Back in another lifetime, I did clerical work downtown in the Big City. One day the gal at the desk next to me came back from her lunch break and she said, “There’s a crazy woman down on the corner just standing there picking at the air.”
I thought this description to be odd, but Helen couldn’t really explain further. Full of ‘satiable curiosity, I decided to take my lunch at a nearby taco stand just past that corner. At first I couldn’t figure out who my coworker was talking about; there was just the usual crowd of professional, retired, and miscellaneous people hanging around the bus stop. So I bought a three-pack of tacos, and stood out on the sidewalk to munch them and watch the crowd.
A few minutes later I finally figured out which person was the “crazy woman” that Helen had referred to. There was a young adult standing there in a rather nondescript frock and crocheted hat, with a white walking-stick in one hand. She was standing at the bus stop, finger-spelling in the air in front of her face.
Oh, I thought to myself, she’s Deaf and signing to someone. Then I realised that she had a white walking stick, and not only wasn’t looking at anyone, but her eyes were half-shut. Oh, she’s blind, too, I thought to myself. So why would she be finger-spelling in the air? I pondered that as I went back to the office, my short lunch break nearing an end. Maybe she was just thinking out loud … I then realised that I’d just muttered that statement aloud to myself, and blushed self-consciously.
“She’s not a ‘crazy person’,” I explained to Helen upon my return, “She wasn’t ‘picking at the air’, she was finger-spelling in sign language.” I asked my coworker if she hadn’t seen people signing before? No, Helen replied. I reassured my coworker that the woman didn’t look crazy to me.
“Well, I don’t know …” she answered, one of those phrases I had come to learn that meant she was done discussing something, without any change in her views but hesitant to express outright disagreement.
I sighed and went back to my endless pile of work. Finally 4:30 came around, and I clocked out, then returned to the corner to wait for my own bus. I sat on the bench, thinking about my day, sometimes muttering a few words softly to myself.
“Crazy people.” Whenever someone appears on the scene who’s different and not understood, they became a Crazy Person. Relegated to the fringe of humanity, and talked about in disparaging terms. Certainly not someone who could be understood or viewed as just another person.
Just someone else, waiting for the bus and thinking aloud.