Forgive me for being so ominous less than two days from Christ’s birth. However, as a chill, unseen in years, strands most of the country for long stretches, I don’t care about stranded holiday travelers, annoyed, but warm in airports because I’m thinking about this man and woman and how easily they could be me, or any disabled person, under the right set of circumstances…
In fact, early in 2008, mere feet from my front door, on a harrowing night in February, I came dangerously close to sharing their fate…
The scooter was charged. Everything was good and I even drove on the main roads, which were plowed by now. I was going to make it home. I made it all the way to my street, mere feet from my building. I could see it, a beacon of white in the darkness. I’m driving on the road and then a car comes the opposite direction. I go to back up, to let it through, and i’m stuck.
I look over at the crackheads sitting on the stoop across the street who could be helping, but they’re laughing and one of them yells to the car, “Hit’em! Hit’em! Run’em over.” Neither the car, nor I, are going anywhere, and there’s nobody on the street but me, a car, and two crackheads. It’s 1 a.m. Finally, one of the men on the stoop pushes me to the sidewalk, figuring he can bum a ride off the car by helping the situation.
The whole time, he’s whispering menacingly into my ear, “If this piece of junk dies one shone toward me.more time, i’m leaving you in the middle of the street you little sh–t!” Then he goes back to negotiate with the driver and they leave. I start down the sidewalk alone. the streets are deathly quite and suddenly the scooter hits thick powder and quits again –except this time, there’s no one around for miles and I can’t feel my fingers or toes.
I try to gut it out, but after two hours, it’s clear: I’ve run out of miracles. I try the cellphone, but I forgot to charge it and my fingers burn with pain. Soon, they’re too dead to make anything close to a phone call. There’s snow in my boots, on the foot rest, and everything is cold. I am alone.
By hour three, I rub my eyes and icicles are coming off my eyelashes. I’m screaming out the most blood curdling wail. I can see my neighbors looking out their windows, one of them, I swear one looks right at me, but goes back to bed.
By hour four, i’m resigned to the inevitable. No one will find me until morning and by then I’ll be dead.
Hour five brings violent shivering and teeth chattering. I can’t focus. I try to move my feet and fingers–I can’t. My breathing is becoming more labored. I’m getting sleepy. It’s tough to keep my eyes open. Periodically, my eyes snap open. I gotta stay awake…
Okay, just when I have you at my narrative mercy, I need to interject…
There are unspoken laws governing every disabled person’s ability to survive the winter(some are my responsibility and some are my city’s responsibility. I didn’t have any of them going for me at the time.)
1. NEVER go OUT WHILE it is currently SNOWING, no matter where you are. (This is a literal life and death decision, as the snow has the power to overtake you and there is a better chance things will get worse before they get better. Here, a potential dinner date and my stubborn independence clouded my judgement.)
2. VIABLE, ACCESSIBLE public transportation is A MUST. (When the buses are down and the subway isn’t close, only an accessible taxi will work. In places like Vancouver, you are charged the average metered rate and theTaxi Saver Program means all your rides can be half price. Places like Toronto, charge a $30 flag minimum for any accessible taxi ride, no matter how far you have to go. They also don’t have a Taxi Saver Program. Both circumstances force more people with disabilities into life-threatening situations.)
3. AlWAYS CHARGE your CELLPHONE. (Duh.)
Now, to the night’s conclusion…
Suddenly, out of the shadows, I hear, “Are you Okay? Do you need help?”
It’s two guys from the nearby hotel on the way back home from their shift. They saw me, stopped what they were doing, and effectively saved my life. Now, if that isn’t proof of the lord, it’d be hard to know what is. They could’ve walked away just as easily. They pulled, and tugged, and lifted, and wrenched, my scooter to the door. As soon as the snow-covered behemoth was indoors it worked again. I was so happy, I waved cash at them both, but they wouldn’t take the money.
Which brings us to the lesson I want you to take home from all of this (not just during the holiday season, but every season, rain or shine, good day or bad day.) It is the last law that is universal to everyone, but is especially true for all people with disabilities.
4. WITHOUT the KINDNESS OF STRANGERS, WE are NOTHING. (So many people passed by me that night, but the two that stopped to help made all the difference.)
The next time you see someone, anyone, in need don’t be glad that’s not you and move on. Reach out, even if they refuse, because yours could be the helping hand they never knew they need and the literal gesture that allows them to live another day.
Peace, See you all blessed and refreshed in the new year.
NOTE: Aaron’s account of the night originally came from his personal email correspondence.
Aaron is a freelance journalist living in Toronto. His work has appeared in Financial Post Business, Investment Executive Newspaper, and TV Week Magazine, along with Askmen.com. He is a regular contributor to Abilities Magazine and is currently plotting a weekly web comic called GIMP, with artist Jon Duguay, about a handicap school bus driver who wakes up after a crash to find he’s the last able-bodied person on earth — and he’s being hunted.