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The American Dental Association was holding its annual meeting in Honolulu a short while after my wife had recovered enough to travel, and I decided to go. It was a very long time ago, and many of the experiences are just a blur now. But there was one incident that has remained firmly in my mind. It became one of the most important lessons I have learned; it was something that has profoundly shaped virtually everything I have done since.
I signed us up for one of the excursion tours. In those days, my wife could climb a few stairs, so we were able to get aboard the coach that took us and 40 or 50 other people, out to a spot that had originally been the first "prison" on the island. The coaches unloaded us onto a paved parking lot with a short walk down packed sand to the Visitor's Center. We go a quick briefing from one of the Rangers or guides, then everyone left in all different directions to explore the area on our own.
Rolling the wheelchair across packed sand was no problem at all. But after a hundred yards or so, the packed sand became softer and softer, until the wheels were in so deep I could barely push the chair. A couple of men passed by and asked if I needed help. "No", I said. "Got everything under control". Well, I was able to push the chair perhaps another 15 or 20 feet, then I realized I was in deep trouble. Fortunately, the men, now fairly far ahead of us, turned around and saw my situation. They came back and asked again if I could use any help.
All this took place in less than two minutes. And it was in that 2 minutes that I learned two valuable lessons:
First- Never be afraid or ashamed to ask for or accept help. I was one of those types who never felt the need to ask anyone for anything. macho Man? Not really. I wasn't trying to be a Superman, but I grew up without being able to count on others being there to help me. In those few precious moments when my wife was in a wheelchair bogged down in the sand, I suddenly realized that by allowing my upbringing to influence being able to accept an offer of aid, I was putting her in jeopardy. Blaming my upbringing wouldn't solve the problem. I had to realize I was no longer in a position to do everything by myself. I needed help.
Second- I realized most people everywhere in the World love to help out when they see someone in need. You have probably done the same thing yourself. It's just part of what we commonly call "human kindness": to give blood. To donate foodstuffs and clothing to hurricane or flood victims. To help a child in distress.
Yes, most folks are eager to help out, they just don't know what to do. If you can tell them what you want, what you are trying to do, they will gladly pitch in. And sometimes, when you find yourself in a spot where you really don't know what to do, a stranger, a passerby may offer exactly the right suggestion that solves the problem. Why would you ever want to turn down help like that?
Smooth path and azaleas Christchurch, New Zealand 1998