That chair. The one you never would sit in. It’s just not done. You may not be the kind of person who goes around saying things like that, but secretly, in the back of your mind? You know THE chair I am talking about. Could be your dad’s, your grandmother’s, your husband’s, your wife’s, heck it could even be the guy at the deli down the street. But you would never sit there. It’s just not done.
It starts out easy. Oh this is the only chair that feels good on my back. Or this chair is just the right height for my sewing. Or simply – that’s MY chair. Like any other chair could never work. Must of been one of the first cavemen who stumbled onto a convenient log and said – yep – this fits MY butt – onga bonga – MY chair!
Historians say that until the 1600’s most people didn’t have a chair. A few merchants or upwardly mobile serfs might have managed a stool or a bench, but no back. The chair was reserved for the noble, the royal and upper clergy members. Imagine that – Sunday dinner and not a chair in sight? Thanksgiving would be chaos! If just the head of the household had a chair – then think of the posturing and mind games that would ensue – all in pursuit of a backed seat. The industrial age brought us much to be grateful for – don’t forget to include the chair in your turkey day litany of thanks!
Even in today’s culture, the chair holds a special place. Ever been on the edge of your seat? Many a movie theater has broken armrests from a scary flick. That musical build up, you know its going to happen and yet – you still jump a little as you hold onto your chair with both hands just hoping it will keep you safe for a little bit longer.
And if someone gives you big news, they tell you to sit down. Good or bad – they don’t want you falling over in shock. Never mind falling off the edge of your seat! Really though – no one ever says lay down, I have news… it just doesn’t happen like that.
The Chair itself – now there is some power! Whether its the first violinist or the CEO of the company – that chair gets the job done! The Chair in a board meeting can recognize people – or not – all up to the whims of the Chair. Almost makes me want two more legs, well only if the stock options came with it!
Kids are taught the importance of the seat right away. Musical chairs is a power play whether in the classroom or at the popular kid’s party. The winners go on to leading their classmates, then becoming captains of industry. All the while the kid who stumbled in the first round is living in his mom’s basement and drawing pictures of a gumball delivery system that will allow him to chew long enough to get into the Guinness book of world records. How you dominated musical chairs has a direct correlation to who you played spin the bottle with and whether you got a letter in sports.
Of course we have another meaning for the chair. That final destination of evil-doers who are powerless against the electric currents aimed at their brain. The image of electrified hair smoking out the last few brain cells is strong. But so is the picture of a woman holding her baby rocking in a chair, that cocoon of safety and mother love draped around them like a blanket. Or the baby in the high chair grinning toothless at the steamed peas she has just smeared all over the tray.
I like the summer wedding with a grand old dame in a big hat, sitting in a chair near the dance floor. Auntie will tell you stories of her wedding while you hold her papery soft hand in yours, sitting on rented chairs draped with tulle in the bride’s signature colors. Or maybe whoever that was up top, the one with THE chair? Maybe sometimes on a very good night you go and sit in their chair that smells of all their good smells, listening for the least little noise to make you jump up. And you think of them all the more fondly because you seem wrapped up in the very essence of them.
When I was a kid I would play with my great-grandmother’s wheelchair. I knew it was how she got around, I don’t remember her without it. And my cousin had one too – he was just a few years older than me, but the chair was his after an accident. Now, I think I am way too young for a wheelchair but I know its in my not too distant future. I have one now for longer distances. But I hate it.
Why is the chair such a symbol of power and strength until you put wheels on it? Because once those go on, wow – start spinning! People look down on you, not just because they are standing, but worse. Some people will not make eye contact, some won’t speak directly to me, just to whoever I’m with. Or the ones who assume that if I am in a wheelchair I must be deaf? Still don’t get that one. But for every one of those there has been a stranger who offers to help me get something so that balances out I think.
Where I lose the balance? When total flipping strangers come up and say – oh you are too young to be in a wheelchair – whats wrong with you? Honestly! Though it was worse when a old co-worker walked up to me and said oh no- what happened – did you have a stroke? What can you say to those people? ‘No dear, I’m doing a candid camera segment on the rude things people say to those in wheelchairs and I will need you to sign a release’? Or just look crazy eyed at them and whisper ‘it was the zombies..flesh eating ghouls..desecraters of all that was once good and pure…’