Have you ever seen a stranger in distress and wanted to help them, but weren’t sure if it was appropriate? When we see someone on crutches, we know we should make an effort to hold the door open for them, or let them go ahead of us in line at the grocery store. But do we actually perform these random acts of kindness?
I think most people are good-hearted individuals who want to help others. Yet, we often see strangers looking the other way instead of assisting someone in need. Perhaps fear is what stands in our way?
We may wonder if the person we’re trying to “help” is truly in need or, are they thinking, “Leave me alone, I can do this myself. I don’t need your help.” I’m sure there are isolated instances when the latter may be true, but I believe most people appreciate the kindness shown to them by fellow members of the human race.
In my 32 years of living with scleroderma, I’ve been the recipient of help from strangers far more often than I’ve been able to offer it. Just last week, I traveled alone through four airports and received help from multiple travelers of diverse ethnicities, races, and age groups. People saw me struggling to lift my luggage off the conveyer belt, or hoist my carry-on into the overhead compartment, and immediately offered help. People can see that what may be easy for them, is an insurmountable task for me and naturally assist me.
I could fill pages and pages with similar accounts of the one I just described. But of all the help I’ve received from strangers over the years, one is forever seared in my memory.
Help on an escalator
It was January 2007 and I had recently been released from a 218-day hospitalization where my body had deconditioned to the point of temporary paralysis. I was receiving physical, occupational and respiratory therapy five-days-a week for six hours each day. I had just been weaned off my walker and crept along at a snail’s pace with an unsteady gait. I had begun to venture out in public and was enjoying some time with my sister, her kids and my 3-year-old son at our local mall.
We reached an escalator and my sister asked if I thought I could get on, or if we should take the elevator. I hadn’t ridden up an escalator in more than nine months, nor had I practiced this balancing skill in therapy. I needed assistance climbing stairs, so I have no idea why I felt confident that I could successfully ride an escalator. Stupidly, I held my son’s hand and attempted to mount up onto the first step. I immediately had to let go of my son’s hand, while he shrieked, “Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!”
I was slipping downward and had no semblance of balance. Everyone else in my group got to the top of the escalator and watched me, helplessly wondering what to do. My son, who had been through so much trauma already with me being away from him for seven months, continued to howl for me. I was gripping the smooth black escalator rail, but could not pull my weight up enough to regain control of my legs. My 80-pound body held on in an almost horizontal position as my feet stumbled to catch up with the motion of the escalator.
Panic surged through me until someone came and slipped his strong arms under my shoulders from the step beneath me. His sturdy body restored mine to an upright position, as he allowed me to lean on him until the escalator mercifully reached the top. Once safe, I locked eyes with a very kind Latino man who did not speak any English. My sister and I thanked him profusely, but I’m not sure he really understood us. He quickly walked away and I never saw him again.
This man didn’t contemplate whether I wanted him to help me, nor did he consider the language barrier that kept him from asking. He simply followed his human instincts; he saw someone in danger and he did the right thing. This man is the quintessential everyday hero who got nothing in return but the knowledge of knowing he helped someone in need. A decade later, I still think of that man each time I pass an escalator and imagine my fate had he not stepped in. I never learned his name, but know we’re all better off that he, and millions of others like him, walk among us.
[To learn more about my journey with scleroderma, please visit Comfortable In My Thick Skin].
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