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By S.A. Prince
Have you ever been to the park on a Sunday afternoon, and along comes a three-legged dog? Immediately you think to yourself Awe, how sad.
That’s not a foreign response, or at least it shouldn’t be unless you’re just incredibly heartless. Seeing others suffering elicits an emotional response from us, a response mixed with pity and sympathy. And of course it does, how can we not be sympathetic of those in pain, whether they are human, animal, or even a plant?
Though our sympathy is well-placed it can often lead to pointedly hapless thoughts. Why would they let that three-legged dog live like that? Isn’t he suffering? If I had a three-legged dog, I don’t think I could let them live like that.
And then to your surprise, though he certainly looks different, that three-legged dog doesn’t act much different than a four-legged one. He runs around after squirrels, jumps for Frisbees, and fetches an awkwardly shaped and anomalous stick. Within minutes of watching the dog, he’s earned your respect. You no longer see him as a three-legged dog.
Today I was at the store, which is only good for buying ice cream and Naked juices. Well, some people have a use for eggs, vegetables, and fruits, but where they see a culinary opportunity, I only see challenge and disappointment. So, I stick to what I know best.
Anyways, while at the checkout I saw a one legged-man in a wheelchair buying a 12-pack of Bud’s finest. We were stuck in line for a bit, as the cashier was having trouble cashing out the customer ahead of the man. So, I had an opportunity to converse with the man. He was slightly disheveled but witty. It was easy to tell they years had worn on him, but he was well adjusted, always wearing a smile, boisterous and jovial in conversation. We talked for about ten minutes, then he waved goodbye and left.
On my walk home, I came up behind the man struggling to get up a ramp in his wheelchair. He was scooting with his one leg, the left leg, while using the same side hand to roll one wheel. He used the other hand to thrust himself forward, pulling back on a brownish earth-tone railing.
It felt like my heart was about to burst out of my chest. I couldn’t get the words Can I help you out of my mouth fast enough, except those words never came. It’s like something shut them up inside me, and I thought to myself am I trying to shoot a three-legged dog?
So instead of saying anything, I watched intently. I watched him struggle up the entire pathway and felt uncomfortable the entire time, but I realized that this moment wasn’t about me, or whatever selfish vindication I may have needed. This moment was the one-legged man’s moment. It was his time to overcome. Who was I to take that from him, possibly emasculating him in the process?
Of course, if he was struggling to no avail I’d offer my assistance. In this case, the one-legged man was making excellent progress. That’s not an easy decision to make, because in some cases we should help each other out. I guess that’ll have to depend on the particular situation, but I learned a valuable lesson. There’s a fine line between helping and hindering.
And remember, before you pull out that gun of emotion and fire off those bullets of pity, maybe they don’t need it, the three-legged dog, the one-legged man, or anyone else.