I believe that small things matter. While I think that I have always known this, the lesson became very clear to me recently when I fell and broke both of my feet. Within a split second on a slippery step, I went from being a very active and busy professional to someone who required non weight-bearing status, a condition that essentially meant life in bed for a month. I had always taken care of myself and others. I now had to depend upon others to take care of me.
It was the little kindnesses that made this bearable. My husband thoughtfully put up a bird feeder so that I could watch it outside my window. My colleagues at work brought casseroles every few days to help with feeding me. Others sent books and cards and wrote e-mails so that I could stay in touch. I continued with a research project so that I would feel less worthless.
Becoming independent again was a slow process. Ironically, I work at a children’s rehabilitation center but had never fully appreciated how hard it was to regain a skill like walking. After a fall, a significant part of what you overcome is fear of falling again. The smallest step was such a challenge. It took more courage than I had ever thought.
Being in a wheelchair for the first time in my life, I began to realize the challenges that others face. Small environmental adaptations such as ramps and automatic doors certainly helped. Often these changes seemed to have good intentions but did not overcome the bigger hurdles. For example, a restaurant might be accessible to enter but impossible to maneuver because the tables are too close. A bathroom is designated for someone with handicaps but can not be entered because the door is too heavy or the handle is too high. While the Americans with Disabilities Act has made some strides, I found we still have a long ways to go. Maybe we just don’t get it unless we have been there.
While it took months of physical therapy before I was wheelchair, walker, and crutch free, I knew I would improve and would be able to walk independently again. It was great to slowly be able to do little things for myself again, such as housework, shopping, and driving. Most importantly, it was wonderful to have so many people encouraging me in small ways to get better.
One of my favorite quotes is from Mother Teresa who said, “In this life, we can not do great things- we can only do small things with great love.” Perhaps if we all try harder to understand the challenges others must overcome to realize their independence or their potential, we can do a better job of providing the small things that will truly help them.
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