I’m hesitant to tell this story. On this blog, for obvious reasons, I try not to dwell often on deeds I do. But the way this tale aligns with my Tuesday post is too striking to let it go.
Earlier this week I wrote about my friend Kevin, who uses a wheelchair, unwittingly shopped without his wallet, and had his mind boggled by a stranger who paid for his basket of groceries. I was particularly walloped by Kevin’s comment: “That kind of thing just doesn’t happen any more… but it did!”
Fast-forward to Tuesday evening. I was preparing to exit an underground subway station. Typically, I was speed-walking while simultaneously checking my watch. My plans were to pick up my daughter from choir practice, buy her a dinner sandwich on the way, and squeeze in a quick errand at Sobey’s before that. (I’d say Sobey’s is getting a bit of free publicity this week, wouldn’t you?)
As I was about to climb the stairs, a man called out to me. He was young, sitting in a wheelchair, and clearly not the most rigourous performer of personal hygiene. He wanted to trade his subway tokens for a McDonald’s fish sandwich. The McDonald’s restaurant was upstairs, and the man claimed he was afraid to take the elevator himself because it might trigger a seizure.
I say “claimed” because I’m often dubious about the hard-luck stories we’re told on the streets of Toronto. Guess I’ve heard one too many “I’ve lost my wallet and I’m desperate to buy a bus ticket” tales. So I hemmed and hawed, kept my distance, told him I was on my way somewhere and didn’t know what I could do.
“Everyone keeps saying they wish they could help,” he complained. “That’s all they say. People don’t help you. They never help.”
Well, he’d gotten my attention. “You know, my husband’s quadriplegic,” I told him. That got his attention. “He gets helped all the time,” I said. “There are good people out there.”
We spent a couple of minutes discussing life, and struggles, and feeling overwhelmed. It’s funny, but what broke my heart wasn’t so much that he was trying to cope with disabilities. It wasn’t even his uncertainty whether life was worth living. Rather, it was his complete conviction that there was no such thing as random kindness from strangers.
Finally, I said: “I don’t know what to tell you. I have to go, I have to pick up my daughter, and I’m rushing to get to Sobey’s before I meet her.”
“You’re going to Sobey’s?” Well. Didn’t it turn out that, even more than his hankering for a filet-o-fish, this young gentleman had a need for certain essential household items from the grocery store? “I can give you the money if you buy them for me, ma’am,” he said.
“That I can do,” I said. I accepted the two crumpled five-dollar bills he fished out of his pocket. If the guy was willing to trust his meager cash to a stranger, he clearly wasn’t running a con. I memorized his shopping list. I promised to be back.
So I bought his things. (Naturally, I didn’t use his money – it wasn’t enough to cover it anyway.)
He was waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs. I handed him his bag and his fives. “You didn’t spend it?” he said, astonished. “Thank you, ma’am.”
“I have to run,” I told him. “But you gotta promise to remember that there’s more good than bad.” He smiled. I dashed off. Did I vanquish all his problems? Hardly. Did I improve his resolve to live? Unknown. Did I convince him that people do, actually, help?
You can’t argue with the facts when they’re in front of your face.