“Please tell me the story of how you got those remarkable replacement legs,” I asked my rider – a tall, powerful man of about my age who had ridden the shuttle bus a week earlier, with his daughter.
I was putting to test my theory that sometimes, people would prefer we admit our curiosity about their missing arms, legs, or other limbs instead of pretending not to notice, in much the same way that I would rather people ask me about my daughter Lilli rather than avoiding the subject.
The man’s eyes lit up.
“Of course,” he said. “Three years ago I contracted a virus and my legs had to be removed. At first I was denied disability coverage, even though I had worked hard in this county for 35 years; but I fought and persevered, and eventually the disability came through. In the meantime, I had help: several doctors decided to help me, pro bono. First, they fitted me with some starter-prosthetics, and after I learned to use them, they gave me these–” He smiled at his new metal legs. “An attorney, also working for free, took on the disability case and never gave up. The whole thing has been incredibly hard, but I found that if you keep trying, you will eventually succeed with just about anything. I won the case and got on disability.”
“That’s fantastic!” I said.
He looked at me in the rear-view mirror. “I am not allowed to earn money, because of the terms of disability, so I volunteer my time with everything, all over the place. For instance, I help out at the senior citizen center, and I teach people with conditions similar to mine how to ski and snowboard.”
“That’s the real work,” I told him. “I am proud of you.”
“I live a blessed life,” he said. “My daughters bring me great joy. As widower raising two incredible teenage girls on my own, I find that they give me tremendous meaning and purpose.”
“I enjoyed your daughter’s company when you rode with me last week.”
“Yes, we were at the Outlets getting supplies for the homecoming dance.”
For a moment we rode in silence. Then I said, “I like the way you do volunteer work.”In my view, money is responsible for the world’s problems. People tend to do better by following the old way of giving and receiving without any thought of exchange, the way people and all of nature lived for eons before money was ever invented.”
“Totally agree,” he said.
“You are a living example of why this is true – and so are your doctors.”
I explained that I am trying to start a moneyless, exchangeless society, and mentioned Freecycle. “I have been practically living off of it for two years, giving and receivigng, guilt-free. Deep down, people really want to do things for each other because it feels right. Not because they want to earn money.”
He was very interested in the discussion. I told him how to get signed up with Freecycle and mentioned my own endeavor, the Free Society Giftivism Network. Before he left we exchanged names, shook hands…and as he strode off on those strong metal limbs, I had a curious feeling about this man: that we would be talking again.
It could be that if I had asked a different amputee for the story of his legs, the person might have become offended. But by trusting my instinct in this regard and asking THIS man on THIS day for his story, I was given – on this day at least – an affirmation that my theory has something to it.
More importantly, I believe I have met a friend along the road.