(Names Changed As Requested)
Last week I wrote about the difficulties many chronically ill and handicapped people have, participating in the simchas of their children. I tried to explain how the lack of personal experience people have with this kind of illness often leads to hurtful decisions and inappropriate comments. This is done much more because of ignorance than ill intention. But there are people who have been able to think out of the box. Despite their lack of experience, they have been able to identify with the problem and help become part of the solution.
The bride’s parents picked the wedding hall. They had done all their looking and shopping around online as they lived far from where the wedding would take place. Friends warned them that prices would go up with every addition requested, whether it was mushrooms in the salad, croutons in the soup or punch for guests who arrived early. They were fearful of what the hall would charge for the two ramps that were needed for the father of the bride to get to the “chasan’s tish” (groom’s table) and into the catering hall itself. They wondered what the additional cost would be to have the chuppa at ground level and a small extra ladies bathroom made into one for the men. All this was needed to accommodate the bride’s father, who could not function out of his wheelchair. They were truly shocked when the wedding hall director said there would be no extra charges for anything regarding accessibility. He even offered to make a small ramp onto the chuppa, if they wished, so the chuppa could remain elevated.
Rabbi and Mrs. G. were determined to attend every sheva brachos possible when their daughter married. They asked that wherever possible, the sheva brachos be in an accessible place to accommodate Rabbi G., who was in a wheelchair. The groom’s rabbaim, fortunately, had no experience with accessibility. They thought that all they needed to do was put wood over the stairs in order to get a wheelchair in the house. When Rabbi and Mrs G. arrived, one look at the thin pieces of wood making a sheer slope up the stairs sent fear up Mrs. G’s spine. The angle was so great, the boards so thin, she was sure a disaster would happen and mar the simcha. After Rabbi G. conferred with the rabbaim and the boys, they decided that if they pushed the wheelchair up the slope quickly enough, the boards would not crack.
Besides, they all hoped G-d would be on their side. After all, everyone just wanted was to get this man into a simcha. As Mrs G. took a walk around the block, too frightened to watch, five of the strongest boys held the wheelchair from the back, and on the count of three pushed it up the stairs with lightning speed. They heard the sound of boards banging as the weight of the chair passed them, but not one board split, and Rabbi G. got into the house without incident. The same was true on the way out.
Unable to find accessible accommodations was the biggest problem the Berger’s faced when going into their child’s wedding. Hardly any hotels were accessible in the older city where the wedding was to take place. The rates were exorbitant for the few that were accessible. Help came from a stranger who heard about the problem and offered the family a room in her accessible apartment for the mother of the groom and her attendant.
Finding accessible housing in a strange city is a common dilemma for the chronically ill and handicapped. The Golds found themselves in the same position as the Bergers. They too, were coming to a different city for the wedding of their child. Once again, strangers came to the rescue. Neighbors of close friends were away for the summer. Not only did they offer their home to the Golds, they allowed the Golds to build a ramp into it. Further, as long as the Golds provided the materials, their son would build the ramp for them. Though the householders were not wealthy, by any stretch of the imagination, they refused to accept any remuneration for what they had done.
Thinking out of the box and empathizing with someone needs, often helps us find solutions for each other’s problems. It takes a willingness to get involved, to care and contribute as best as one can, to make a special occasion or a day-to-day event work no matter what, and leave our world a little better then it was before.