptember 18, 2012 at 2:48 am #

      I agree- most with very good intentions. Hopefully i am also opening up their appreciation what it feel like unexpectedly receiving the help….

  2. OliviaSeptember 17, 2012 at 4:25 am #

    I’m a lower left-arm amputee who just found your blog, and this is the best expression of this really common (in my life, at least) occurrence.

    It’s truly remarkable how often people think I need a stranger’s help to function in my daily life. I’m sure it’s the best of intentions, but when people force themselves on me to ‘help’, it’s just irritating. I often have to explain this to friends who haven’t dealt with these things themselves. I know it’s usually with good intent, but as a high school senior with a drivers license, I am more than capable of tying up my own gym shoes, which someone attempted to do for me the other day!

    Anyway, thank you so much for writing such an eloquent summary of something that people without a noticeable physical difference don’t often realize/understand is annoying for those of us with one. I love your blog, and you’ve created some truly incredible pieces on topics that are universal, both within the disabled community (hate the word, but there’s not a better umbrella term) and beyond.

    • MegZuckerSeptember 18, 2012 at 2:48 am #

      Thanks Olivia- great to hear from you and receive your perspective.

      Best, Meg

  3. Anna ShapiroSeptember 17, 2012 at 3:00 am #

    Meg- I’m appauled at how often this happens to you! I could never have imagined it. I can’t figure out, just like Matt said, why they can’t just ask you.

    • MegZuckerSeptember 18, 2012 at 2:51 am #

      Hi. I think it is simply all about assumptions based on what they see. No more, no less. Interestinly, like everyone ( with a differenve or not), if i need help noone even needs to ask. I will ask for the help! 🙂

  4. Mat ZuckerSeptember 15, 2012 at 12:54 pm #

    That is just bizarre that people would make the assumptions you need help and have the chutzpah to make decisions for you (like boarding you first without asking) or, maybe worse, physically pushing themselves on you to help with getting money out of your purse.

    It’s pretty easy to ask: Do you need any help? Yesterday on a subway platform, I saw an (older) guy who was blind waiting for the 1 train. I asked him if he needed help with the train. He replied no, that he was meeting someone coming on it. Then he paused, smiled and asked: “This is the 1 train platform, right???” It was funny, and we both laughed. In some ways, it kept us both on equal footing which it should. But I think if I had suddenly grabbed his elbow and offered to help him line up to where the train door would be, he would have sensibly swatted me with his cane.

    Naturally, if you end up getting automatically upgraded to true first class on flights without being asked, I am happy to escort you on all your future flights. (I hate the regular first row, however, because there’s no place to put your stuff during takeoff—it’s handbag discrimination)

    • MegZuckerSeptember 16, 2012 at 12:25 pm #

      It is always interesting to me how intrigued the people who actually know me are with my sometimes daily interactions with people that don’t know me. Not all of course, and I know it is with the best of intentions, at least typically. Just happened again yesterday in the grocery store again– a woman insisted on taking my foood out of my cart to put on the conveyer belt for me to pay. She meant well I am sure, but you get the point–happens a lot. Thanks for the post Mat and happy to have you escort me any time for the 1st class experience! 🙂

      • Mat ZuckerSeptember 17, 2012 at 2:08 am #

        Next time someone takes your food out of your cart and puts it on the conveyer belt, I think you should let her pay for it: “Thanks so much! and for paying for it too!” It’s so generous of her 😉

      • BethSeptember 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm #

        LOL! True, I mean, if you’re gonna offer to help, go all the way, don’t leave it on the 1 yard line. 😉

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