Slow as… molasses. Paint drying. Grass growing. Slow as … insert your own metaphor here, but it will probably fit. If the boot fits, wear it I guess? Oh, that’s me in the boot, remember? Due to recent events properly constraining my personal mobility, everything takes a little longer to accomplish and necessitates much assistance. Like just getting my morning tea and breakfast over to the table. But especially like traveling. Around the world.
Hjælp! (That’s Danish for help and pronounced exactly like the website Yelp!) Ask and you shall receive, at Copenhagen airport, at least. CPH offers mobility assistance from almost every point of entry – from parking garages, metro stops, arrivals drop-off – they will assist those mobility impaired. You can go online and pre-register with your flight # and specifically what assistance you require. They recommend registering a minimum of 48 hours in advance of your departure, but I didn’t. Being discharged from the hospital less than 48 hours before our first flight precluded me from attaining this deadline. But even with only one-day advance notice, my request was acknowledged and accommodated I was.
Backing up a wee bit, my journey really began hours before our actual arrival at CPH. What emotionally felt like the longest travel segment in recent memory, was actually the FIVE flight descent from our building and the three block crutch over cobblestone bedecked sidewalks to the bus stop. Still car-free, you see. Luckily our local bus connects to the airport Metro easily and we only need to switch once. The Kongens Nytorv stop is tremendously accessible with elevators directly in front of the elegant Magasin du Nord department store, taking you right down to the Metro level and transporting you directly to the airport. Designated seating for wheelchairs, elderly and mobility impaired – which I had yet to need use of – suddenly extremely convenient and beneficial. When you reach the København Lufthavn, near the Metro exit, you will find easily identifiable signs with a phone to call in your pre-registered assistance request. What if you didn’t call ahead, but realized that you do need help getting from A to B once there? I’m confident they would still be able to help – it just might be a slightly longer wait. But patience is a virtue here in Denmark. 😉 Yes, we have you here – someone will be there in five to ten minutes. Sure enough, he was. Then wisked ahead and zoomed through I was – the family scurrying behind with the bags, trying to keep up. I was pushed through the check in and security process, transferred right up to the door of the plane. Mange tak for the hjælp!
Passing through the security checkpoint was interesting. The wheelchair went through alone first with my courier. I’m seated awaiting directions on how to proceed. Can you take the boot off? Yes. But. I can’t walk on the foot – no weight bearing for eight weeks. She is processing, I can see the gears whirring, as she holds my metal crutches. Yes – I would love to take off the metal filled leg brace, the metal screws out of my foot and ditch the metal crutches, so that you can accurately screen me without setting off your metal detector too. But to do so, we’d all have to Superman the globe backwards to a week ago when my foot could accommodate your request. Something about this makes me a wee bit snarky. Ha! Says those who know me. You’re always a wee bit snarky. Maybe so. Ok. We’ll put the crutches through. Yes, leave on the boot. (Good idea.) We’ll screen you over here atop this small wooden box. Really? You want me to get up there? Good gravy. Ok. Complied. But, I had to chuckle to myself as he “patted down” my hard black go-go boot cast. I never did actually take it off. Who knows what I could be smuggling in there. Just kidding. No really. I have a prescription for those meds.
And so there we were aboard our first flight towards family. So far, so good. But rolling through crowds of people, the bulk of them on two healthy legs, at speeds brisk enough to put a breeze in your hair, you notice things. The perspective change that comes from a two foot decrease in height while aboard a – dare I say it – “roly chair” is remarkable. First of all – eye contact, or lack thereof. Upon first impression – there was very little. With me anyway. When following oncomers’ lines of site, there was a clear diagonal right over my head to, I can only assume, the driver of my speedy roly-chair. Now this could conceivably have been because they were worried for the safety of their own toes due to, let’s say, the “efficiency” of my driver. But it felt strange. Strangely anonymous. This new perspective.
I’m a smiler. I make eye-contact. I say hej. (pronounced hi) Even if Danes don’t respond back or look at me incredulously. I learned this from my dad. It was his nature. I remember asking him as a girl – did you know that person? Why did you say hi to him/her if you don’t even know them? Because it’s nice. He didn’t differentiate – the janitor, his peers, his friends, his kids’ friends, the grocery store clerk, the guys who made his coffee – actually these would usually become his friends too. But they all received his goofy gap-toothed smile and hi. Its just one of the things I loved about him. I still love about him. Maybe because of this, I do it too. I’ve internalized it. It’s part of my nature. When my opportunity to do so is intersected, it feels odd. Enough so, that I noticed it. It made me feel invisible – until that is, I was hyper visible at the screening check-point up on the block feeling wobbly and being ineffectively screened. Or while slowly making my way down the airplane aisle to my seat. But back in the roly-chair, it was like a Harry Potter-esque cloak of invisibility. No one could see me again. Perspective changed. Do I ignore people in wheelchairs? How awful. But I couldn’t definitively say one way or the other to be honest. At the kids’ former schools in the States, there were disability awareness days. Activities were planned for the children to maneuver through several stations “trying on” if you will, how being blind, not having use of your hands or being confined to a wheelchair felt and how that impacted your mobility. I thought it was a great idea at the time, but I certainly didn’t internalize anything personally. Being in the chair yourself, out of necessity, definitely hammers the sensation home. A difference of perspective for sure.
In Copenhagen, in stark comparison to many large cities in the U.S. and Europe, there very few homeless, beggars, or “street” people. But the few that you do see – anomalies in your new socialized landscape at first – become recognizable and familiar features in your everyday. If you live in Copenhagen, maybe you’ve met them also. There is the accordion player under the bicycle/pedestrian path along the lakes near Nørrebro. He always smiles and plays a wee bit louder as you walk by. There is another toothless smiley accordion player at the Nordhavn S-tog station – we smile and nod as I ride with my littles to school. His maybe not as altruistic as mine while his dish of coins beckons passersby, but I like to think it is just that – a smile shared. Others are less musically gifted than these gents, like the funny hunched over recorder man who works the Strøget, Copenhagen’s busy pedestrian shopping street – his huffy-puffy recorder sounds stop when he gets tired or is not getting the coinage he desires. So he shifts a few paces down and starts his huffy-puffy again. This shtuck must work. That’s his perspective. At the Svanemøllen train station there is a regular who sells the Hus Forbi street newpaper, but I can’t read much Danish (yet). I smile – he smiles, and he always says “Tak for smilet.” Thanks for the smile. This gives me perspective. And it makes sense. Above all, and I don’t think it’s just me, we all want, need, crave basic human connection. Even as a marginalized member of the highly organized socialized state of Denmark, he just wants connection. At its simplest – just some eye contact. Just a hi or hej. Just a smile. It doesn’t take much. It surpasses language barriers, it defies disabilities, it provides perspective. We aren’t alone.
My perspective while finally boarding our last flight from Los Angeles to Kona, Hawaii three hours late, nearly 30 hours after starting down those stairs, thousands and thousands of miles away and nearly almost able to see my extended family for the first time in four and a half months was nothing prophetic or quote-worthy. I could NOT WAIT. And to be honest, my broken foot couldn’t either. OUCH. But my flip-flop was calling (only one) and they’ve saved me a lounger at the pool. Til later – tak for smilet and Aloha! (and Cuchi Cuchi!)