“… it gives me a big advantage for getting to know people,” said my son. I had to admit that he has a point. The only way he can walk is with support, and if there is no handrail or frame available, he borrows a shoulder or two. I, being very much shorter than he, am a perfect height for the job and am so used to it that I have long since ceased to think about it. We just get on with it as the need arises. But, he has made use of shoulders on three continents and made many friends in the process too.
One memorable adventure I was able to capture on camera. It was after the Feathered Seer workshop, one April. My son had come along to see what happened at our workshops, and stayed behind afterwards to go exploring the Derbyshire countryside with us. Alethea Kehas had come over from the US for the workshop too, with her friend Deb, and they were going to spend a day or two with us, visiting some of the ancient sites in the area. Most of these are a fair walk from the road and over moorland paths… not exactly wheelchair accessible… but that was not going to stop us and, for the next couple of days, all shoulders were in use and my son was able to visit places he would otherwise have never seen.
Alethea, Nick and Deb at Arbor Low, the great stone circle of the north
I thought about the ‘advantage’ my son has, and it is very simple. In order to get around when there is neither handrail nor walking frame, he borrows a shoulder. This means opening his arms to let someone come close and when he does so, all the barriers that normally separate stranger from stranger go down.
People want to help, they realise that he is relying on them, that they are doing something important. They know that they matter… if only in a practical way… and, more importantly, that they are being trusted. He is trusting them, not only to keep him upright, but to come within that ‘exclusion zone’ that most of us have around us at all times where strangers are concerned. He is letting… inviting… them in.
Most modern cultures accept no more than a handshake from a stranger, which by its very nature, keeps people at arm’s length. It may have begun as a gesture of peace, showing that neither was holding a weapon, but it creatures a natural barrier of distance. The French may greet each other with either a handshake or a kiss, and while this is impersonal, it does allow people to come a little closer to each other and the effect on budding friendships is noticeable.
We each have an area of personal space around us into which any uninvited incursion will feel like an intrusion. It makes us uncomfortable and we step away at the first opportunity. By opening your arms to a stranger and inviting them into your personal space, you are automatically placing them in a position of trust and acceptance. You are sharing your life with them for a moment.
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