Doug begins to cross the street and he freezes. I try singing, I try playing his favorite songs, and I try the tripping technique to activate his reflex. Nothing works and drivers begin honking, angry that Doug’s struggles are inconveniencing them. I no longer care what I look like, dancing up and down the street in broad daylight. Doug starts swaying with the rhythm blasting from my phone and he uses the hand not holding his cane to pick up his leg by the edge of his shorts. “Well that’s one way to do it,” we joke. Step by step, we make it across and he gets into a stride, covering half a block faster than I can with his long legs. But then we reach the next curb and there’s a stutter, a pause, and we start over. Forty minutes later, we manage to cross to the plaza across the street and he can sit down to enjoy a meal with his friends from class.
I was sitting inside a brilliantly lit food court inside the subway station. The kind of kitschy, gimmicky food courts with rainbow tables and plants lining the middle of the station. I’m with some friends when someone catches my eye. It’s Daniel, hunched over his cane, shuffling slowly through the bustling station and it feels like everything grows quiet. I watch him slowly make his way past the three stores in my field of view and I see impatient fast walkers quickly scoot around him. I want to jump up and tell them, “Be careful!” A hasty tap or accidental brush against his cane could trigger a fall or stumble, but what do they know about his Parkinson’s or his story? I don’t—and he disappears around the corner by himself as he normally would. I think about all the times I’ve rushed past faceless people, too focused on my destination to pay attention to the humans surrounding me.
In a Dance for Parkinson’s Disease (PD) class, I know how Parkinson’s affects each participant’s movement uniquely and how each likes to be supported. I worry about them, but in the setting of the studio, I know that I will be able to provide anything they need. I sit for hours with them outside of the studio to wait for their Access-A-Rides, ask them to watch their step, and mind their heads getting into the car. But once they’re off, a few days or weeks can go by before I see them again. I think seeing Doug and Daniel outside of these settings shook me to my core because while PD is an experience that I witness from 9 to 5, for the participants, PD is their experience 24/7.
It’s interesting that in the fast-paced world of New York, I’m finally learning to slow down and truly see the people I am surrounded by. Just because I am not privileged to know strangers’ stories does not mean that their struggles, their triumphs, and their resilience do not exist. I think remembering this could go a long way to making the concrete jungle a little softer and a little more forgiving.