Wheelchairs

I believe it was a night in mid-January, and January in New England is an interminably gray wintry snowy mucky windy sludgy unjust punishment lasting 31 days.

I worked the 1-9p shift at a community center in a hot little pocket of Boston. I was a youth worker for at-risk youth, a position for which I was sorely equipped.

My manager at the community center had just left and the athletic director was off that day. It was just my youth work partner Kamau and I; we were closing up the center after wheelchair basketball. The wheelchair basketball league was a high point of our week–the men played played hard and laughed hard and their families were beautiful. The only downside of the league is that they always stayed late and pushed closing time even later.

The last couple of men rolled out and Kamau and I ran out into the parking lot, where a full-scale Nor’easter was just getting started. We couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead of our faces.  We heard one of the basketball players laughing in a way that we knew was really the sound of despair. If Kamau and I who were ambulatory could barely make it to his car, what was happening just across the lot?

I hadn’t even worn boots that day, I didn’t even have my gloves on. I ran over to one player’s car and the snow was just pouring onto his seat. The cold wind and the wetness stung my skin and I saw he was trying to hoist himself into the driver’s seat. He could lift himself but he would have to leave the door open to disassemble his wheelchair. He was laughing because it was just such a mess–he was so tired after his game and I couldn’t understand how to fold the chair back up, but somehow we did it, and then I paused because I realized that someone needed to clear off the windows of his car.  I quickly swiped the windshield with the sleeves of my jacket and batted off the soft blanket covering the back windows. I was laughing and I heard Kamau yelling something from probably just a few feet away but I couldn’t see him and I laughed because the snow came on so swiftly and so strong and none of us, none who walked, none who wheeled, had a lick of a chance of getting home with ease.

***

I can’t forget that night. It was really just a window of 15 minutes that sobered me up about many things. I want to continue to be changed by that night, and those men and their smiles, and the feeling of wind and wet snow on my cheeks.

Life is very hard right now but life is not so very hard right now. It depends on whether I feel as though I’m standing or sitting, whether I can see what’s in front of me or whether I can’t. It depends on whether I am in a position to help myself and others.

But mostly it hinges on whether or not I can always find it in me to keep laughing.

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