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Letter to the editor: Nobody has said no


Photo by Alan Light
“I am happy to report that the account balance is positive…” — photo by Alan Light
By Barbara Davidson

You can’t buy social capital, but you can build it. You can’t sell social capital, but you can experience it.

Over the past four years, I have conducted an experiment. I have had to make withdrawals on the fund of social capital that is Iowa CIty’s, and I am happy to report that the account balance is positive.

I have early onset Parkinson’s disease. As a complication, I have dystonia, a cramping of the muscles of the feet and legs. It comes without warning: One foot curls into a ball, and the right foot hyperextends. I cannot walk; I am at risk of falling and sustaining a head injury or limb fracture.

There is no medical intervention that works for me. What I need is to get to a safe place to sit until the dystonia passes. But typically I can’t manage this by myself. I need a person willing to give me their arm for 10 or 20 or 50 feet.

Because it can happen at any time or any place, I am usually confronted with asking for help from a stranger. Because I am small, white, female and conventionally dressed, I don’t present a stereotypical threat, but I am asking for physical contact with a stranger, the breaking of a strong social barrier. Given that I started to have serious difficulty with dystonia more than three years ago, I have had to ask for this kind of assistance many dozens of times. Here’s the surprise: No one has ever said “No,” and no one has ever walked away.

An EMT trainee went into Starbucks and got me a chair to sit on in the parking lot; an Indian doctor went and got his car and drove me to CVS and let me sit in his car until the episode passed; two homeless men walked me half the length of the Ped Mall to get me to the library. Most improbably, a slight young woman with a baby on her chest and two book bags helped me cross the street by the library.

No one has said no.


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