Kindness of strangers and friends

I have become physically handicapped, and it is apparent. I want to use the privilege that I?have in writing this column to thank those who recognize my need and come over to help me in parking lots or grocery stores or wherever I?am. Americans have always been noted for their generosity and cordiality, and I?see it nearly every day. I am grateful and proud to be one who receives this generosity.

People may identify with a handicapped person because they or a relative have been handicapped at some time in the past. I find people ready to help an obviously physically disabled person get into the door of a grocery store, into or out of an automobile, or to assist in shopping or other everyday chores.

For example, one evening that comes to mind, we went out on a Friday to a restaurant for a fish dinner. My wife went in to see if there was wheelchair accessibility. The manager, in spite of his busyness, came out to the car, helped me into my chair and pushed me across the gravel parking lot and up the steep ramp into the building. My wife could not readily have managed that.

Another example is the man at a Burger King who had parked next to our car. When he saw that we would need extra space to open the door and pull up the wheelchair, he went out of the restaurant, moved his car away, then came in and pushed me out and across the parking lot and waited while I?transferred into the car so he could put the wheelchair into the trunk for my wife.

Last summer, when the Ohio Chautauqua came to town, we did not want to miss it. Stefani Sferra, at the Trumbull County Tourism Bureau, was responsible for saving us a parking space near the big tent. The late Bruce Birrell and several other friends came immediately to help me traverse the bumpy lawn between the car and the tent. Friends are so helpful to us, as are so many of the people we encounter in Trumbull County.

My wife initially refused help, not wanting to expose a need or inadequacy of her own. She was raised to be independent and maybe realistically, overly self-reliant. Later, she could accept the offers of help knowing that she was giving an opportunity to people who genuinely liked to help others. Often the helpful women and men who offer assistance turn out to be nurses, aides or people who have had experience with wheelchairs in their own families or employment.

Our church is taking out a front row pew so that wheelchairs will have easy access to Sunday worship. There already is a ramp outside. Our church provides a radio ministry, and sends the bulletin for the service on Saturday so we and others, whatever their circumstances may be, can participate in the service from home. Deacons, if requested, bring communion to those who can’t get to church.

Recently, my wife said hello to a member of our church in the grocery store one day. She responded, “I?read in Bruce’s column that he has a brace that he can’t use. I?used to make braces. I fitted them all the time. I will come and make that brace work for him.”?She came, and she did!?I?walked for the first time in months. When I?offered to pay her a fee, she said, “Oh, no!?I’m just glad to help. And I’ll come again to help you walk.”

As someone once said, “What we do for ourselves dies with us, what we do for another remains eternal.”?There are lots of people, friends and strangers, in Trumbull County who will be remembered eternally for their help to me and others.

Thomas is a Tribune Chronicle columnist.