Saturday afternoon as I was hurrying off to the next event of my day I noticed an overturned wheelchair in a lane across the intersection where I was stopped. Initially, my thought was that the wheelchair would make it hard for the vehicles in that lane to pass until enough cars has brushed and crushed it into a speed-bump of unrecognizable metal. I was glad I was not in that lane.
On a second glance, I noticed cloth fluttering in the breeze under the wheelchair. Then I noticed that the cloth fluttering under the overturned wheelchair was not fluttering in the wind, but contained the body of the wheelchair’s occupant. He was there squirming and moving as ineffectually as a days-old kitten separated from the rest of the litter.
The cars passing through the intersection created a strobe-light effect on the immobilized man’s struggle. They only allowed me to see that bit of motion visible in the space between bumpers as the cars sped by, oblivious to the desperate attempts of the man in the street.
Fairly quickly people stopped a the intersection in the lanes across the median off which the man had tumbled jumped out of their cars, picked up the man, and wheeled him across the street. For those few moments, from first noticing the man floundering on the ground until seeing him safely in the parking lot, I actually considered the possibility that the man would be left there in the street. At first glance that seemed his destiny.
Driving away, I could not get the image out of my head. The thought of being so helpless in such a treacherous situation haunted me for the rest of the weekend. It is easy to drive past the neighborhood panhandlers, wondering whether the apparent disabilities such as the limp, the lame arm, or use of the wheelchair are genuine and put the wondering out of my mind the instant that person is out of sight.
This time it was not so easy. The man’s feeble attempts at motion continue to replay themselves in my mind. His most determined efforts at first appeared no greater than cloth blowing in the breeze, mere twitching. The minimal pathetic actions all combined did not move the man even an inch. In his wheelchair, he somehow made his way into the intersection almost every day, but out of that contraption, he is utterly unable to function.
Even though I now know this one panhandler’s case is sincere, I still don’t give him money. I choose to donate to local charities that serve our indigent community and I feel even more justified in doing so. If this guy is helpless with an overturned wheelchair, he is equally helpless against the thugs and thieves who hang out in the homeless camp in the grove of trees just off the street. I’ll let the local agencies provide the services on my dime rather than doubt the direction that dime takes when it gets into homeless hands.
Now I wonder about the backstory to the overturned wheelchair.