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A Brief History Of Not Realizing Someone Is Missing A Limb

A recent and unsuccessful attempt to solve a robbery has reminded me that I have a strange problem. Let me back up a bit.

Maybe ten years ago I watched the movie Snow Falling on Cedars. This isn’t a spoiler since it’s obvious from the beginning, to everyone but me, but the fact that Ethan Hawke’s character is missing an arm is a big deal in the movie. I didn’t realize he only had one arm until the movie was nearly over. “Hey why is his jacket pinned up like that?” Indeed.

I watched all of Twin Peaks the next year, and then watched the movie Fire Walk With Me. One of the significant characters is a man with one arm. In the credits he is referred to as “The one armed man,” I believe. Somehow, I did not realize he only had one arm until people started referring to him as only having one arm. It’s way more obvious in Twin Peaks than in Snow, but, yes, I don’t know what else to say about that. Didn’t catch it.

Which brings us up to Tuesday of this very week, when a wonderful library patron asked for help. I have probably seen this elderly gentleman every day that I’ve worked for the past two years. He always sits in the same place, in the department where I always work.

Someone stole his backpack. He didn’t see who it was. After trying unsuccessfully to locate the backpack, I apologized and held out my hand to shake it. He laughed. Then he offered me his other hand. Because, as you will no longer be surprised to hear, his other hand was missing. I had tried to shake the stump of his wrist, which was sporting a very snazzy watch, but no hand.

So then, if you find yourself among the limbless, I want you to know that you will always feel safe in my company. You could be missing both arms and I would still be inviting you to come play tennis with me, innocently and with the best of intentions. Except I hate tennis and would never invite someone to go play, but I’m sure there’s another example.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Beth Kephart June 27, 2014, 5:27 am

    This is beautiful because you are.

  • Sylvia Ramos June 27, 2014, 5:42 am

    You are so cute. And cool! 😀

  • Marilyn June 27, 2014, 8:26 am

    Josh: I am SO the same way! When I was in high school I was privileged to go to All State 3 years running. It wasn’t until the end of the final rehearsal one year that I suddenly realized the director had only one arm! It totally blew me away. He was an awesome musician and director. One never knows…

  • Daisy June 27, 2014, 10:37 am

    Josh – I had a very special moment in teaching two years ago. The student was to write a journal entry putting themselves in the place of a disabled person. The student asked if he could write about a temporary disability, such as a broken leg, because he didn’t know anyone who was disabled and was struggling with the prompt.

    Of course, I said yes, and I smiled for days because the student had forgotten that his teacher, yours truly, has a disability. I am hearing impaired.

    Like your examples, the person is first and foremost in your perception, not the missing limb or the disability.

  • Melody Tolson July 10, 2014, 4:31 pm

    I was reminded of my high school French teacher. She had a childhood illness that left her a little paralyzed below the waist with a slightly twisted torso. She used two crutches to walk and was quite petit, at under 5 feet. She was telling us about the lovely summer vacation she had had in France and mentioned that France has very strictly enforced seating rules on their public transit. You have to stand up if anyone elderly or disabled needs a seat and she was embarrassed that the whole bus would stand up whenever she got on……..my best friend and I were talking about it later and were both surprised, because she didn’t look that old to us….