Friday, April 01, 2011

Invisible, Visible

   
I was at the grocery store, picking up a few things, moving from the back of the store to the front because I'm compulsively organized. The last item I needed before heading for the checkout was a loaf of bread and I headed to the ice cream and bread products aisle. Once there, I positioned myself parallel to the shelf, reaching out over the left armrest on my wheelchair and trying to get a solid grip on a loaf of bread so I could get it off the shelf. It wasn't going well - it was just a couple of centimeters too far, I could touch the package, but getting it from the shelf to my lap was a no go.

I sat there for a while, struggling with a loaf of bread - that's not a sentence you write every day - and several able-bodied people went by without offering to help. Feeling more and more invisible, I also felt more and more frustrated. And then this rather elderly man who clearly had some significant health issues came tottering up, took the loaf of bread and handed it to me. He smiled and said "we have to help each other out."

It was a small moment of grace, almost cinematic in how our surroundings became hushed and fuzzy, this moment between two people all that existed. Two invisible people banding together.
    

8 comments:

Crafty Cripple said...

I think sometimes it is hard for the able bodied to know what to do.  I know that when people hold open a door but smile and talk to the person pushing the chair, I want to slug them in the face.  The able bodied sometimes walk a fine line between patronisation and help and some people are so scared to walk up to the line that they run away from it.  It doesn't surprise me at all that the person who helped you in a graceful and elegant manner was someone with his own health issues.  We recognise the frustration and know that you just want the damn bread!

Anonymous said...

If I see someone struggling, I prefer to help if they look at me, but I don't usually if they are ignoring those around them. It really is a fine line between helpfulness and interference....so if I can tell help would be appreciated, I do it...and glancing around does that.

I rarely need help by strangers, yet they are constantly helping me....which gets in my way, takes longer, and is a pain. And I have to be nice and pleasant to them, because they are trying to be nice!

I do love freaking people out by going fast on my crutches to a door, hip checking it open, then holding it there, with a crutch, waiting for the next person to grab the door in their turn!

Anonymous said...

That reminds me of the time in college when I was on crutches and another guy on crutches and I were trying to help each other open a door, while each of us was holding a full cup of soda in one hand. =)

It is indeed a fine line between helping and imposing... i'm happy to help if someone looks like they want help or just asks.  (I'm tall, and often get asked to get things off of high shelves.) Looking like you *need* help and looking like you *want* help are not the same thing tho!

The one person I purposely didn't help was an elderly woman who was trying to get a bag of cat litter into her cart... she was making cranky comments loud enough for anyone to hear, but not actually asking anyone for help.  Super passive agressive!

AlisonH said...

Oh, Lene. I'm so glad he was there for you. And with the loneliness and isolation that so easily dominate when in poor health and old age, what a gift of love and purpose you gave him by needing what only he was willing to give in that moment, and by your appreciation for who he was and what he did. Wow.

Kitten said...

Not to mention the fact that you never actually LOOK at anyone who might be different lest you be accused of staring. :/
That being said, I still think you must have been shopping on Asshole Night at the local market.

Trevor said...

Here's the thing.... if you don't ask me for help, or at least give me a look that implies a request for help, I am not going to help.
Why?
Because I have been flat-out criticized by people I've tried to help.  I have been called patronizing.  I have been called narrow-minded for assuming that someone needs help simply because they use a wheelchair.  I have been told that they don't need 'my pity'.
No, you have never said these things to me, but if you were a stranger to me, and I saw you in the store looking like you need help, I am not going to offer help.  I will gladly help if asked.  But I don't need someone yelling at me for treating them 'poorly' because I offered to help.
The mother of an old friend used canes in both hands to walk, but God forbid I hold the door open for her.  I did that once, and never heard the end of it.

Trevor said...

To Kitten - you're right about staring, though Lene can tell you that if I'm staring at someone who's 'different', it's probably out of attraction.  But the fear of being thought of as staring for a negative reason is enough to have me avert my eyes, for fear of staring.
Catch-22's are everywhere.

Diana said...

Absolutely! It's the mom with babes in arms and people on crutches that are almost 100% likely to hold the doors for me on my way in to a restaurant or something. Those people and the children who are at the same head height as I am in my chair.
We DO have to take care of each other. Bless him!