John Young is a friend of mine from Facebook. Over the Christmas Holiday, he visited his home town in Canada. While in Canada, he had to deal with people trying to take his picture at least twice. The incidents happened while he was out for a run. John's nephew suggested that he write about what happened, which he did. He submitted the story to local papers. I am not sure if the piece was published, but John also posted the story on his blog.
I also went away for the Christmas Holiday. I went to visit my in-laws, who live outside of a small town in North Central New Jersey. Like John, I went jogging while I was away. I went twice, fairly early in the morning. Once on Christmas Day and once on December 27. I heard about John and the pictures between my first and second run. Knowing what had happened to John, I was hyper aware of anyone around me during the second run. Thankfully, nothing happened. The most attention I generated was not from people but rather from two big yellow dogs that lived on the property across the road from my in-laws. They started to bark at me as soon as I turned from the driveway on to the two-lane asphalt road. They followed me to the edge of the property line and then continued barking until I was out of sight.
I really enjoy my visits to New Jersey. But the fact that nothing happened to me while I was running is not a reflection of North Central New Jersey humanity compared to Orangeville, Ontario, where John Young visited. I have no idea how many people John saw during his runs, but, between my two runs, I saw a total of two cars on the road, and four other people. Each of the other people I saw was also running. Two cars and four people is not a large enough sample size to reach the conclusion that the roads of Bernardsville, New Jersey are cooler than Orangeville, Ontario.
I thought about John's story again this morning. Back in Chicago, I took another run. I followed a route I often take; a route on which I've never had a problem. But typically, if I run outside in Chicago, I run on Saturday or Sunday mornings. I don't know if I've ever run outside on Monday during the morning commute. Running along sidewalks this morning, I was forced to navigate several cars that zoomed into intersections, came to a rolling stop over pedestrian crossings, and waited for a break in the traffic before making a right hand turn. But I was unable to avoid the driver of a gray sport utility vehicle that, while heading north, made a u-turn over a median that divided the north and southbound lanes. Now moving south, the driver, with one hand on the steering wheel and one hand holding a phone, took my picture.
In the hours that followed my run, I thought about many things. I thought about John and all the other people with dwarfism to which this type of thing happens. No one should have to suffer this indignity, but it's nice to be in the company of good people. I thought about the driver. I wondered if the driver mistook me for Peter Dinklage. Why else would a driver go at least two u-turns out of his or her way to get my picture? I thought about the mother from Australia who murdered her six-month old daughter because she believed her baby had dwarfism. Developing strategies that protect the community from infanticide feels much more urgent than strategies to deal with bootleg pictures of dwarfs.
Finally, I thought, what does it matter? By all measures, the dwarfism community builds more awareness every year. As we build awareness, we have more resources to implement the right to participate in our communities on a level playing field. We have more resources to protect ourselves from discrimination, and to portray ourselves as people who embrace our dwarfism but are not defined by our dwarfism. Though we get stronger, we will most likely always have to deal with individuals who may or may not be shitty people but who sometimes do shitty things. The shitty things probably won't ever go away. That's why I ask myself, what does it matter how I respond to the shitty thing perpetrated by the driver of the gray sport utility vehicle? That's why I tell myself, focus on the big picture.
But it does matter. It matters because the shitty things create a hostile environment for the person with dwarfism. It matters because the shitty things interrupt the course of our days. Because it matters, I am grateful for people like John and for scores of other people with dwarfism who don't tolerate anyone that interrupts the course of their days. Because of them and what they do, the big picture is changing.