I'm going down in the elevator. I'm on my way to Hudson River Park with my notebook computer, to do some writing on a nice summer day. The elevator door opens and I back up in my wheelchair to let a man get in - a neighbor that I've seen many times before. Maybe a little older, maybe a little younger than me, pleasant enough face, pleasant enough manner, no interesting characteristics, not the type I'd want to put in a story and describe in detail. I don't know the man's name, since we've never bothered to introduce ourselves. We might have said the customary “good morning” to each other or “isn't it a nice day;” never more than that. I now give him an absent-minded neighborly smile. I expect the same in return. I'm a little surprised when he speaks, a whole sentence.
“It's so amazing to me that someone in your situation can have such a smile on her face.”
I give him a puzzled look. “In my situation? What do you mean?”
He doesn't respond.
Does he think my using a wheelchair is a painful, sad situation, maybe even a tragic one? Does he visualize a dreary life full of constant sorrow, dark gloomy days, a dismal future? Does he imagine I've never known happiness and never will? Does he assume I'm just covering up my great suffering with a brave smile?
Were he to find himself in a similar situation, would he despair? Would he be so depressed that he would never again smile? Does he believe he would never be able to endure such a situation, maybe even that, in such a situation, he would not want to live? Does he believe that's how I should feel?
As the doors of the elevator open, I let my smile grow wider. “My situation is a very good one,” I say. “I'm very happy with my situation.”
He walks away without another word.