The headline — it’s not a metaphor.
Let’s say, heaven forbid, you lost the lower half of your body in an accident, and were confined to a wheelchair. Under what circumstances would you venture off and leave the wheelchair behind? To sleep, take a bath/shower, and… that’s pretty much it, I’d guess. And you would never, ever leave it behind.
Or so I thought.
At just before 9 PM tonight, I got on the subway. I noticed a man with no legs — nothing below the waist, roughly — in a wheelchair. My first thought was that it must be very difficult for him to get around, given the wheelchair, because very few of subway stops are wheelchair accessible.
We both got on the first car of the train. Before the train reached the next station less than two minutes later, the guy was in the middle of the car, panhandling. Nothing too strange, except he wasn’t in his wheelchair. He was scooting along, pushing himself forward with his arms while simultaneously carrying a coffee can of change and small bills. He said nothing — the jingle of the change and the spectacle of a legless man moving slowly though the subway car spoke volumes for him. And when the train stopped at the next station, he didn’t. He moved on, reaching the end of our car just after the train disembarked. Then he went through the doors at the end of the car and into the next one — leaving his wheelchair behind. I waited a stop or two and, amazed, took the picture to the right.
A few stops later, I got off the train. The wheelchair was in front of me, still laying fallow in the lead car. As the train doors closed and the subway left my station stop, I watched the man pass from car three to car four, going further and further away from his wheelchair.
Maybe, in retrospect, it makes sense; it’s not very likely that someone is going to steal a wheelchair, the guy can probably do better panhandling if he’s scooting around in half-a-body; it may even be easier to maneuver between train cars without the wheelchair’s bulk. But for the life of me, there’s one thing I can’t shake — where did this guy ever, possibly, get the idea to leave his wheelchair? And not just that, but leave the car it was in! I cannot imagine it would ever occur to me that the “best” thing I could do, if I were in his situation, is to leave the wheels behind.