Tonight, we went out in New York and as usual we were unable to get a taxi cab, and even the cabs we managed to flag down were snobby about what fares they wanted to accept. As a last resort, we ended up taking the PATH train back to Hoboken and a taxi from there, which we also shared with a young girl. I had a most illuminating conversation with a rather misguided taxi driver, which is what actually inspired me to write this article.
It started off with the driver praising the Lord for the fact that he has not been sick for a single day in the last five years. He went on to proclaim that if one thanks God every morning and loves one’s neighbour by helping and caring for them, then this should protect one from afflictions such as sickness. It was at this point that I decided to speak up. I’m really not a fan of conflict, but there are things that I simply don’t agree with. One thing I do believe in is karma – i.e. be nice to your neighbour and your neighbour will be nice to you (even if it’s not the very same neighbour you were nice to in the first place, and “neighbour” being used in the sense of fellow man or woman), otherwise known as “what goes around comes around”. What I cannot concur with however is the fact that if you are sick this must mean that you are “unchristian” and not very nice to your fellow humans. I’m sorry, but I think that is absolute bloody bullshit, and that is undoubtedly what he was inferring.
I don’t talk about my religious affiliations much and I am not a practicing Christian, although I have been in the past. What I do believe in however is being good to others, doing my utmost to improve the lives of others and giving back when others are good to me – paying it forward if you will. I explained to the cabbie that I myself am ill and suffer from an autoimmune disease that runs in my family. He went on to ask me if I wake up and thank God every day. I told him I do not because I don’t believe in God (whilst this isn’t strictly true as I’m an agnostic, he pissed me off so I felt like being antagonistic). I went on to explain that I do my best to be good to others and that I don’t feel that I deserve to be sick. I also don’t believe that I have to be religious to be a good person. I told him that, like in the Bible where God presented Jesus with trials, humans are faced with trials and it is up to us how we deal with them – whether we use them to improve ourselves and learn from them and make ourselves a better and a stronger person. The young girl in the cab touched my heart when she got out and turned round and told me she is sorry that I am sick and that she doesn’t think the taxi driver meant to offend me (I had explained to him that his attitude is offensive).
I must say that this whole episode very much reminds me of an article I read about former English football manager and player Glen Hoddle who offended a lot of people with some rather controversial remarks on why people are born disabled in an 1999 interview with Matt Dickinson of The Times newspaper:
“You and I have been physically given two hands and two legs and half-decent brains. Some people have not been born like that for a reason. The karma is working from another lifetime. I have nothing to hide about that. It is not only people with disabilities. What you sow, you have to reap. You have to look at things that happened in your life and ask why. It comes around.”
Whilst I stated above that I believe in karma – i.e. what you give, you may well get back, I do not believe in karma “hangovers” from another lifetime. I also don’t believe that people are born disabled or sick simply because they “deserve” it. This seems both antiquated and Victorian to me and reminds me very much of the Flagellants of the Middle Ages who whipped themselves to shreds during the Plague years in the hope that God would have mercy on their sins and salvage them of this dreaded disease. In fact, all their religious fanaticism served to do was to spread the Black Death from village to village as the groups of men travelled the countryside.
In my opinion, what it comes down to is this: it seems incredibly easy for those who are not sick or have never been sick to judge those who are and tell them that they have either brought it on themselves, e.g. by not being religious, or that they are not doing enough. And come to think of it: doesn’t the Bible say something about “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone”?
Whilst I like my personal trainer and I know that he has a good heart, it is blatantly obvious to me that he doesn’t really understand what it’s like to be sick. When I told him in frustration that I am doing well on my current medication and not feeling as good as I should be, he promptly told me that I should change doctors. Little did he know that it’s simply not that easy. I was already on doctor number three at the time and am planning on sticking with her for the moment, but people who are not sick seem to think that there is some kind of magic formula to getting well. He also told me that because I’m obviously working on it, things are going to improve.
Those of us who are sick would like to be optimistic, but on the other hand we are also realistic and we know that there is a slight chance that things might not get better. We know this because we have held high hopes in the past that have sometimes been dashed, and so it becomes hard to retain hope, although I really believe that it is in our best interest to do so. I don’t want to come across as negative or pessimistic, but there are days when I despair and I simply wish that those who are not in my situation would show a little more empathy and a little less judgement.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this. What kind of judgemental attitudes have you encountered with regard to your illness(es)? How did you react to such comments? What do you believe?