Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Quick Word... The Wheelchair Man

It's a beautiful day and I'm driving home. It's a long road, perfectly straight, but it sort of dips in the middle to form a massive hill, curving up and then down like a giant pedestrian waterslide. I'm rolling down the crest with the windows down, it's hot and I don't have an air conditioner in my old 80's car, so I'm enjoying the breeze on my face. Out of the corner of my eye I see a man pushing what looks like a broken electric wheelchair up the slope. He's getting on in his years, balding, and wearing tight blue overalls. The sweat lacquers down the whisp of hair that has fallen ungracefully across his face, and he strains with all his strength to retain his grip on the back of the chair as he pushes it precariously and defiantly up the hill.

The passenger does not look at all pleased. I think she is a woman, but it's hard to tell, for about eight doonas and quilts are wrapped around her - in what seems like a ridiculous fashion for a day like today. She is upset though, her face visibly shows it, and with each grunt and heave that comes from the man behind her, she winces a little more.

It must be frustrating, to be waited on. To feel dependent. The woman is clearly angry, and I imagine her wishing she could throw the blankets into the air like an exploding jack-in-the-box, jumping up and then grabbing the wheelchair, before charging it up the hill with years of pent-up energy and leaving the man astonished in her wake. But it does not happen; and still the man strains, now turning sideways and pushing all his weight on the wheels.

And I begin to take less pity on her, and - truthfully - start to envy her. I don't know what's wrong with the lady. I don't know if she's suffering from an accidental short term injury, or a long term disease that's eating away at her with only days left before she succumbs. I don't know if her life has been miserable from the moment she burst out of her mother's womb, or if whatever's put her in this wheelchair is the unfortunate side-effect of years of thrill-seeking and life-living.

What is obvious to me though, is that this woman is endowed with at least one irrefutable asset. The man behind her grunts and heaves, but he does not complain. He does not break down as she does. He just keeps pushing. There's some powerful love in that action, for how many of us can say that on such a beautiful day, we would be willing to push someone all the way up the slope? How many of us feel that there is someone who would push us themselves?

Life can be - and is - tough. Life can leave us, lost, alone, sick, tired and stuck at the bottom of the hill.

And sometimes you are at the mercy of someone else, who cares enough to push you all the way to the top.

Someone who can make the unbearable bearable, the hard a little easier, and keep pushing until you're safe, and can roll all by yourself.

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