My daughter sat up to look. Like a princess in a carriage, she peered backward and down at the person in the wheelchair, which was burdened with hanging bags. The man wore bright yellow grippy socks, the ones you get in the hospital, and was eyeing both ways on a neighborhood intersection.
After I dropped the kids off, I came back around to the same street. I stopped my car and got out. From a bit away, I called out and asked him if he needed help to get across the street. He said he was going down the other way, toward the park. He had just gotten in from Colorado.
“Better weather here,” I remarked.
“This has been my winter home for 25 years,” he said. He had worked for a local construction company whose name I recognized, but last year he had broken his hip and one leg. I don’t know if he’s unhoused or jobless; he didn’t volunteer that information, and I didn’t ask.
I was going for a coffee; did he want one? Yes, cream and sugar, but just one packet because he had diabetes. I told him I’d be back in a few. He asked my name and told me his.
When I returned, he was only a little farther down the road.
“I didn’t make it very far,” he said. I handed him the coffee, and he asked if I could push him the rest of the way. I told him I’d have to lock my car first.
He asked me where I was from. I told him everywhere, and he scoffed. I told him that my dad had been in the military. What I didn’t say was that he had the same name as my father.
He told me that he had built the sidewalks in the tourist area of our town and then barked at me not to push him up onto the sidewalk but to stay on the street. He was gruff and commandeering, but he’s right. Our sidewalks, with the accommodations for driveways, leave wheelchair users lurching up and down. He had to shuffle down the road instead, and each bump hurt.
Likely, he was short with me because he was in pain. Or maybe he was afraid, because, after all, who was I to be helping him? Why should he trust me, and why should I believe him?
But that’s our divide, isn’t it? We’re a society in pain, addicted to and subduing our fears, and lashing out at things we don’t understand. Many of us don’t know how to manage compassion alongside what we might see as preservation of ourselves and what we believe to be true. Our fears are rooted in myths but hide at least one nugget of truth we want to bury: With one or two strokes of bad luck, we could also lose the trust of others and lose the place in society that we understand.
Before I left him, he said he hoped it wouldn’t rain that day. I said that I hadn’t checked the forecast yet but didn’t think it would.
It rained twice.
Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at [email protected] To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.