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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Getting Slapped in the Face by Real Life

Copyright ©2014 by Ralph F. Couey

You know how it is.

Days get loaded up with the "have-to-dos" endemic to those whose responsibilities seem to squeeze out everything else.  Yes, it's better than sitting at home staring out of a window, wondering if you really could hear grass grow, but in the discharge of those duties, hours and days are lost.

My day job involves an unusual schedule, Wednesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. until 9:30 p.m.  I used to not have to be there until 1:00 p.m., but a recent reappraisal of the incoming workflow resulted in the adjustment to the new schedule.  I like getting off earlier, but in the effort to keep my exercise schedule, I'm now on the road in the middle of the morning rush.  Along with several hundred thousand of my closest friends.  As a result, what was a 40 minute commute has become a creeping 90-minute ordeal.

Anyway, my days off run Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, which I am happy about because of two things.  Having Sunday and Monday free means I don't miss any pro football.  Plus, there's just something wonderful about sleeping in on Monday mornings...

My wife (with whom I just shared a 36th anniversary) works a similarly convoluted schedule, but we share Sundays and Mondays off, while I have Tuesdays and she has Thursdays to our respective selves.  Monday, though, becomes Honey Do day.  We run errands, do our shopping, work around the house, and make sure that we share a trip to the local Cineplex for a movie.  Today was no different.  I woke up first, going for a 4-mile run while she slept a little longer.  This was earned rest because she was on call last night and ended up spending 7 hours doing surgery.  I got back from my run, cleaned up, and when she arose, we went ahead and did our movie date, taking in the Disney flick "Maleficent."  I won't bore you with a review of the film.  Afterwards, we made our weekly pilgrimage to our friendly neighborhood CostCo.  We picked up the necessary items, paid for them, and headed for the parking lot.  We were loading our car, when I heard a woman's voice call, "Sir?  Sir?"  This directed towards three men who walked by, whether in ignorance, neglect, or indifference.  I turned towards the voice to see a 50-ish lady in one of those electric shopping carts who was trying to load groceries into her SUV.  

Now, I can be a little insulated to my surroundings, but in this case, I responded.  "You need some help?"

The look of relieve on her face was answer enough, so I walked over and began loading the vehicle.  My first question was the necessary, "Do you have someone at home to help you unload?"  She assured me in the affirmative.  Then she said something a little strange.  "Do you run a lot?  You have the greatest legs I've ever seen on a man."

Not the typical kind of parking lot conversation to which I've been a party.

Nonetheless, I recovered from my nonplussedness quickly and replied that yes, I do run 20 to 25 miles each week, and hike an additional 5 to 10 when I have a free day.  She then launched into a run of fairly emotional statements of gratitude, at one point turning to my wife who had come up, frankly curious, and saying, "Is this your husband?  He's such a good man!  So helpful!"  My wife smiled and nodded.  I was thankfully relieved.  I've never been the most attentive of husbands, although I have had my occasional moments.

I had completed loading, and asked her if there was anything else I could do for her.  Again, I was taken aback.

"Yes, you can pray for me.  I was recently diagnosed with cancer and I had my first treatment today."

I am an ordained minister, so the request for prayer is not unusual, although it almost always happens in church.  Outside, of course, none of us clergy wear big signs proclaiming our status, and outside of a couple of major religions, we don't wear what could be called ecclesiastical uniforms.  Today, for example, I was wearing a Hawaii t-shirt, khaki shorts, sneakers, and a hat proclaiming, "Life Is Good."  I asked, "what kind of cancer?", mainly because my wife was standing near enough to join the conversation and I knew her medical background would be helpful.  She said she had multiple myeloma mainly in her bone marrow.  I was fully prepared to pray for her on the spot, but she backed her scooter around and zipped away before my offer could tumble from my lips.  

And just like that, she was gone.

We returned to our vehicle, and I asked my wife how bad multiple myeloma was.  She shook her head, her face grim.  "Bad.  She has an uphill fight ahead of her."  

Will she survive?

"Not likely, if hers is as bad as the ones I've known about before."  My wife was surprised that she had gone shopping, since a treatment of either chemo or radiation usually leaves a person completely exhausted.  But if it was her first treatment, she probably overestimated her ability to hang onto at least a piece of the mundane of her life.

Once home, I did pray for her.  And then I thought about this encounter.

Just before, I had been wishing I would have had more time that day to engage in one of my selfish pleasures, a motorcycle ride, or a hike.  The next day, with our very pregnant daughter-in-law going to her weekly doctor's appointment, I would have Grampa duty for most of the day.  Which is still a blast, by the way.  Wednesday, my work week would start again, and the onset of thunderstorms meant my motorcycle would stay in the garage.  I can ride in the rain, but nobody in the DC area apparently knows how to drive in it.  But I consciously set aside those thoughts, realizing that the encounter had been one of those many incidents I've had over the years when God reaches out, taps me on the noggin and requests that I look around and pay attention.  She was clearly frightened, and was looking for some human to reach back and acknowledge her fear and pain.  I was there, and I did try to help, but I don't think I did enough.  

And that bothers me.

We all have lost people to cancer, family, friends, colleagues, so we know how bad it can be.  We also know all about what a short, limited future those people had left.  In my case, I have come from those experiences realizing that life is too short to be lived in the state of stress, anger, and frustration that seems to haunt most of us.  Life, even the mundane nature of "Honey Do" day is intended to be sweet and full.  We should be motivated to find joy and happiness -- and discovery -- in everything we do every day, a search that should not solely require a motorcycle or 10 miles of the Appalachian Trail.

Also, it is important that remember that in the final analysis, we are here for each other, and when someone reaches out, we need to reach back.  The greatest commandments told us by Jesus Christ in the scriptures involved loving God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength.  

And to love one another as He has loved us.

We need to remember that second commandment.
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