The Gift of the Wheelchair

A nice little video from the New York Times. I think their emphasis was more on the couple’s relationship, which is indeed sweet and supportive. But I was more impressed with her adventurous spirit, the places they found to go that were wheelchairable, and in a regular, non-offroad, chair to boot.

I recently returned from a men’s retreat weekend, a gathering that I had started going to 20 years ago, and attended regularly, twice a year, for maybe 10 or so years. For some reason that I can’t remember, I got out of the habit, and only went back in mid-May. Despite my pre-gathering misgivings – the gathering is held at a rustic camp in New Hampshire, and isn’t even close to ADA compliant – about navigating the campus in my wheelchair. I found quite the opposite of what I was expecting. I felt more involved and open than I had in all those other years.

It was the wheelchair. I was far more vulnerable, forced to be so, you might say, and had to ask directly for help to get from building to building. I needed someone to push me to and from the bathroom (in a different building that the main gathering hall), and to my cabin. It served as a good conversation starter as well. I had told the other men at the opening that I was more than open to talking about MS, life in a wheelchair, etc. Several men told me they had never really known anyone in a wheelchair, and when they met one of us, were unsure about whether or how to ask about it. I only knew a few of the men from past gatherings, and I think I startled some of the newbies with “cripple jokes,” and joking suggestions that the wheelchair was just a ruse to get attention.

Interesting. While usually I feel a little awkward being the only person at the party in a wheelchair, at this event it was a strangely powerful tool to open me up to the support and caring of the other men – all of whom I had known to be genuine and caring men before. But this time my need for their support was right out in the open. In the NYT video, the woman in the chair says that she does not like to accept help from people. When people offer to help me, I usually tell them that I appreciate the offer, and I’ll let them know if/when I need help. There are places I could never get into without help. (We went to a restaurant the other night that had a step up to get in. Without help, it would have been far more difficult to get in. Why make my life any more difficult than it has to be?) Being outed like that, so to speak, was revealing. While I can probably find my way over or around any barrier, it is plain that if I allow myself to be vulnerable and open to the caring assistance of my fellow humans, both their lives and my life will be enriched. I am deeply thankful to these Granite Men for giving me the space to discover this, and to all of those friends and strangers who have offered their help over the years.


Author: Stephen

Stephen Harris is a writer, painter and a photographer who lives with his family in Maine.

2 thoughts on “The Gift of the Wheelchair”

  1. I am so thrilled that you had a wonderful time and gained a new perspective on your life with your trusty new partner.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: