I’m walking towards the door to my classroom building. An attractive young college woman notices my approach and stops to hold the door. Hardly a remarkable event except that it takes me longer to reach the door than most people and that I grew up in an age where men were suppose to hold doors for women. She might not have normally waited to hold the door, but she saw my cane and it triggered her instinct to stop and help.
Six years ago, when I was first diagnosed with arthritis I might have waved her off with a scowl, but today I simply smile and say, “Thank you, it always makes me happy when someone does this for me.” She smiles back and heads off to her class. I hobble to the elevators and up to my office.
The loss of independence is hard. It has been especially hard for me. A social conscious upper middle class mother raised me in the 1960’s. Help was something we were to provide. My mother, herself, had been raised in relative affluence and was ingrained with a deep sense of quid pro quo. Her children often reminded that they were lucky for the life they enjoyed. We were the helpers, not the helped. And help we did. We were all imbued with a fierce sense of independence. And even when our world came crashing down through divorce, we struggled on. I put myself through college with the help of a debate scholarship and a Spartan student loan (that I quickly paid back) and graduate school with a teaching assistantship. Help was for students who needed it; I somehow did not think that was for me.
My disability was has been slowly robbing me of my independence. There was never really a point where I declared myself handicapped, but it has somehow happened. The cane was first a convenience, taking pressure off my arthritic hip, now it is a necessity. I where shoes I don’t have to tie, I have handicapped parking placard, and I shamelessly ride a scooter at Wal-mart
When I wore laced shoes; I had stepped on the lace and untied them. Helpless to do anything about it I shuffled on until I was stopped by a woman easily 20 years my senior who bent down and tied them for me. That same summer I had slipped and fallen in a remote area of school and lay helpless until a medical student happened by and helped me back to my feet. This is what I first have had to learn to accept, the kindness of strangers.
There was a time in my life that I would have bristled at these acts and felt bad having to rely on them. But I have some to understand that pride is a foolish thing. Help is not something earned through good works or karma, it is something we offer each other simply because we are people. I did not hold the thousands of doors in my youth saving up for a time when people would hold them for me. We simply help people because we are people and some people need help. A very simple calculus.
So if you ask me what I believe, I would tell you that I believe that help is not only a good thing to offer but a good thing to accept.
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