A Subtle Kindness
I knew I liked Dr. M_______ the second week I was in the Chemistry department. I was riding the elevator up from the basement. It stopped at the ground floor and a college-age male with some kind of neurodegenerative disease rolled onto the elevator in his wheelchair, together with a woman who was obviously there to assist him. The doors closed, and at the next floor Dr. M_______ got on. The kid in the wheelchair was parked right in front of the buttons. Without missing a beat, and with a slightly impatient tone, Dr. M_______ says "Five, please." "Sure," the kid replies amiably, and reaches out a trembling, scrawny arm and, with some difficulty, presses the button for five. Nobody said anything for the rest of the ride up, but you could feel both the kid and his assistant, who might've been a sister, flush with gratitude. Most people, in that situation, they look at the kid and feel like they can't ask anything of him, so maybe they nod politely and smile awkwardly while they reach around him to press the button for themselves. Dr. M_______ saw, in the second between the time the elevator doors opened and the time he stepped on, how rarely this kid would find himself in a situation--ANY situation--in which HE could be the one helping out, instead of the one asking for help. He saw an opportunity to make the kid feel like a normal person, and he took it, without being patronizing, without trying to politely tippy-toe around the glaring fact of the kid's handicap, and without second-guessing himself. He saw all that, and he did it, and he never once let on that he knew what he was doing. But he did, and everybody on that elevator knew he did, and every one of us, including me, had a brief glimpse of authentic human kindness. From that moment on I knew he was someone I wanted to know better.