The Stranger in a Wheelchair at the Intersection of Fairmont and Pennsylvania

What would you have done?

The other morning, Shayna and I went for our usual first walk of the day. The air was soft and light, with a slight breeze that was caressing rather than chill. A couple of neighbors said hello, with a smile for Shayna, as they passed us on their way to their day ahead. I was pleased that Shayna is learning to be much calmer around strangers, though sometimes her fears erupt, memories, I suppose, of having been an abused puppy.

Up until the moment that I turned the corner toward Pennsylvania Avenue, I was feeling wide open, ready to embrace the blue-sky day and all that it might offer. But as I reached the intersection of Fairmont and Pennsylvania Avenues, I saw on the opposite corner a person ensconced in a red hoodie, sitting motionless in a wheelchair. His (?) her (?) their (?) head had dropped to his chest. Her arms dangled on either side of the steel wheels.

That intersection is almost always alive with activity. It’s where Philadelphia’s beautifully landscaped Benjamin Franklin Parkway meets Fairmont Park. At the nexus between the parkway and the park is the Acropolis-like Philadelphia Museum of Art, with the Azalea Garden and Boat House Row stretching behind it. Joggers and bikers, busloads of tourists posing with the Rocky Balboa statue at the bottom of the museum steps, parents with baby carriages, children running and playing, lovers of all ages strolling hand-in-hand or arguing, and people like me walking their dogs were mixed in with the usual city morning commuters of adults rushing to work and kids headed for school.

All those people walked past the stranger in the wheelchair. I did too.

Like any city, we have our share of homeless people, and this area’s greenery, park benches, woods, and even a railroad tunnel that provides some shelter from the elements is a magnet for them. It’s wrong that we’ve become accustomed to seeing them in our lives, but I don’t know what I can do to help them that they would want from me. So, I walked past the stranger, hoping he was sleeping and not sick or overdosed or dead.

But when I looked back at her, he had slumped over, head hanging over knees. Read More