The other day on the Plaza Saint-Hubert, I walked past a man in a wheelchair. He must have been in his late fifties or sixties. He clearly had some kind of syndrome— not very mentally debilitating, perhaps, but some malady that, probably from birth, had contorted his body and speech, thereby also further limiting his mental abilities. This man looked at once very dignified, adult, and childlike, world-weary and ingenuous, intrepid and severely disabled. He had a bald pate with brown hair on the sides, a brown goatee (that someone no doubt groomed for him), and a stately physiognomy. He actually looked somewhat like a close friend’s father, a man whose bearing and moral qualities I’d always admired— a parallel, handicapped version of my friend’s father.
He was near a street corner, holding a metal cup out for money. I walked past him a bit, the impression registered, I stopped, backtracked, and gave him a dollar. He tried to say thank you, but I was surprised to hear that what came out was a guttural, twisted, almost unintelligible attempt at a thank you. This man looked so earnest, compassionate, jocund— in some ways his expression was almost like that of a faithful dog, or of a young boy— but also infinitely world-weary and put-upon, with some kind of access to the nature of suffering beyond that of the countless masses. I felt the urge to hug him and keep him regular companionship.
Today, I was walking back to my apartment and this man passed along, rolling down the street slowly in his electric wheelchair. A few moments after I passed him, I began to cry, and then weep uncontrollably, but silently. I felt as if I were weeping not just for him but for the infinite sorrows of the material world. I felt as if I wanted to embrace all beings in compassion… This feeling, of course, passed after some moments.
∆ Appeared in Hirschworth Magazine