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When Asking Someone to Reach a Shelf at Whole Foods Felt Like Defeat

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It happens; difficulty, struggle, challenge and pain.

On this particular day, Whole Foods won the lottery as the place I happened to be when my candle, burning at both ends, nearly went out. It was one of those moments when my dwarfism became a source of indifference rather than a source of compassion.

Usually I can make do obtaining things that are out of my reach or conquering other extraneous obstacles that stand in my way. It started early, as a kid. Scaling the counter tops in the kitchen, climbing my bookshelf, reaching the pantry shelves — whatever it was, I was able to devise a plan and conquer it. Sometimes I was successful on my first try and other times, not so much. As a child, though, my innocence shielded my struggle. Society hadn’t jaded me yet. Challenges made my confidence wobble, but I never gave in to feelings of complete defeat.

One of my favorite memories goes back to elementary school. My best friend’s mom was a teacher and would give me rides to and from school in her giant Izuzu Trooper. To a little girl topping off around 3 feet 6 inches, getting into such a large vehicle was a bit of a challenge, but nothing I couldn’t handle. To get into the car I would open the door, put one foot on the running board of the car and then hoist myself up holding onto inside of the door. Then, using my washboard abs (what I would give to have those again), I swung my other foot into the car and pulled the door closed. Most of the time my plan was flawless. One day, I wasn’t quite in the car yet, and my friend’s mom began to drive away with me hanging onto the door. From the backseat, my friend and I both began to scream and laugh, and it wasn’t until her mom actually turned around to glance and notice that I was flailing in the breeze, hanging on for dear life. She eventually stopped, and I was able to get back into the car. I really did think it was funny. My little girl ego wasn’t scarred or embarrassed.

One of the most terrible things anyone can experience is the indifference of others. As I got older, it became harder to habitually brush off society’s ignorance towards my stature. I began to lose the confidence and ability to laugh at any situation I once possessed. I was no longer that brave, confident little girl. The continual disregard for me as a person began to drown my positivity.

As a grown woman standing at 4 feet 11 inches, reaching items on the top shelf in the grocery store continues to be a bit problematic. Usually I can climb the shelf or ask someone for help. Usually.

It was just like any other typical shopping trip to Whole Foods. Go in for just a few items and waltz out having bought more than was necessary. As far as dinner was concerned that evening, I knew exactly what I wanted, and the hard taco shells were the last item I had to cross off my list.

There I stood in the international food aisle, staring at the box of blue corn taco shells on the very top shelf… or maybe they were staring at me. Bottom line: in that moment, I wanted that box of taco shells, but getting them was going to be a challenge.

My nonchalant attempt at climbing the shelves to reach them proved unsuccessful. I tried jumping, quickly, to avoid creating a scene. But I barely grazed the taco shell box with my fingertips. My next attempt was even worse. Pushing my shopping cart to the side, I opted for a more gradual ascent up the grocery store shelving. After securing one foot a spot on the bottom shelf, I thought I’d bought myself more leverage and hang time. Nope. I actually ended up pushing every box of taco shells further back on the shelf, completely out of my reach.

My frustration was building. Looking to my left and right, there wasn’t a soul in sight. I’m was in the middle of Whole Foods on a weekday evening during dinner time, and there is no one else in the Charleston area who is having tacos for dinner! Am I the only one who celebrates Taco Tuesday around here?! Ugh.

I didn’t want to give up, so I tried once more to get that box of organic blue corn taco shells off the top shelf. With one hand hanging onto the top shelf for dear life and a packet of taco seasoning in the other, I tried to swing the edge of the box closer to me using the seasoning packet. Fail. The harder I tried to reach those f*cking taco shells, the closer I got to my breaking point. My heart sank. I was angry and resentful. Why couldn’t this be an easy trip to the grocery store?

My overgrowing frustration led me to consider another attempt. Right as I was about to put my foot on the third shelf from the bottom to boost myself up, I envisioned everything coming crashing down on top of me. There I stood, once again, my eyes now beginning to well with tears (I was so frustrated), and there was still not a person in sight to ask for help. Somewhere between the enchilada sauce and chipotle peppers, tacos no longer seemed appetizing.

Whole Foods: 1, Kristen: 0.

A box of blue corn taco shells caused me to fall victim to feelings of complete defeat. In the moment, my heart hurt. The thoughts of “Why me?” were whirling around in my head. Wallowing in self-pity, I wiped away the tears and turned to check out, forgetting about Taco Tuesday altogether. Before I had gotten a full step toward the register, a little old lady rounded the corner at a snail’s pace, talking on her Bluetooth.

There I was, one hot mess, lingering in front of the refried beans, pickled jalapenos and taco paraphernalia. Slightly hesitant, I decided it was worth a shot to interrupt the woman’s conversation to seek her assistance in getting my top shelf prize. Trying my best not to be too socially awkward, I raised my hand (Who does that? This wasn’t a first grade classroom!) to get her attention.

“Excuse me, ma’am.” She looked at me like I was about to ask her to write me a check for $1,000. “Could you reach one box of those taco shells for me, please?” She looked relieved. Without saying a word, continuing her conversation, she got the box of taco shells down, handed them to me with a smile and moseyed on down the rest of the aisle. Quiet enough not to disturb her conversation, I said, “Thank you,” because I was, indeed, grateful for her help.

Blue corn taco shells safely in my cart, I couldn’t quite figure out how I felt. Asking for help can be hard. In that moment, I had two choices: allow my asking the woman for help to take make me feel powerless, or see it as proof of my strength and determination, and step into my power. With my mind continuing to create limitations, boundaries of separation I hated so much, even after I left Whole Foods, owning my strengths was difficult. Sometimes you just can’t help having the tiniest bit of resentment for being you. I found myself saying that I can’t, that I’m not good enough and life is just hard.

Sigh. It happens. It’s normal. The more I resist those feelings, the more intense they become. I have learned to let them in and let them pass. My reality is that I don’t have limitations — I create them.

Having this mindset of “no limitations, no boundaries and no separation” is a powerful one. It allows us to become unstoppable. The truth is that if we let them, our weaknesses can become our strengths. Our disabilities reveal abilities, our fears indicate our potential, failures are lessons learned and our challenges are mere roadblocks, not dead-end streets — if we allow them to be. Certain circumstances may be unavoidable, but our mindset, potential and success are created by us alone.

Living with a “disability” (that is how some people may view dwarfism) isn’t always glitter and rainbows. Asking for help can sometimes feel shameful. The staring, laughing, pointing and rude comments hurt. Sometimes it isn’t as simple as “just brushing it off” and moving on. The pain and disappointment seep under my skin. It can be overwhelming at times. But I am allowed to feel sad, scared and angry. I’m human. I have feelings. And those emotions – they are valid. So are yours.

In reminding myself that I am enough, I know it has nothing to do with me. I am a strong woman aware of society’s ignorance. But how long your legs are, who you love, how much money is in your bank account and who you worship should never be the basis for ridicule or judgment of any kind. It’s the size of your heart, your compassion and your determination that matter.

I am not a sympathy seeker. In owning who I am and opening my heart, I am able to embrace my own vulnerability. This gives rise to courage and strength that sometimes I forget I possess. Sharing my vulnerability with others has brought me empathy, joy, love, the knowledge that I am enough and the hope that you realize that the same — you are enough. No sympathy necessary. Only gratitude.

When we strip away the physical, we experience ourselves and each other for who we are. Each of us has known difficulty, struggle, challenge and pain; they happen. In being sensitive and accepting of this truth, we unite in love. We all have a choice, and those choices matter; whether it’s picking yourself up and starting over, moving on or asking for help. One of the most important choices we can make is to choose love and compassion, for ourselves and others. Indifference should never be an option.

woman sitting in middle of street
Kristen shows off socks that say “Perfectly me”

Follow this journey on Little Legs. Big Heart.

Originally published: January 9, 2016
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