I was given the responsibility of buying lunch. “Surprise us,” my son said. My grandson and I were visiting my son in the Spinal Unit of the hospital. It was Sunday and like all Sundays in the hospital, it was deathly quiet.
I made my way to the eateries close to the hospital. Most of them were closed. The one that was open was a Mexican food restaurant. I had never had much luck with Mexican food, but as it was the only one that was open, reluctantly I sauntered in. A thin, dark haired young woman stood ready to serve me. She looked tense or was it impatient? I don’t think the prospect of serving this old fogey excited her.
To justify my indecisiveness, I explained to her I was unfamiliar with Mexican food. I asked her to help me select a variety of dishes. Expressionless, she agreed. I cottoned on to the system. There were basic dishes, and many add-ons. Every add-on chosen added to the cost of the item. I could see that without the add-ons, the dishes would be less interesting. I asked her to suggest the most popular combination and to choose the sauces. With minimum comment she did this. In this way I assembled what I felt would be sufficient for the three of us. It took around fifteen minutes. As the restaurant was empty, I did not hold up other customers. However, I sensed the poker-faced young lady serving me was growing impatient.
To enable me to carry the many small dishes and the soft drinks, she packaged them in two paper bags. These bags concerned me as they were made of thin brown paper. I was not sure they would hold together for the journey back to the hospital. To prevent the bags from tearing, I cradled them in my arms. The path to the hospital is all uphill and the day was hot. I was hot. About a third of the way up the hill, a young man on a motorized wheelchair was came towards me down the path. He moved aside so I could continue my climb unheeded. I assumed that was the last I would see of him. But, much to my surprise, in a minute or so, he turned up beside me. This time he was going up the hill. “Do you need any help with those packages?” he asked. “I can put them on my lap and take them up the hill.” “No, I don’t need any help. I’m fine.” I replied.
“Ok,” he said, “I just circled round and came back up the hill, because I thought you looked overloaded. It would be easy on my motorized chair.”
“I’m fine”, I repeated. I lied. I was hot and bothered and struggling with my load.
Since then, I have wondered why I refused help? It was pride. I wanted to prove to myself and to my son and grandson, who were waiting in a shady space, that I could do it. In other words, I was tough. But I think there was something else. I feel ashamed to say it. The whole idea of me, an able-bodied person, taking help from a man in a wheelchair somehow offended my pride. What about the young man on the wheelchair? He went to such trouble to catch up with me? How did my refusal feel to him? Will he ever offer help to anyone again?
I stuffed up! I don’t feel good about the whole episode.
On my way home, I decided to call in to the Mexican restaurant where I purchased our food. There was the black-haired girl serving the only customer in the shop. She had the same guarded expression she had when serving me. I approached her and she looked even more defensive. I expect she was stealing herself, thinking I was about to bring a complaint.
“They ate every bit of the food I bought. It was delicious,” I said. Instantly, her face beamed. She said nothing, but her smile said it all. I wish I could have captured her bright face on a camera. It warms my heart every time I think of her.
Hey, despite my muck up with the young man in the wheelchair, I did do something right that day!