By Lee Coppola
“Let me get that for you.”
It’s a phrase I’ve heard often these past few months as I’ve hobbled to a doorway supported by my cane. At first, I wondered why strangers were waiting at open doors as I approached. Then I realized they were waiting for me, to keep a door open or make sure I entered or departed safely.
Being forced to rely on a cane — and sometimes a wheelchair — has opened another door for me, to the kindness of people.
It seems people smile at me or offer a greeting when I’m trudging along with my cane or being wheeled, usually by my caring wife.
The other day I was preparing to cross a busy street with my cane to meet a friend for lunch at a downtown restaurant. “Hi, I’m Mike,” said a young man approaching me. “Do I know you,” I said to myself in one of those memory-in-a-fog moments. Turns out I didn’t.
I soon realized that Mike had left a group of friends to stay with me as I crossed the street and entered the restaurant. “Have a good day,” he said as he went to join his friends. I wanted to tell him that thanks to him, I already had.
Having to depend on a cane for stability, and a wheelchair for long treks, was a depressing development for a once very active human being. But seeing how people react has helped defuse the woe-is-me attitude.
Strangers who open doors, help push the wheelchair over obstacles or just smile and say hello brighten the days. And friends, too, seem always at the ready.
“Stay here,” I’m ordered at a buffet dinner. “I’ll fill a plate for you.”
The other day two friends trailed me to the bathroom to make sure I negotiated my way safely, and then later one of them walked with me to make sure I didn’t fall descending some stairs.
All these examples of kindness have got me wondering if they were always there and, until cane and wheelchair entered the picture, I was too busy to notice them. My conclusion: yes, they were, and how sad it took a cane or wheelchair to see them.
As a journalist, I was constantly asked why most of the stories in newspapers or on television or the radio were bad news.
“Good news,” I used to explain, “doesn’t make the paper or the airwaves unless it’s exceptional. After all, people who go about their daily lives and don’t rob, maim or murder don’t make the news; that’s what they’re supposed to do. It’s news when they deviate from the norm.”
My wife, in the face of the dissension we hear and see daily on the national and international stages, often muses that people should be nicer to each other. And as strangers open doors, help wheel me or just smile and say hello, I’m wondering if we need more good news in our daily dose of information.
Don’t get me wrong; I’d rather not have the back problems that necessitated the aid of cane or wheelchair. But now that they’ve entered my life I see the daily activities of life in a different light.
People, I’ve determined, express kindness in a myriad of ways.
It matters not if they know you. If you need help, even something as simple as opening a door for you, somebody always seems ready to provide it. It’s almost as if it’s second nature to most to lend a hand when the opportunity arises.
“Thanks,” is the only way I’ve come to express my appreciation. Too bad it took a cane or wheelchair to open my eyes.
Lee Coppola is former dean of the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University.