Stewing, yep, I was stewing in a mixture of emotions. Feeling frustrated, discouraged, ignored, discounted, slighted, perplexed, surprised, and pressured. It was unexpected, but, then when would I expect to have no access to a public building in Chicago?
Sitting at the bottom of the stairs and looking at the problem, I was tempted to turn around and leave. We were at a cathedral for the funeral service of a friend’s mother. My friend was not expecting me, but I was concerned about her. She loved her mother deeply, and I wanted to share in her loss. How was I going to get up those stairs?
My husband (Dennis) and I had driven in from Michigan, in high winds causing whiteout conditions the day before, and spent the night in a hotel so that we would arrive on time without any hassles. Yet, here we were facing a big one.
Of course, being handicapped meant no front door for me; I had entered the building via a side door. As Dennis opened the large, oak door and I rolled in, immediately, I saw the problem: a looming flight of steep stairs.
“This is the handicapped entrance?” I wondered.
Then, I saw the wheelchair lift to my left. I rolled over, opened the door, and eased into the small space. Looking for the key to start the lift, only then did I notice that it only went down to the basement. There was a flight of stairs over my head.
I wondered, “Do they have an elevator somewhere else in the building? Do I have to go down to get access to the elevator to go up to the sanctuary?”
Just then, a priest appeared out of nowhere. “Will this lift take me to an elevator so that I can get to the main floor?” I asked.
“Oh, no,” he said as he pointed to a worn out chair lift on the other side of the entryway. “The wheelchair lift only goes downstairs to a small chapel. We only have the stair lift to get upstairs.”
Now, that was a problem. “How will I be able to into the cathedral if I had to leave my wheelchair behind?” I asked.
“We’ll carry the wheelchair up the stairs,” he said.
“The chair is over 350 pounds.”
“We will get you up the stairs and then carry the chair.”
“No, the chair is 350 pounds without me in it.”
“Well, we only have the stair lift,” the young priest replied.
So, I rolled over to the stair lift wondering what I was going to do once I got to the top of the stairs, if I got to the top of the stairs.
I lifted myself out of my wheelchair and swung around to sit on the stair lift. As soon as I sat down, I started to fall. I cried out in fear of hitting my face on the marble floor.
“Help! I’m falling! Help! Help!”
Luckily, Dennis was right there and caught me as I slid down.
The seat was broken. The whole front half of the seat was missing support.
“Hmm,” the priest said, “We will have to get the engineer to put a piece of board under the seat.”
“How am I going to get up the stairs?” I said perplexed at his lack of compassion and empathy. He could only address how to solve the seat and not even address that I almost fell to the floor flat on my face?
“I don’t know,” he responded and walked away.
Yep, he walked away.
It was decision time. Would I just leave? I sure felt like leaving. What a waste of energy and money to come this far just to turn around and leave, I thought. What about my friend? She just lost her mother.
Dennis suggested that I try to walk up the stairs. He would be there to help lift me up. Holding out his arms, he said, “Susan will want to see you.”
“Okay,” I told him. “Let’s give it a try, but I am not sure about this.”
I scooched over to the stair railing. My hands were too weak to hold onto the wooden handrail. So, I wrapped my arm over the handrail and in-between the wrought iron vertical slats. I placed my left foot on the first stair, then after I was steady, Dennis (holding me at my waist), lifted me up as I raised my right leg. Step by step, we followed the same pattern.
After several stairs, I started to pant. Midway through, I needed to rest. Finally, exhausted and out of breath, we reached the landing. Now, the next problem that needed to be solved loomed before us. How was I to get into the sanctuary and to the nearest pew?
“How far do I need to walk?” I asked.
“About 100 feet,” came the reply.
By this time, a woman had stopped to help (others had passed us by without a word). This kind stranger held me by my right arm and Dennis by my left. Bent over, struggling with every step, spending all my energy, I eventually reached the pew and collapsed onto the wooden bench.
As I looked around, I discovered that I was 200 feet away from where everyone had gathered. All that work only to be removed and isolated.
Trying to gather my thoughts and feelings, I asked God for help. “What can I learn from this?”
Without delay, the answer came: Sometimes, our path requires extraordinary effort. Not everything will be easy even when the motives are pure. Patience is born out of adversity and hope springs from courage.