Monday, August 25, 2014

Paying It Foward

No one can return from vacation without getting nails done and hair trimmed, at least according to the woman I sleep with, and so since we'd only driven five hours from Jonesboro to Springfield, she decided to stop there in the big city to accomplish those tasks.

I declined to enter the mall, it being kept at a temperature in the 60s and stocked with temptations, and so I took a book and stationed myself on the edge of the parking lot in the shade of a tree. It was a 90'ish day, but there was a breeze, and I was comfortable.

I'd been there about a half-an-hour when a woman in a Subaru pulled up near me, rolled down here window, and said, "Are you all right, hon?"

I knew she'd stopped because I wasn't moving and because I was in a wheelchair, and so I replied, "I'm fine. Thank you."

"I just wanted to make sure you were okay. I saw you when I pulled in, and when I came out, you hadn't moved."

"Oh, okay. My wife's inside. She'll be there for a while. I don't like the cold air-conditioning in there, and so ... "

She drove off, but it was only a few minutes before a mall security guy drove up on a Segway. The same conversation, more or less, with him saying, "I had to rescue a guy the other day whose power chair quit on him in the middle of the parking lot," and me adding, "I have a cell phone, and I can call for help, but I do appreciate your concern."

That was his first trip. Then he swung buy to make sure everything was still okay. And then he made a third trip because "My supervisor said people are reporting there's a man in a wheelchair stranded on the southwest lot."

I gave up, deciding that the best course of action would be to keep moving from one shady patch to another, a tactic that kept me from being targeted by well-meaning passers-by and reduced calls to the mall security office. And then my wife returned.

I don't resent the well-meaning people concerned about my welfare. It's the sort of individual action that makes for a humane society. People with disabilities often achieve full independence, but I've been in more than one situation in which I needed help because of a problem with my wheelchair. In fact, before cell phones, I would always tell someone where I was going and when I expected to arrive before setting out on a wheelchair-journey.

Conversely, how many times that day did one of those people who worried over my situation pass someone on a busy corner holding a piece of cardboard on which was written "Homeless," Or "Need Work," Or "Will Work for Food?"

I counted three on our way home that afternoon, and each time—no, we didn't stop—I couldn't help put compare my situation with their own.

The woman I sleep with plays the pay it forward game, most often at gas stations when she seems a young mother alone with a car-full of children, especially if the car is older and the woman seems frazzled and overwhelmed. Both of us talk about the Cardboard Sign Tribe, though, without ever doing much about it. There've been exceptions. We gave five dollars to a guy on the New Orleans River Walk, and recently she, being far more generous and compassionate than I, bought a meal from a fast-food restaurant for an older fellow on a street corner.

"He looked so sad," she said. "Everything he owned in a cart, a dog on a rope, and more days without a bath than I'd care to think about." This was at the first intersection off the interstate in north Springfield. "I drove around the block," she said, "found a Burger King, and bought him a five dollar lunch and took it back to him. He said thanks when I handed it to him and said he was really hungry."

I don't know what I learned that afternoon, at least anything different than what I already know: fate and circumstance make for funny bedfellows.  

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