The basic idea behind Buddy Clubs
The history of the basic idea behind BuddyClubs.
I was walking down First Avenue in New York City's East Village neighborhood on a rainy chilly gray weekday afternoon. The weather had traffic all jammed up. Frustrated drivers were laying on their horns. Everyone seemed to be in a rotten mood—I most of all.
I was depressed as I walked through the rain and the din toward my apartment a few blocks away. Though still in my early 20s, the dead weight of hopelessness had my head pressed toward the sidewalk like an old man's—my soul sighing at the bleakness of the world.
I had just shuffled across E. Fourth St when I heard a man's voice. "Excuse me, can you help me?" I looked up, and saw that it was a guy in a wheelchair sitting in the rain at the curb in front of the bus stop there, and he was speaking to me.
I went to help him. "Sure," I said.
Behind him, kneeling for the handicapped rider, its rear door open, sat the bus. The steps had flattened and extended out for him, but he was having a hard time negotiating the rain-slickened ramp.
Glaring down on us from up in the bus was a wall of angry riders—angry and jam packed together. With the traffic and the rain, it's likely all the people on that bus were already running late to wherever it was they were heading. We were making it worse.
We finally maneuevered the wheelchair onto the ramp and it hoisted us slowly up into the bus. When we got to the top, the people squeezed and pressed themselves together to make room for us to back off the ramp, and then we wiggled and turned and wiggled and turned and pivoted around toward the seats opposite. Those seats had to be cleared of riders, then lifted up and latched out of the way so the guy could park his wheelchair there and strap himself in.
While we maneuvered in the tight space there were audible grumbles from some of the riders around us as people shifted and squeezed to let us through.
My God, this poor guy has to go through this every day, I thought to myself, and I found myself trying to be as polite and as gentle as I could be in order to diffuse some of the anger and hostility being directed at the guy in the wheelchair. And, suddenly, it struck me, as I was wedging and shifting him into the space where the seat folds up, how much better I suddenly felt than I had been feeling just a few minutes before.
I felt better not because here was someone who had it even worse than I to whom I could compare myself advantageously. I felt better because he had given me the opening, the opportunity to help him, and by so doing he had helped me take my eyes off myself—off myself, and my misery, and my problems, and all the injustices I'd suffered, and all the unfair horrible things in my life.
Here I was, now, trying to be nice, and trying to be thoughtful, and trying to imagine what others were feeling, and trying to diffuse the anger and hostility pouring out of the people on that bus at this situation that was making them even later for all their important appointments. As I pulled the strap into place and turned to go, the difference I felt in myself at that moment was so stark that I was aware of it, and can remember it.
And then, behind me, I heard him say "thank you."
Normally, I think, I would have mumbled a "sure," or something like that and ducked off the bus, but I stopped and looked back and the guy in the wheelchair was looking directly into my eyes, steadily, and holding them there.
I stood up straight and faced him and stood like that for a moment, looking directly back into his eyes. "No," I said, "thank you." He gave a very slight nod, turned his head away, and looked out the window.
I believe that the guy in the wheelchair knew what transformation had happened in me as I helped him get on the bus, that he had somehow sensed how crippled I'd been when he called out for help, and how, by his cry for help, he had thrown me a lifeline.
I couldn't know it then, of course, but that gray soggy afternoon would stay with me and, twenty-five years later, would be the soil in which the seed was planted that would become this website: the basic idea that it is a privilege to help others; that he benefits most who benefits others.
I got off the bus and stood in the rain watching as it inched its way back into the snarled traffic and the blaring horns and the cursing drivers. There was a lump in my throat as I stood watching the First Avenue bus crawl its way uptown, and I suspect that had you walked up and kissed me on the cheek right then you might have thought the rain in New York City was a little salty.