His eyes locked in on mine and the whole depth of his life was etched on his skin, the skin someone had once loved. Maybe he was still loved, but I saw the story in his eyes and it stopped me. It stopped my breath and I looked away.
He didn’t say anything, but he asked with his eyes. Without thinking, my daughter and I opened the door and hurried in with the other assortment of customers; hurrying into the dollar store for super bargains and cheap deals.
It wasn’t until we were all the way in that I noticed the door was shut and he was still outside, but I kept moving, diverting my eyes.
My daughter was the first to act, walking purposefully back toward the door. She didn’t say a word to me, but as she opened the door she said, “Hello friend, may I help you?”
He quickly looked down and then glanced back up as he said, “Yes, thank you. I need to do some shopping.”
His wheelchair was a later model, worn and frayed at the top of the backrest, and basic black, totally utilitarian. I could tell he had been a tall man, because his one long leg remained, half filling the space of the chair, while his hands gripped the armrest.
The chair was his home, with a cushion to sit on, and a cloth pouch tied onto the back of the seat holding a grocery bag, bandana and well used water bottle. The chair was moved solely by the strength of his arms, which would turn and push the large, dirty, frayed wheels. But, his face…his face frightened me because it was so rough, yet so incredibly tender and open.
There was a beautiful, kind quality to his face that reached out as if to whisper,
“I’m still me. I’m still in here, in this tired, worn shell. Can you see me? The real me?”
Shame crept into my body, as I hurried over to hold the door. My daughter gripped the handles behind the backrest and with a strong push, helped him over the threshold and got the bag from the back of his chair.
“There you go,” she said. “Anything else I can do for you?”
“No, thank you. I didn’t think I would make it in,” he said, looking down.
And he shyly wheeled himself forward, down a crowded aisle with greedy shoppers.
She took no credit for this action, as I told her how proud I was and what a kind thing she did. It is a part of who she is to help the unfortunate or downtrodden. It was a quiet lesson to me to keep my eyes open, my heart soft and my hands ready to help.
Shame, whether his or mine, does not teach us anything except to abandon ourselves. Perhaps he had old shame lurking nearby, I really don’t know. But, I know my shame at not following a faint nudge to help a fellow human, lingers still.
I learned a lesson that day that came from my daughter who was not afraid to open a door; not afraid to extend her hand. A lesson I hope I will always remember.