It’s been awhile since I’ve had to personally experience the dark side of humanity, but it happened just this week while sitting in one of the white-washed aisles at Walgreens. I needed something from way up on a top shelf and couldn’t reach it from down low in my wheelchair (More about that situation and how I met my husband here.) I debated MacGyver-ing a contraption with nearby materials to get my prize, but then quickly reconsidered after thinking about how much time this may take compared to my odds. It’s more likely the object will fall to the floor, even if I’m lucky enough to flip it onto my lap first. So I did the next best thing. I rolled to the end of the aisle to seek help, and without hesitation asked the first person I saw, a tall 50-something wearing a red baseball cap and stone-washed jeans.
“Excuse me, sir. Could you please help me get something from the top shelf over here?” I asked.
“I don’t work here,” he snapped.
“That’s okay,” I replied. “Do your hands work?”
I hadn’t expected his hostility. So I lifted up both of my limp, quadriplegic hands, as if to surrender, in the case he misunderstood my intentions. I wasn’t commanding him to work for me; I was simply asking for assistance.
“Lady, I told you I don’t work here,” he spat, shoving his hands into his jean pockets.
Not only did he not want to help me, he was non-verbally giving me the middle finger.
What just happened? I thought, watching him dive down a different aisle.
“Hi, sir. Could you please help me get something off the top shelf over here?” I asked again. A second man had turned the corner.
“Yeah, sure. No problem at all,” he obliged.
No problem. He had understood, and so I thanked him graciously. It took all of three seconds for him to hand me the wrap for my husband’s sprained ankle. I had never intended to be someone’s problem.
While in line at the pharmacy, I debated confronting the man who so clearly wanted me to know that he didn’t work at Walgreens. Why had he been so gruff? Did I offend him somehow? It was becoming hard to know who should be offended anymore.
And then I felt his unnerving presence behind me.
This was my moment, I thought. I could publicly shame this man. I wanted to publicly shame this man. I would have never asked for help unless I absolutely needed it. How DARE he deny me help. I can barely help myself, and yet I still find ways to offer help to those who might need it because isn’t life hard enough? Do we really need to punish each other by not offering a hand when we’re fully capable?
“Is that all Mrs. Helms?” The pharmacist prompted, waking me from my thoughts. I looked up to the sky tower of a man behind me, who was purposefully looking in a different direction, careful to avoid all eye contact.
He really has no idea what my life is like, I thought. But then again, I have no idea what his life is like.
“Yes, that’ll be all. Thank you very much,” I said while stuffing all my purchases in my oversized purse.
He doesn’t need me to shame him. His shame runs deep already, I decided.
And then I raced home, four long blocks, anxious to share this story with my loving husband.