Last week at Longwood Gardens, I was talking with a mother and her teenaged daughter (maybe in her twenties—at my age, they all look like teenagers). The daughter had cerebral palsy, or perhaps brain damage from an accident. She was in one of those serious, powered wheelchairs controlled by nudging a joystick. Her head was steadied by two restraints. She had evidently driven it for a long time and was very proficient in controlling it, swinging it right or left to face me as we talked.
My greeting procedure is to pick out the person in a group that is least happy, least expecting to talk, and focus my attention on them. It can be a sullen, spiky-haired teenager, or a bewildered, visiting grandfather from Shanghai, or a working-class husband intimidated by the elegant surroundings, but they are surprised and pleased by the unexpected attention, and I almost always succeed in opening them up. That day, the daughter in the wheelchair was the obvious pick.
She must have often been ignored by strangers who could not see past the wheelchair, but that was their loss. She was pretty and charming and conversed with wit and enthusiasm. Her eyes literally sparkled. When she laughed, her arms would sometimes suddenly rise spasmodically, but appropriately, not creepily. I had to remind myself to give her mother at least some of my attention.
We all have to play the hand we are dealt in life, but considering everything, she was dealt a very good hand. Sure, one card was a clunker, but she also got some aces that will serve her well. She will have a happy life.
As they left, she told me they are members and come often, and hoped to see me again. I hope so, too. She was pleasant and charming, not just for a person in a wheelchair, but a cheerful, bubbly person who turns back the clock and leaves you feeling better than before, with a glow that continues for days after. That is her ace of spades, and she plays it well.