It had to happen sometime. That moment when my physical impairment became sufficiently noticeable that complete strangers feel the need to offer me assistance.
Last Sunday as my flight from Perth approached Sydney, a fifty-something woman across the aisle watched me struggle to put on the shoes I had earlier slipped off. When we landed she insisted on helping me retrieve my baggage from the overhead locker.
Yesterday another middle age woman offered me her seat on the train.
I’m not sure how to respond. One part of me is humbled and thankful. Another part of me feels embarrassed. Yet another part of me is thinking “no, this is way too soon.”
I wonder why I feel embarrassed. It’s not that I am averse to public attention. Is it that somewhere deep down I feel my growing disability diminishes me, defines me as an object of pity and compassion, as less than I once was?
I dare not deny this diminishing. It is true that I can’t do things I once did. It is not a diminishing of worth or personhood, but it is a diminishing of physical capacity.
And this leads me to realize that we’re all diminished in some way, all less than our very best selves. Whether it be intellectually, emotionally, physically, spiritually, or relationally, aren’t we all somewhat dysfunctional?
That’s what makes love beautiful. No one needs my pity, and I don’t need yours, but they do need my compassion, generosity, grace and help, and I need yours. When we extend this to each other we make each other whole, create the environment where the limitations that our disabilities and dysfunctions generate are rendered null. Our individual diminishing is itself diminished and we realize the glory and possibilities of our humanity.
So, despite the awkwardness I will welcome the generosity of those who want to help me retrieve my baggage or find me a seat, and learn from them the gift of diminishing those things that diminish us.