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Kunin: Kindness

I’ve learned something new about human kindness, since my husband has been confined to a wheelchair for the last year. I carefully maneuver him from wheel chair to dining room chair. He prefers to sit in a regular chair at the table - and at a concert or in a movie theatre. It makes him feel like he always did.

Everything must be done to avoid a fall. Getting in and out of the car isn’t a simple transition. The distance between the wheel chair and the front seat can feel like the Grand Canyon. When he manages to swivel his lower body into the seat, bringing one leg at a time with him. I exhale a sigh of relief.

“Great, you made it.” He smiles. I shut the car door and fold up the chair like an envelope, mustering just enough strength to fit it into the trunk of the car.

“Can I help you?” a voice calls behind me as I am parking the car next to the curb. Suddenly, the curb, which I'd never noticed before became a menace. I couldn’t lift John and the wheels over the curb. My husband couldn’t stand on his own two feet. How would we breach that chasm?

The voice approached. Two strong strangers were at my side. They held John under both arms and lifted him over the curb and into the wheel chair. It was easy.

“Oh, thank you so much,” I said, feeling enormous gratitude.

"Happy to do it.”

I wanted to know their names to thank them personally, but they had already walked on.

Every threshold in every doorway presents a challenge for the wheelchair bound. Happily, strangers appear out of nowhere. We debate whether to pull the chair over the wooden rise by going forward, or should we approach this obstacle by going over it backwards?

Help always comes. Help comes when we have to mount two front steps, or even three.

The most difficult time for John is when he’s in a crowd where everyone else is standing up and talking and joking. His eyes are level with people’s belt buckles. He has to crane his neck to see their faces. But there is always someone, who will approach John, get down on bended knee and start a conversation. A small act that restores our faith in human kindness, as we wend our way out the door.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont, and author of "The New Feminist Agenda, Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family," published by Chelsea Green.
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