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Temporary disability offers new perspective

I recently had an experience that allowed me to walk in the shoes of someone with physical limitations, and it was truly life-altering. I am forever changed by this brief and temporary time in my life. The relatively short-term nature of my problems makes me very fortunate.

At 47 years old, I have always been able-bodied. But after a freak hiking accident left me with several broken bones in my leg, I had two surgeries and was put on crutches for three months. I now know what it is like to suffer from a physical challenge, whether temporary or permanent, and I have a new understanding of what a minute of thoughtfulness can mean to someone so afflicted.

The simplest of tasks became excruciatingly difficult. Without a free hand and feeling unsteady on only one foot, I found it frightening and daunting to do simple things -- opening or closing a door, walking up and down stairs, turning on a light switch or carrying anything. In the grocery store, I was embarrassed to use the handicapped carts that some stores provide. Often they were not well charged, once stranding me in the middle of an enormous store, many steps from checkout, with a cart full of groceries.

I was fascinated by how differently people responded. Some people would notice me coming and stop for a few moments to hold a door open. Standing in a store, looking up at a tin of coffee on a top shelf that I could not imagine how I would reach, a very kind woman asked if she could help me with something. After she had secured my critical coffee tin, she then walked a few aisles with me to make sure there wasn't something else she could help me with. I will tell you that I was eternally grateful and I will never forget her thoughtfulness.

Others would be in far too big a hurry, or too engrossed in texting or talking on their cell phone, to even acknowledge me or take a second to be helpful. I literally had doors slammed in my face.

Around the house, cooking dinner for my family, doing a load of laundry or emptying a dishwasher was exhausting, scary and nearly impossible.

I now know why Buffalo is called the City of Good Neighbors. Born and raised in California, I could not imagine the outpouring of support from my Buffalo friends. Several nights a week, lovely home-cooked dinners arrived at my doorstep, much to the delight of my husband and two daughters.

My husband, who is a good cook, also works hard all week and a night off in the kitchen (or from pizza delivery) was a gift. My daughters, while very helpful around the house at this time, could not be expected to pick up all the household slack. Many of my friends understood this, and while I never wish an injury on any of them, I certainly would appreciate an opportunity to return the favor in a meaningful way.

My point is this -- be a good neighbor -- it's not hard or time-consuming, and it can really ease someone's difficulty. Don't just offer your help to friends in need -- show up on their doorstep with a lasagna or an apple pie, or tell them you will drive their kids to soccer practice. Call from Wegmans and ask if they need anything while you're there.

When you encounter a person with a physical challenge, take a minute out of your day and offer your help. Hold a door open. It will make someone's day, and maybe yours as well.

Lee Pearce, who recently suffered a broken leg, is grateful to live in the City of Good Neighbors.

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