I didn’t expect to run into him as I cautiously pushed my shopping cart into the main aisle of traffic at the local Wal-Mart. I expected a distracted mother, oblivious to all but her noisy children and the path to the pharmacy. I expected an elderly man, slowly crossing my young and anxious path without even noticing the delay he caused me. But not him.
He wasn’t young, maybe middle-aged. The dark skin of his face was just beginning to fold into soft wrinkles and lines while bits of white flecked his hair here and there. He shrank humbly into his wheelchair as our paths crossed. “Go ahead,” he said. “I’m always in the way.”
Perhaps it was the softening effects of gift-buying and Christmas lights, or perhaps it was just my over-sensitivity to many of the truths of the world, but sympathy, tenderness, and a pity that I tried to resist seeped into my heart, and it seized with ache. I tried to find the right words; I felt an overpowering need to reassure him that, surely, this could never be the case. But I couldn't find the words. All I could manage was a n uncertain “Oh…” and we separated, I pushing my cart, he turning the wheels of his chair with experienced arms.