Unexpected Gifts

This column first appeared in the December 2016 issue of “Forsyth Family” magazine.

In recent months, I have been using a cane. I probably should have started using one earlier. I didn’t, though, because I had a hard time picturing myself as a guy who uses a cane.

I found myself thinking about my father who had severe breathing difficulties during the last six months of his life. Although we urged him to get a handicapped parking pass, he wouldn’t because he didn’t see himself as someone with a handicapped-parking pass. As I contemplated using a cane, I could better understand how he felt.

I started using one only after it sank in that hobbling around without one might be making the problem worse. Using a cane helped quite a bit. I still have a hard time imagining taking the handicapped-parking step.

Using the cane also showed me a bright side of the world that I hadn’t seen. Growing up, I was taught to hold doors for others and that’s the role I had been filling. Now, people were holding doors for me. It was embarrassing but it was also a gift to be shown how many people are eager to help.

One day, I was heading to the door at the Reynolda Branch of the library about the same time as a mother and two children. In the past, I would have hurried ahead to get the door. Hurrying is no longer an option. What happened this time was the mother told her daughter to scoot ahead and get the door for me. So I walked into the library with a girl about 8 years old or so holding the door. I smiled and said, “Thank you,” and she smiled and said, “You’re welcome.”

I have had teen-age boys who I don’t think would have noticed my existence otherwise rush to get the door. When an older woman has held the door for me, more than once I have found myself thinking, “I should be holding the door for you.”

Around the house, I have gotten fairly comfortable having Sparkle Girl and Doobins and Garnet pick up things I have dropped on the floor and do other things for me. I still have a hard time out in the world, though, when people offer to do something extra.

Seeing me walk into an ABC store one day, a cashier behind the counter asked whether she could go get me whatever I needed. I thanked her and said I would be fine. The other day, when I picked up an extra- large pizza at a local pizzeria, I discovered that carrying an extra-large pizza box is a two-handed job, which makes it a logistical challenge when you use a cane. A woman leaving with her boyfriend offered to carry it to my car. I thanked her and said I would be fine.

I’m hoping this proves to be a temporary situation. When I was 40 or so, I had a severe health problem that stuck around for two years. It, too, was a gift in that it made me appreciate life in ways that I had not before. At one point, I asked myself whether I would be OK living the rest of my life that way. Although I certainly hoped I healed, the answer was clearly “yes.”

I hope that I can set the cane aside one day. It has been a positive experience, though, in that it has brought me gifts from others that I wouldn’t have received otherwise.

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