When Strangers Read My Body: Blurred Boundaries and the Search for Something Spiritual

The encounter was not all that different from others I’ve had on the street—a rupture in my peace of mind. It was well past midnight, and I walked the streets alone, delighted to bask in the warmth of a productive day. A figure came into focus, dressed in colors dark as the night.

At first the stranger’s words were muted by the music blaring through my headphones—my temporary barrier against the many interlocutors who feel entitled to interaction once they notice my limp. This visibility is something I cannot hide, and I don’t attempt to do so. However, I take pride in having the opportunity to engage, interact, and experience the world on my own terms. The interactions others feel entitled to have can feel like a disruption of my attempt to have privacy while out in public.

When Strangers Read My Body by Olivia Wise. Credit: Olivia Wise (oliviawisestudio.com)

“Tú estás vendiendo Biblias?” the stranger asked. [Are you selling Bibles?]

“No,” I replied, “Estos son libros y libretas con varios notas del día.” [These are books and notebooks with various notes from today.]

I might have looked like a salesman of sorts—suit, tie, messenger bag, and camel coat—but I couldn’t put a finger on the nature or context of the interaction. Surprisingly, the stranger spoke to me in Spanish, a bit unusual since I am often read as white in a predominately Latino/a community, despite being Latino.

“Dios está a tu la’o, vaya con Dios” [God is always by your side, go with God], the man said as we parted ways.
Just as so many others have done before, the stranger chose to bestow the blessings of God on me—a Latino man with cerebral palsy—in particular that night, singling me out among all the people in the street that evening. Did he single me out because he assumed I had a disability? If so, did he see me as having a special spiritual status because of it?
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Wilfredo Gomez is a graduate student in the Cultural Foundations of Education program at Syracuse University whose research interests center on educational anthropology, cultural studies, and disability studies. He holds an M.A. in Africana Studies from the University of Pennsylvania.
 

Source Citation

Gomez, Wilfredo. 2014. When Strangers Read My Body: Blurred Boundaries and the Search for Something Spiritual. Tikkun 29(4): 41.

tags: Culture, Spirituality   
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