No More Turning Away From The Weak And The Weary

(song: On The Turning Away/artist: Pink Floyd)

A couple of weeks ago I took my son to Whole Foods here in Brooklyn to get a cake for my husband's birthday. It was my first time in a public errand-running setting since the surgery. Naturally I chose one of the busiest times - the after school/pre-dinner rush - to go to the grocery store for the first time. What my son didn't (and shouldn't) know is that I had been feeling extremely anxious about public outings, so going in I was a silent mess. I'm feeling so vulnerable and exposed with this newfound handicap. 

Before we got out of the car we discussed our plan of attack: Go straight to the bakery, pick out a cake, get the hell out of there. My son got a small rolling cart, while his crippled mama hobbled behind him on her hospital-issued cane. We go straight to the bakery, pick out a cake, put it in the rolling cart and...oh yeah, we need milk too. We head over to dairy, get the milk. Oh yeah, we need eggs too. I grab those. Oh yeah, a few yogurts too. And this package of cheese. I instruct my son as I hand him the items one-by-one to add to the cart. Take out cake, put in eggs and milk and yogurt and cheese, put cake back. 

We head to the check-out line. As we pass the hot food bar, the cart topples over. Out comes the cake, eggs, yogurt, cheese and milk. My sweet little boy says, as he falls to his knees and scrambles to collect the runaway groceries, "I'm sorry, mommy, I'll pick it up. The eggs are broken, will we get in trouble?" I'm not mad at him, but I'm so anxious and visibly agitated and I can't bend down and help him. And no one, I mean NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON, stopped to help an almost-crying child and his cane-using mother. 

No eggs were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

Now that I'm a full-time cane user, I've noticed that people who walk past me don't make eye contact for very long, if at all. And I've come to realize that's exactly how I looked at the disabled before this happened to me. We are taught not to gawk: however inadvertent, we treat the disabled as invisible because it makes us uncomfortable to imagine ourselves in a similarly compromised position. 

Perhaps the assumption that handicapped people don't want special treatment is what drove every person that walked past my son and me not to stop and offer help. What I know is that I will no longer assume that help is not needed if I find myself in a similar situation. My awkwardness at coming face-to-face with someone that has a handicap is no match for what it feels like to need help and not be offered it. We as humans can do better. I'll go first.

Or at the very least, by lifting others' groceries.