What I Wish This Waiter Had Done for the Man With No Hands at His Table


I saw a new but familiar story in the top “news” on my Facebook feed today. It follows a predictable formula. A man with no hands walked into a Mexican restaurant. (No, there’s no punchline coming…) He ordered his food from a friendly waiter named Alex. After delivering his food, the waiter sat down at the table with him and fed him. Another customer in the restaurant saw this, took a picture and posted it to Facebook. Now it’s going viral.

A waiter feeds a man with no hands at the Cinco de Mayo Mexican Restaurant in Georgia.
A waiter feeds a man with no hands at the Cinco de Mayo Mexican Restaurant in Georgia.

People love these stories — the moments when someone apparently goes out of their way to help a stranger in need. They share and comment with good intentions, believing they’re adding to the good deed by proxy. But to me, there’s much more to this story. And we need to talk about it.

I have no doubt Alex the waiter is a kind person, who did something nice for someone else. However, there’s so much about the situation that we don’t know. Are Alex and the man strangers to each other? Is he a regular customer? Perhaps they are good friends, or brothers, or cousins. There are so many possible reasons why this event took place that we can’t know just by looking at a picture. By sharing without context, we make assumptions and project our own views onto the situation. That’s not fair to anyone involved.

We’re forgetting about another perspective when we reflexively share stories like this. What about the man with no hands? Did he ask for help? Does he know his picture is now being shared across the Internet, perhaps without his permission? At least in this picture, unlike some other similar stories, his face is hidden. Yet I doubt he will be able to remain anonymous in his community. People will recognize him, and he’ll be drawn into the conversation whether he wanted to be part of it or not. Only he can say what the waiter’s actions meant in the context of his life. This should be his story to share — and no one else’s.

When I look at the photo, I wonder how he came to be walking into a restaurant without the ability to feed himself. Many people I’ve known or read about who don’t have hands or arms use their feet for tasks like eating. Others use prosthetics with utensil attachments, or robotic hands. Why does this man not have access to those resources? Is he a wounded veteran fighting to get help from the VA? Is his private insurance or Medicaid refusing to pay for prosthetics? Does he need a personal care attendant, but he’s stuck on a waiting list or appealing because the state didn’t give him adequate services? I don’t know, but I want to know. I wonder if the waiter asked. I wish the person taking this photo had asked.

I believe that’s what we all should do when faced with a story like this. Ask the deeper questions. Why is a person who likely longs for independence having to depend on the kindness of strangers? The old saying about giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish may apply here. Feeding a man with no hands helps him in that moment. Writing a letter to your elected officials and becoming an advocate for proper funding of health care services, including prosthetics, will help him for a lifetime. Helping a person in your community who needs funding for prosthetics, or a wheelchair, or an accessible vehicle will make a real difference — not clicking “share” on a photo.

We should all applaud when someone goes above and beyond to help another person in an extraordinary situation. But sitting down at a restaurant to eat shouldn’t have to be an extraordinary situation. It should be something that most people with a disability can do just like everyone else, with the proper supports. That’s the message we should be sharing.

Follow this journey on Free Wheelin’.

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