Thursday, December 23, 2010

Give the Guy and Hand

It was a small gesture, one he probably doesn't even remember. Joe and I were nearing the end of our shopping day. My power chair was laden down with bags and packages. If you squinted, I would have looked like Santa on his sleigh. The elevator door opened and Joe quickly scooted on. As there was no one on the elevator and no one waiting for it, I took the time to turn around and back on. I prefer to do this. I don't when others are around because it takes a few seconds more. You wouldn't believe the hostility that those few seconds can bring forth in others.

Joe, inside and out of sight, was holding the 'door open' button. I was backing carefully on when I noticed a young man rushing over to the elevator. I thought he was rushing to get on. Instead, he put his hand inside and over the door, holding it so that it wouldn't close. I glanced at him and he said, smiling, 'These things can close so quickly.'

After I was on he let go and I said, 'Thanks.' He nodded and smiled as he continued on his way.

'That was nice,' I said to Joe who didn't respond because he, too, was reeling in shock.

We'd had a nice day shopping and chattering with each other. But the day was full of petty annoyances. I know that this is true for everyone shopping at this time of the year. But a wheelchair does make a difference. I need the ramps, most others like the ramps. I had difficulty getting on a ramp every time I needed to use one. Floods of people flowed over them. Joe would have to go to the top and stop people, who often became nearly abusive towards him. I'd be at the bottom asking people to wait for a second for the ramp to clear so I could use it.

Lineups were often very narrow making it difficult for me to get around. Patience was thin on the ground and I got the 'get out of the freaking way' look well more than once. I'd come away feeling cumbersome and lumpy. I fought annoyance and chose to concentrate instead on the fun side of the manic shopping day.

At the end of the day we'd decided to pick up something we'd seen first off. Thus we were at an elevator waiting to ride up.

It was then, into our day, a kind hand held open an elevator door.

Small gestures of courtesy and civility can have huge impact. It didn't matter that I didn't need the door held open. It didn't matter at all. What mattered was that, in the midst of confusion and chaos, there was someone in the world who had the time and the inclination to just do something nice.

POW!! Magically the day brightened. Instantaneously the annoyances dropped away.

Most of us forget, as we talk about the changes needed in society, that we can be that change. Mostly I forget, how powerful simple acts of kindness are.


theknapper said...

I know this never know when an act of kindness can have a monumental effect and even small moments can create space and hope. You make us pay attention to the events in our own lives....or I hope that is one of the side effects of your blog.

tekeal said...

well, that surprised me. i thought you were going to say how irritating it was to you that he rushed over, basked in self-importance for his supposed act of random kindness... i think i don't have the refined sense yet for what touches you or turns you off. what feels like gestures of courtesy or rather, offensive, self-absorbed ones.

anyway, what's important is that you were touched and that your day was indeed, lit by an act of kindness. amidst the shopping flurry, that's a real gift.

Dave Hingsburger said...

tekeal, one of the difficulties in writing these situations is that there are no words, really, to describe the 'sense' of the situation. (Or, more correctly, I don't have the talent to describe them well.) Help can be intrusive, true, but it can also simply be kind. I believe that guy would have done the same thing in the same manner if he'd seen a woman with a stroller, or a guy carrying lots of bags ... it seemed that he was responding to a situation not to a disability. I think that matters. Anyways, I thought it just kind and as a result didn't feel diminished by it. I guess that's what I should have said!

Anonymous said...

The wheeliecrone says -
I have heard other people with disabilities express annoyance at the sort of thing you described - and I agree with you. When someone does something out of the goodness of their heart, even if it is something I don't need - I try to make sure that I thank them and smile. They are being as kind as they know how to be. And kindness should be encouraged, in my opinion.

Sher said...

I think the difference is being considered. The post about the person holding the door open while you were trying to get your coat on, was different from this one in that the person holding the door open didn't listen to you when you said that you didn't need the door held open, blasting you with cold air while you were trying to get your coat on. That person did not consider your words, just what they wanted to do. That person didn't take enough time to even think about what you were saying, they were just going to help you, no matter what. It's good to be matter who you are and how you move from place to place. Blessings to you and yours, Dave.

Andrea S. said...


People with disabilities ARE NOT OFFENDED when someone helps or offers to help.

We ARE offended if we politely explain that the help they're offering isn't needed right now (or is the wrong kind of help)--and the person physically FORCES it upon us.

It annoys when people FORCE unwanted/unneeded assistance because it shows they don't actually care about me or what I want or genuinely need at all. They have put a higher value on their need to "feel good by helping!" than they have on what I actually NEED.

Another reason why some people with disabilities dislike FORCED assistance is because some people with disabilities have actually, literally, ended up in the hospital because someone forced "assistance" on them that actually put them in danger. For example, right here at Dave's blog (unfortunately I can't remember the exact post, perhaps the one where the guy held the door open?) a woman with CP shared a story of how a cab driver insisted on "helping her up" and dragged her onto her feet even though she tried to explain that it would actually be more helpful to allow her to get up on her own. As I understand it from her explanation, when another person forces it on her, it is more difficult to regain her balance because other people cannot detect when she really is stable enough to be let go of or not (with the CP it is harder to maintain balance). She fell again as soon as the cab driver let go and injured her ankle so badly it apparently will never be quite the same again.

I've also met people in wheelchairs who have serious pain conditions that means that they need to move carefully in a specific way to avoid increasing or triggering the pain. A person who just grabs their wheelchair and pushes them without waiting for them to say if it is okay or not to "help" them in this fashion, or waiting for them to explain how they can be moved safely without aggravating their pain condition ... could be causing horrendous pain that lingers for days afterwards.

The consequences of refusing to listen to what a person needs are not always so extreme. But even when it isn't, it IS still pretty disrespectful to PHYSICALLY FORCE what is YOUR concept of "assistance" on a person who has politely made clear they don't need or want it right now. In the exact same way that it is disrespectful to not take your hand off someone's shoulder if someone has made clear they're not comfortable with you touching them. The fact that tons of other people think you're a great person and are completely comfortable with your touching their shoulders makes no difference. The fact that this person lets other people touch their shoulder all the time also makes no difference. Touching them on the shoulder in the first place may not have been necessarily wrong (depends on the context). But REFUSING to remove your hand after they've asked you to IS wrong. Same thing with help: There's nothing wrong with offering it. You can even jump in occasionally and just do it, as long as you see a clear way to do it in a completely non-intrusive way and/or if waiting would make it too late (such as, grabbing someone else's fragile glass teetering on the edge of the table before it falls off). But if you offer and they then explain that they don't need it right now, or don't need this specific type of assistance, or don't feel like receiving it right now from you ... then it is simply the RESPECTFUL thing to do to back off.

Do you see the difference? It's not about HELPING. It's about RESPECT.

Anonymous said...

It's the little things that matter to most, no matter what your situation may be. That gets lost for alot of people alot of the time.