Recently, at the University of Kentucky, a student named Lexi Baskin came out of the library to find her car covered in fliers.
“Shame on you,” they read.
Although her vehicle was legally parked in a handicapped spot, and displayed a handicapped tag, the fliers on her front, back and side windows suggested she was some kind of fraud. One of them, duct-taped to her rear glass, read, “NOT REALLY (HANDICAPPED) JUST LAZY.”
“Shame on you!” it said. “There are legit handicapped people who need this parking space. We have seen you and your friend come and go and there is nothing handicapped about either of you. Your tag must be borrowed or fake. We will make every effort to see you fined or towed for being such a selfish, terrible person.”
Apparently, the sticker-shamers had been watching Baskin, grew indignant, and felt justified in vandalizing her car, certain that she was “selfish,” “terrible,” and clearly not handicapped.
What those shamers didn’t know is that Baskin is a cancer patient, undergoing radiation treatments. Last summer, according to reports, doctors found a tumor in her brainstem. They removed it, but the radiation still leaves her tired and dizzy, making long walks difficult.
So. Do the flier police just utter that old Roseanne Roseannadanna phrase: “Never mind”?
Sorry. That won’t cut it.
Why do we rush to judgment?
Baskin, who has enough to deal with, responded to the vandals via social media, perhaps because, although they had no problem publicly shaming her, they lacked the courage to sign their names.
“Reminder that you have no idea what’s going on in people’s lives,” Baskin wrote in a Facebook post. “Just because I look fine in the 2 minutes I walk from my car to the building does not mean I am not battling cancer and undergoing radiation treatment. …
“I am not asking for sympathy, but just awareness that everyone is fighting their own battles. …
“I am legally allowed to park in handicap spaces.”
That was brave. And totally unnecessary. Why does Baskin – or anyone – have to declare how sick they are in order to satisfy someone’s mistaken outrage?
I am constantly amazed at how brazen people are in dismissing others’ difficulties. I’ve witnessed it myself. Some of you know that over the last two years, my wife and I took care of a young Haitian child who was battling an inoperable stage IV brain tumor. As the disease progressed, stealing her ability to walk, I needed to carry her from place to place.
One of her doctors suggested a handicapped parking tag. I resisted at first. I had never used one before. And we, the adults, were not handicapped.
But as our little girl’s symptoms progressed, and we needed to use a wheelchair for long transport, we relented.
One day, during a winter rainfall, I pulled into a handicapped space with the sticker clearly visible. I grabbed our little girl, covered her up, and carried her in my arms. A woman glared at me (apparently seeing no wheelchair or crutches) and made a comment about the space being “reserved for handicapped people.”
I was furious. Like Baskin, I wanted to tell her the facts. But that would mean spouting out cancer details while our child listened.
So I just glared back at the woman, and she walked off with her prideful anger. She never knew how sick this little girl was. Or that she died four months later.
Big, bad anonymous shamers
Now, yes, there are indeed people who violate handicapped parking rules. And when they do, it’s a legitimate issue.
But a bigger issue is our rush to judgment. Nobody wants to wait for the facts. No one assumes the best. We post our outrage. We lay claim to the right side of history.
But history takes time to unfold. Perhaps those sign-shamers, if this was so important to them, could have waited until Baskin came out and asked her, politely, if she realized she was in a handicapped zone.
That way, when Baskin said, “Yes, the radiation I am getting for my brain tumor often leaves me weak as a feather,” they could then say what they should have said:
“Sorry. Our mistake.”
But we are not a patient country. We are a judgmental one. A self-righteous one. We post our opinions loudly but anonymously. That way, we never bear the weight of a mistake.
UK announced Friday that it had determined who the alleged vandal was, a university employee who has since been suspended. But the school is withholding his or her identity.
Too bad. There are a few “Shame on you” fliers that would look good on that person’s forehead.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.