Helplessness and the Valor of Others

October 31, 2000. All Hallows Eve. The most frightening night of the year. Some people play tricks, some people fall prey, some people just cower down and hide. That year, fate had a few tricks in store for me.

It started that morning with a difficult task. I had a project due in my 9:30 class. A project mounted on a piece of poster board 30 inches long and 25 high. To carry something this large is an inconvenience to anyone. Even more so when a three month old baby can out arm wrestle you and you need one hand to drive your motorized wheelchair.

As I crossed from Alliance Hall to the Student Center, with the wind catching in my project like a sail and the poster board threatening to give me the mother of all paper cuts, something very strange and disturbing occurred. My chair stopped. Died. The battery died or the engine died or one of the power cables died. I didn’t know for certain the cause, and at that particular moment I didn’t care. I just wanted it to start again.

It did, after a minute or two, as inexplicably as it had stopped. It cut out again as I left the library building, this time for only a second or two. I’ve had all sorts of problems with this chair since I got it, and no immediate means of repair, so I went on with life and hoped it wouldn’t happen again.

It didn’t. I went to class, went back to my room, went to another class, went back to my room. Then I went to the cafeteria for dinner, and from there to my 6:30 PoliSci class. A class I would never technically get to.

I hit the bump that marks the doorway that leads from the Student Center to the Unispan. My chair cut out once again. And this time it wouldn’t repair itself.

I was stuck, helpless, at the base of the Unispan. Twice people asked if I needed help, and twice I said I was fine. I was hoping the chair would start back up. It did it before, why not then? After about ten minutes, when a third person stopped, I gave in and accepted their aid. For the next half hour he and a guy from Public Safety searched a machine they knew little about for a malfunction I couldn’t explain. It turned out to be a loose connection, a problem I’ve had before under far different circumstances. So the two Samaritans hunted down a roll of tape and fastened the wire in place.

Finally having mobility again, I raced to the building where my class is held. Of course, since it started more than a half hour before, no one was loitering outside anymore. I can’t open the door. The nearest human was on the other side of the quad. I went to him and begged for help. He came without a word’s complaint.

Inside, I went up to the room. It was empty. Because there was a guest speaker in the Cultural Center Theater and everybody had already gone. Everybody in the entire building, it seemed, except one class near the front door. Good thing, too, because when it became clear I couldn’t get out of the building myself, a woman came out of the class and opened it.

So what, you ask, is the moral of this story? I’ve heard horror stories, like most of us out-of-towners, about New York, Long Island, and the residents of both. One person told me to beware of culture shock because the people here are evil and rude and inconsiderate and mean. The moral of this story is that they are wrong.

I’m writing this not only to tell others not from New York that what they’ve heard is completely untrue, but also because I want to say thank you. Thank you to the seven people who helped me or tried to, thank you to all the others who would have. Thank you to anyone who’s held open a door or called an elevator or moved a desk. Thank you for doing more than you have to so other people’s lives are easier. Thank you for going above and beyond, for being a Good Samaritan. Thank you for seeing beyond yourself. Thank you for having a rare, great thing. Thank you for having thoughtfulness.

Thank you.

– Dan Fogg