DEAR MISS MANNERS: My husband is a quadriplegic. He is paralyzed from the neck down. When dining, I am feeding both him and myself. This means that I cannot reach his water glass in the upper-right corner of his place setting, so I set it near mine. And he needs to drink through a straw. It’s difficult to balance food on the fork while feeding him, so sometimes, depending on the meal, I will use a spoon so as to avoid spilling. I also put a napkin on his lap, as well as one on his chest.
As much as we would like to maintain etiquette, our situation is far from ideal. Considering the circumstances, are our current habits acceptable? And are there any other suggestions you can offer so that our unique situation is as appropriate as possible?
GENTLE READER: Your phasing (“As much as we would like to maintain etiquette”) reflects a misapprehension that moving your husband’s water glass, under the circumstances you describe, is a violation of etiquette. It is emphatically not, a point on which Miss Manners feels strongly and hopes will comfort you.
Since at least the delivery of the Ten Commandments, there has been a common -- and mistaken -- belief that law, and by extension etiquette, is no more than a list of “shalts” and “shalt nots” that can be followed robotically to a heavenly reward. As both biblical scholars and lawyers can tell you, this is not true of the law, and it is certainly not true of etiquette. (Miss Manners now finds herself, irrelevantly and irreverently, wondering if, having completed lunch together, a biblical scholar and a lawyer would be able to share a cab to their final destination.) Reasonable accommodation for your husband’s condition -- giving due regard to both him and the other guests -- is not only the right thing to do; it is also the mannerly thing to do.