Paralysis

One day on Locust Walk, there was a man in a wheelchair and maybe his arms were tired or not working so well and he was using his feet to push himself forward/seemed to be struggling. People were just walking by, unaware or choosing to look away. My eyes settled on him for a while. I stared, admittedly.

He moved forward, slowly, on the cobblestone of locust walk, his feet edging him forward. Not one person moved.

I had a meeting starting in 20 seconds. I asked my friend with me who was free, can you push him or ask him if he wants help? I hesitated. Would she follow through? He was already 20 feet away by the time I left. Whose responsibility was it? What if he didn’t want help? What if I was being presumptuous?

I went to my meeting, entering the daunting building labelled Business School and kept wanting to go back, I could already see him receding into the distance, maybe someone else would offer? Maybe my friend had already run to catch up with him?

But what if she wasn’t there. What if it was just me and I had those two options in front of me: the impending meeting that I had said I would attend or the opportunity to help someone (who I believed) was in need. How would my priorities differ? I would like to think I would choose the latter…but I don’t know. I would be wrought with guilt but I don’t know if I would have. and that scares me. That time, or wanting to uphold a commitment, or this false sense of purpose/of what is necessary or expected, conformity — would prevent me from acting in the benefit of another human being. How consequential was that meeting? What did I choose to value? And why? What had made me so..stuck in my own ways and mode of thought that something so core to our nature — helping another human — became a shameful gut reaction I placated with excuses?

And why hadn’t anyone offered to help him yet? Fear of rejection? Fear that he would take their offer as pity? No one wants pity. But no one wants to ask either. And what was the worst-case scenario? He said no?

I went to my meeting nervously texting my friend, “please offer to push him.” I didn’t want to seem self-righteous or demanding but I was freaking out. I couldn’t concentrate. I didn’t want to be here. I felt paralyzed by my legs wanting to run from the building and my back plastered to the chair, the man at the table already talking away, introducing himself. Partying came up. A slew of big name corporations thrown out in the open. Drinking, dollar amounts, exotic locales. Competitions moderated by billionaire investors. This was all so absurd. What was I doing here? Someone mentioned the importance of soft skills. I ruminated on that word — soft skills. Perhaps I was so caught up in my own emotion, I kept thinking love. Compassion. Love. Caring. Love. Humanity. Soft. Soft. Soft.

Perhaps it was the contrast with the moment before that was making everything they said seem so grotesque and out of proportion with reality. Reality. As something we choose to live and define for our selves, in our own heads. How easy it is to think of reality as only being something you possess and choose to live by, on your own terms, with complete disregard for those outside your tiny frame of reference..

I anxiously checked my phone,

I saw a text message

“I did! :) Got to the bookstore.”

Relief flowed through me. Perhaps it was my own guilt dissipating or the fact that there are good people, that will step up, that will do instead of just think of doing, that will act, without fear. No fear.

If there is one thing I want my life to be defined by, it is only that: no fear.

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