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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: A young person's lesson on helping the disabled

Rika Kayama

I recall a recent episode when I was sitting in a train and heard a groan coming from somewhere a short distance away. I looked over to see a young man waving his arms about as a person next to him tried to soothe him. It looked like the young person had a mental disorder and the person trying to soothe him was a worker accompanying him. They were possibly on their way to a sheltered workshop for people with disabilities. The young man was groaning quite loudly, surprising the person next to them, who got up out of their seat.

    I was pondering whether I should say something, when a young person who looked like a student got up from their seat on the opposite side of the train and said in a small voice to the worker, "Shall I help?" The worker looked up and said, "We're OK, thanks." The young person replied, "All right" and went back and sat down, and after a while the young man settled down.

    The incident left me with a lump in my throat. In this day and age, many people don't want to get involved in anything bothersome. They all have their hands full looking after themselves. But that young person was different, standing from their seat without hesitation and asking whether help was needed without being pushy.

    This is something that looks easy but isn't. I quite often see people with disabilities at stations or business establishments, but even if those people are in need of aid, I often miss the opportunity to help them while wondering whether to say something or not.

    One woman I know makes an effort when she sees visually impaired people on station platforms to ask them whether she can take them to the ticket gates. "If they say, 'No, I'm OK,' then all you have to do is say, 'All right,' and withdraw. I don't think that person will feel bad at all," she says. Her words are spot on.

    You ask, "Can I help," and if the answer is, "Yes, please," then you help. If the answer is "No thank you," then you say "OK" and leave with a smile. What that young person on the train taught me, I feel, is that there's no need to hesitate.

    When the train arrived at my destination and I got off, I summoned up a bit of courage, approached the young person and said, "That was a really kind thing you did."

    The young person looked embarrassed and said with a smile, "It was nothing. Thanks."

    That turn of events lifted my spirit for the rest of the day. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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