My accident happened quickly, and I painfully found out what it means to be handicapped. My knee was fractured, and I needed crutches to get around and I also needed to park in a handicapped parking spot. This allowed me to open my car door fully so that my leg could be straight while exiting and getting into the car that I was in as a driver or passenger. Back in the late 1960s, I had fallen off the back of a motorcycle and had fractured my knee. However, I was young and getting around on crutches was not a problem. I even took a train and got on and off with a backpack with ease. However, the times they have changed and so has my body. Using crutches now I was very cautious and slow.

This experience has made me so much more sympathetic and understanding of the daily obstacles that a permanently handicapped person must endure; how to shop, how to find a parking spot for handicapped people, and how to get help from strangers are just a few of the daily problems. Learning to be resilient, stay levelheaded and calm is important. I did feel sorry for myself but kept trying to put the situation in perspective. It was temporary. I was use to being in control of my life. Living alone was never an issue until now. I realized that I needed people to shop, to take out my garbage and to spend time with me. Relying on others was not easy for me, but I did learn that it is ok to ask for help.

A friend took me grocery shopping to a high-scale market in Santa Monica that has the reputation of needing one’s “whole paycheck” to shop there. I got in an electric cart and I was able to get around the store without my crutches. However, I found that getting around the ends of the aisles was not manageable. Often there were boxes piled up, and I needed to back up and turn around to find another way to get to the next aisle. People ignored me, didn’t look at me, and rarely asked if they could help me. When I needed to get an item that was on an upper shelf I hoped for the kindness of strangers. One lovely lady moved boxes to clear a path for me. I found out that her mother was handicapped and needed to get around in a wheelchair, so she was ready to help me because of her empathy and connection to her mother.

Once I could drive, I drove to Trader Joe’s and was fortunate to find a handicapped space immediately. As I opened the door, a gentleman appeared out of nowhere. He just wanted to help me. He took my crutches, helped me out of the car and brought me over to the electric cart. As soon as I entered the store, people came up to me offering help with “Please let me help you.” People cleared a path for me, smiled at me, acknowledged me and made me feel good. I had no problems going around the aisles, and my cart was filled due to the kindness of strangers.

A considerable challenge for handicapped people is finding a handicapped parking spot. Some business have only one or two spaces and others have quite a few, but they are usually taken. I had to circle parking lots over and over waiting for a handicapped space to become available. All I could think about was hoping that these spaces were taken by people that were truly handicapped. I could not physically get out of my car unless my car door was open all the way. I don’t know if the answer is more handicapped spaces or more considerate people. Using a handicapped spot if not needed is just a big, big mistake.

My crutches are gone. My knee is healed. My awareness and sensibilities have been awakened. I learned that it is ok to ask for help and to be vulnerable. A smile goes a long way and most people want to help … at Trader Joe’s.

Marisa Miller is a Santa Monica resident.

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