To the Strangers I Met During My First Trip to the Store in My New Wheelchair
You didn’t know today was only the third time I took Sophia (as I’ve named my new power wheelchair) out, and the first time I rode her on the few blocks’ trek to the local corner store.
You didn’t know I was still learning to navigate Sophia — to stop smoothly, go around obstacles, and (when on an empty, safe stretch of sidewalk) go top speed just for the great fun of it. More crucially, you didn’t know I was learning to navigate my sense of self, figuring who I am given the changes and challenges of the last months. That, ultra-attuned to others’ reactions, I hoped desperately people would see me in that chair.
You didn’t know my story of how for 16 years I’ve battled a condition that causes severe chronic pain and other symptoms, nor how an injury to my leg caused mobility struggles the past few months. You didn’t know how home-trapped I’ve been, nor how I’ve dreamed of the day I would once again go to that corner store. You couldn’t have known how that simple trip to the store meant more than almost anything.
A lot was riding on this trip I took today beyond what you could see: a lady wearing a purple knit owl hat riding in a wheelchair. A lady who at various times on that first journey to the store needed help with unanticipated wrinkles. A lady who you jumped right in to help without even being asked.
Thank you to the mother and her cute little daughter who saw me ride up to the store, then be foiled by a heavy, non-automatic door that couldn’t be pulled open from a wheelchair. Just as I tried to figure out how I’d get inside, you ran back to open the door for me.
Thank you to every person in the store who made eye contact with me and smiled at me just as if I was like any other customer. Maybe some might think it strange or even wrong for me to thank you for this, that I should have the confidence to know in my soul that I am the same as any other customer. That I should not seek validation for my worth from the responses of others. I get that. But… my self-image has been shaken up along my journey, like a mailed packaged that arrives dented and torn. The polite gentleness with which you treated me felt like soothing body butter on my cracked, dry sense of self.
Thank you to the grocery store cashier and customer ahead of me in line, a woman wearing the coolest green running shoes. They saw I’d dropped my credit card on the floor and was struggling to reach it, and immediately both raced over to help.
Thank you to the kind man who was driving beside me on a busy street as I rode Sophia home. My sweater had fallen out the side of my chair, onto the curb. You must have seen me fruitlessly trying to pick it up, because the next thing I knew you had stopped your car, jumped out and handed it to me. I barely had time to write thank you on my communication board because another car had stopped behind you and you had to run back to your car. But I hope you know how much your kind actions meant.
Each of you, dear strangers, was going about your regular afternoon activities when you took a moment to help me. None were condescending, just friendly. You treated me with both dignity and kindness, and in doing so made a huge difference in not just how this first outing to the grocery store went, but in the confidence I’ll have the next time I go out. As I re-figure out who I am as a person whose life and abilities have dramatically changed, your simple acts of kindness meant so much. To you, these acts may have seemed small, but what I’m sure you don’t know is that you changed my life.
Follow this journey on Days of Grace.
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