For almost 10 months I’ve had to rely on someone to get around. I’m thankful for the help, but it doesn’t suit me. I’ve been longing for independence, solo travels and exploring with my camera. So last weekend I decided to go to Oslo for 24 hours, just to get the feeling back. And I learned a lot from it.
Help with a broken lift
The learning started as I was about to get off the train at Oslo Central Station. With me “mid air” the lift that was supposed to get me down from the train to the platform stopped working. There was a queue behind me, including a person in a power chair. And so I did what anyone would have done; I jumped (more crawled/fell to be honest, but that’s details) out of my wheelchair down onto the platform. The kind conductor lifted my chair down, and I sprinted away in slight embarrassment. So much for independency.
Help getting the new lens
The main mission of this trip for me was to pick up a new lens for my camera. I headed straight for the shop and found that there was no way for me to get to the camera gear part of the shop because of steps in all directions. No problem, staff helped me out and I was able to pick up the lens with only a few grunts from people in line having to wait longer because I “wasn’t in the right line to pick up camera gear”.
Getting the feeling back
Once the lens was secured I checked in to my hotel for a much needed rest. After which the exploring began. It felt amazing to walk (or roll, but you get what I mean) around with the camera just observing again. The light was harsh (not in the good street photography way), but I couldn’t care less. (Maybe I cared a little bit less because of my attention being on all the cobblestone that were pretty much everywhere. Not due to the fact that they’re beautiful or practical or especially photogenic, mostly because of the shaking.)
I didn’t capture any breathtaking keepers. However after a quick dinner by myself (in a wheelchair; I got all the pity stares you can image), I retired to my hotel feeling quite satisfied. And I had already decided that I would head back out in a few hours. Just for a short session around sunset.
Help fixing my wheelchair
This is however the point at which I should have known my limitations. Or at least the limitations of my wheelchair. All the cobblestones had made the chair a bit shaky. So shaky in fact that as I made my way around the Oslo Opera House, I heard a horrible shrieking sound. It was not someone auditioning for the opera, but the sound of my footrest dragging against the white marble. The footrest had come loose, and I could no longer move my chair because it actually felt like the chair was going to tip forwards when I did.
So I graciously crawled out of my chair, flipped it over and began pretending to know how to fix it. As this was a Friday night in August, I was not the only one on the roof of the Oslo Opera House. There were quite a few others, hundreds I would say. And a lot of them took to the very helpful act of pointing and talking amongst themselves. Some even tried to lighten my mood by pointing and laughing. It really helped, I felt great.
One couple however decided to come over and offer some help. And I gratefully accepted. Together we found a way to secure the footrest in the highest position, keeping it off the ground. They held my camera as I got back into the chair, and even offered to follow me back to my hotel. However at this point I just wanted to disappear with as little attention as possible, so I thanked them and wished them a good night.
As I wheeled myself as quickly as possible back to the hotel, my knees almost touching my chin due to the high position of the footrest, I concluded that this had been an interesting day.
What was so interesting about it was difficult to put into words in a way that paid it justice. I grew a lot from this day, and I only understood that as I woke the next morning. You see by then my body had come out of survival mode, and I felt like someone had beaten me up with a bat. And I understood how hard I had been working to both be able to do the things I wanted to do and to handle the challenges I faced trying to do them the day before.
I’m not going to go into details about my Saturday. Let’s just say it involved cancelled trains from Oslo, and a taxi ride back home to Hamar that made me hold on so tight my knuckles went white.
Asking for and offering help
What I do want to address however is how difficult it can be to ask for help when you need it.
If the kind couple hadn’t come to my aid at the roof of Oslo Opera House, I might have been sitting there still. Or probably not, someone else would likely have offered to help. But the thing is; I didn’t feel like I could ask any of the ones passing me for help. The pointing and laughing didn’t help. But even before I noticed that, I was really hesitant asking someone to help me out. Maybe it’s a me thing, but I’m not sure it is.
Life doesn’t come without challenges or suffering. After a recent conversation with a dear friend whose family are going through a challenge that demands a lot of heavy lifting, all I could think about was how much I wished I could carry their burden for a while. But the thing is that I can’t, no-one can. That doesn’t mean I can’t do my best to make it a bit lighter. We all can. So don’t we offer to help more often?
They made it effortless for me to accept
Now I’m sure a lot of you will think that I’m a bit unfair. But hear me out. What we are really great at doing is saying “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help”. I know, because I do it a lot myself. But it’s not really very helpful now, is it?
When I found myself sat down on the marble next to my wheelchair last Friday night, I didn’t feel like I could ask anyone to help out because I honestly didn’t know how I would like them to help me. I didn’t know what I wanted them to help me with. I just knew I was stuck in a bit of a tricky situation. That’s why I so appreciated the couple coming over to offer very concrete help.
The couple didn’t say “let us know if we can help in any way”. They said “We see that your footrest has come loose, let us help you find a way to secure it so it doesn’t drag against the ground anymore”. When we had found a way to temporarily fix it, they said “is it ok if I hold your camera and hold on to your chair so it doesn’t tip over when you get in?”. They made it effortless for me to accept their offer of a helping hand, and I learned a lot from that interaction. Both about how to offer help and how to accept it.
The future of “When I walk”
Another important thing I learned from this experience is that I’m still able to head out with my camera, explore by myself and enjoy the process. Even if I need a little help on the way. And this means that I can continue my “When I walk”-project. Granted it’s with a few changes, but still. More on the changes later.
And I know a few of you are probably mostly here because of my photography content. You may be left with a question; what lens did you get? I will leave you curious for now, and get back to you in my next post where I also will share more about the future of “When I walk”.
All the best,