It’s amazing how little we know about the people we see every day. One of my favorite feelings is when an assumption I’ve made, a story I’ve told myself, gets blown to pieces. Because the truth is usually much more interesting, and nuanced, and complex.
For context, I suggest you read my last blog: https://www.davidleenelson.com/single-post/2019/03/20/The-Retired-Vet-The-Retired-Teacher-and-Me
Basically, during the course of my radiation, I’ve been seeing the same three people every morning for the past two weeks. There’s me. There’s the ex-teacher from Traveler’s Rest. There’s the ex-Army guy, and then there is the woman who brings him. I originally thought it was his daughter. Because black LITERALLY does not crack. (True story— I saw the movie Us yesterday, and Lupita Nyong’o is 92 years old. She doesn’t look a day over 18.) The daughter theory had a wrench thrown in it when she called me a “teeny booper.” So for about a week, I had settled on the fact that this woman was the ex-Army guy’s wife. And had proceeded to create an entire back story in my head for the two of them because that is what I do.
Then Friday happened.
I usually go in first, but last Friday the ex-army guy was already in there when I arrived. So I started chatting with his wife. Or so I thought. She was telling me about an appointment she had made to get her eyes checked. The glare from the lights was making driving at night difficult. It didn’t usually bother her because she never goes out at night. “I’m 65 years old. Where do I need to be at night?”
She was 65, and I legit thought she was his daughter. Holy shit.
I asked her if she was still working, and she said that she was retired postal worker. “I worked there for a long time, and when people say ‘going postal’ I know what they were talking about.” She laughed. And I made a note to be extra nice to my mailman. She then mentioned that he husband had been a truck driver. “I thought he was in the Army,” I asked. “Oh, he’s not my husband,” she replied. “My husband died. Dropped dead from a heart attack after he got to work one day. This past September.”
I’m not a math major, but March to September is a pretty short time. The ex-teacher and I apologized for her loss. The ex-postal worker smiled and said nothing.
So if he wasn’t her father. And not her husband. What were they?
Turns out they had known each other for a while, and after his wife died, the ex-Army guy told the ex-post office worker that if he ever got sick, he would need her to take care of him. She said ok, thinking he was just “running off at the mouth.” Until, that is, this past December when he got diagnosed with bladder cancer and he gave her a call. She was true to her word, and been taking him to appointments ever since.
I imagine it’s hard enough to be a caregiver to a husband or a wife or a mother or a father. But to do it for someone you owe nothing to. To get up at 6am, to help someone into the car, to drive across town even though the lights hurt because while black might not crack the eyes certainly do. To wheel him in, to wait to in the lobbies and the waiting rooms, and let me tell one thing about cancer is that there is lots of waiting. To do all that with no responsibility to the other person other than the fact that they you’ve been asked. It is a beautiful act of service. One that makes me hope there is a heaven so a person like that can be rewarded. The ex-Army guy slowly walked out of the radiation room, and the ex-postal worker told us to have a good weekend. They called in the ex-teacher, and I was alone in the waiting room. I sat there, happily surrounded by the pieces of my shattered assumptions.
What would Jesus do? Probably what the ex-postal worker is doing. Something I should keep in mind the next time someone asks me for help. Hopefully I’ll be strong enough to say the two most powerful letters in the alphabet. Hopefully I’ll be strong enough to say, Ok.