A Helping Hand or Two
Author: Ken Prather
About three years ago, after a long stay in a convalescent home due to a severe injury, I started an outreach program working with the elderly, disabled, and people with developmental disabilities. I primarily work as a counselor and am often called to work with people that are especially difficult to get through to. Many times, I see people after they reach rock bottom and try to work with them by simply offering unconditional love and compassion in an effort to show them self-worth, self-pride, and purpose. I try to make sure not to only give them love and compassion, but to show them that they too can give this love and compassion to others.
I received a call about three months ago from one of the nursing homes that I routinely visit, asking for assistance with a gentleman who recently arrived and who would not respond to anybody. Bill refused to talk to anyone, including his family, chaplain, doctors, and social worker. When I first visited him, I was told that the Bill’s legs had just been amputated due to some major blood clots, and as far as he was concerned, his life was as good as over. Bill was a young man of 42 years and had always been very active in sports. In fact, he had especially been active in running and enjoyed competing in many marathons. The thought of never running again sent Bill into a whirlwind of hopeless despair.
When I first arrived to see Bill, he was a bit surprised. Even though he accepted my company, he was still very depressed and feeling sorry for himself. Our first conversation did not last long and I asked Bill if I could come back and see him the next day along with a friend of mine. He hesitantly agreed to see me again, but assured me that he would not like my friend.
The next day I returned to visit Bill with my friend Tom, a man whom I also met at a nursing home. Bill was sitting in a wheelchair looking even more bitter than the day before and greeted us with a depressing, “What do you want? You want to stare at a cripple or something?” Tom understood that his abrasive words came from fear and sadness, and explained that he came seeking assistance with writing a newsletter about sports trivia. Tom explained that he needed somebody to write for him and hoped Bill might be able to help. Bill looked at us with frustration and grunted, “what’s the matter, your hands broke or something?” to which Tom replied, “as a matter of fact, I have no hands at all.”
It was then with Tom’s insistence that I proceeded to untie the straps behind his back, revealing the prosthetic limbs attached to his shoulders. Bill could only sit there and stare in disbelief with his eyes wide open, especially when I then proceeded to remove Tom’s plastic prosthetic legs as well. You see, Tom had been born without limbs.
After about five minutes of silence and with an expression of awe on his face, Bill finally managed to say, “My God, I feel sorry for you,” to which Tom quickly replied, “why should you feel sorry for me, I don’t.” Tom then went on explaining, “This is the way God wants me.” Without warning, Bill started crying and apologized profusely to us for his behavior. Tom looked at him and said in a calm voice, “there’s nothing to forgive, as long as you forgive yourself, that’s all that matters.”
Tom, Bill, and I spent three hours together that afternoon, and that one afternoon changed Bill’s attitude forever. I am happy to report that today, Tom and Bill are writing that sports trivia newsletter together – Tom talks while Bill writes.
As Bill told me recently, it was not Tom’s disability that inspired him so greatly, but his attitude towards life and helping others.