Before I forget too much about this brief encounter, let me tell you about it. It happened while my wife and I were on a trip. It was an unplanned and a most unwelcome stop. Pure chance, or fate, caused us to meet for just a few moments, but I can't get the picture out of my mind.
It was a very cold morning with the temperature well below freezing, and the clouds made the early morning sky outside a very dingy gray. The city was unfamiliar, but we managed to follow the blue highway markers with the big “H” to the set of buildings where the signs pointed us to the “Emergency Room” entrance.
Three ambulances sat under the portico with their diesel engines running and polluting the air all around the entrance to the building as we walked up. The first set of doors to the building we found at the rear of one ambulance were locked. And then I noticed the second set of doors farther on that had been obscured by the ambulance parked in front of it. I helped my wife get inside and then through a second set of “air lock” doors into the waiting room.
The waiting room was just a wide spot along one side of a long hallway and seemed nearly as cold as it was outside. I led my wife over to the waiting room chairs. No one else was there. And then I went across the hallway to the window to register. The lady at the sliding glass window seemed as much concerned as you would expect from someone behind the window at a car wash. I filled out the brief forms, had my wife sign them, and then returned them to the lady.
A television was blaring out the sounds of some home shopping channel which did my wife's four day old migraine headache no good. I managed to find the controls hidden along the flat panel TV's edge and change to the local news channel and turn down the volume to where it could barely be heard.
A few people who appeared to be hospital employees hurried through the entrance and down the long hallway that turned out of sight rushing as if they were late to work. No one said a word. We sat there in our winter coats and gloves shivering. Each opening of the sliding exterior doors let in more diesel exhaust fumes. A building maintenance man came from down the hallway with his bag of tools and went outside.
The hard tile floor and concrete block walls did nothing to make us feel any warmer. The drab monotone gray paint on the walls was most uninviting. I tried to comfort my wife, but all she could do was quietly moan “Please God, help me.” Her pain was intense. And now very early that morning when by telephone we managed to reach her regular doctor (who was still eight hours away by car), he had instructed us to go immediately to the nearest emergency room because he thought her headache might be caused by bleeding on the brain, which only intensified our fears and worries.
So there we sat all alone in an unfamiliar city waiting. After several minutes I went up to the lady at the window to ask how much longer it would be before my wife could be seen by the doctor. She didn't know. I wondered if I had even come to the right place … was this even a real emergency room? The forms had said this was the University of Kentucky hospital and there were ambulances outside, so it must be. All I could do was hold my wife … and wait … and pray.
After another eternity of waiting in that cold lonely room I again went to ask how much longer it would be. She still didn't know. Was there a place where my wife could lie down? Not until triage had seen her. How long will that be? She didn't know that either. I sat back down by my suffering wife.
Then I heard an odd sound.
It was the whirring sound of an electric motor … getting closer. It was coming from down the long hallway.
And then I saw it. What an odd sight! It was some kind of strange stretched out electric wheel chair. Following close behind it was a thin young man in a light jacket. He seemed perfectly at ease and wore a big smile.
In the electric wheel chair a semi-reclining person with a toboggan hat sat, or lay, almost completely covered by a dirty and worn blue and white zebra striped furry blanket. She drove full speed ahead down the hallway by means of blowing into a tube.
She sped along and then with a bit of a jerk turned slightly into the waiting area and stopped right in front of us. When he suggested that she might be blocking us, she drove just a few feet farther. And then she ordered the young man to “Cover me up!”
He quietly asked, “You don't want to just look like some dead body lying here, do you?”
But she tersely responded, “Cover me!” He smiled real big at us and dutifully pulled the blanket up over her head.
They were both probably in their twenties. They were just common people. Not the kind of “common” like most of us meet everyday at work, or school, or while shopping at the mall. They may not have been well educated. They certainly weren't the yuppie type. But they were “common” in that underneath everything else that could be seen about them, they were just people … like me … and like you.
It was obvious that their money was not plentiful. Their clothes, especially his, were worn, and maybe even a bit soiled, but they were serviceable. It looked like he probably did manual work to earn his living … and, maybe, to help support her.
At the time it seemed as if my wife and I had troubles enough of our own to deal with at that moment, so I now find myself with more questions about these two people than I have facts.
Had she been perfectly normal until some accident or disease turned her into a quadriplegic, or had she always been that way? Did they grow up together and fall in love before this happened, or had they fallen in love after meeting somewhere as they now were? Or were these two perhaps brother and sister? I didn't ask, and so I'll never know just how they were related.
Whatever those facts may be, this is probably one of those cases where the unknown details are not really the important issues, but the things I was able to observe are examples of pure love regardless of when the love started or under what particular circumstances.
Just seeing them together it was obvious that he was deeply and truly in love with her. There was a inward warmth and glow about his face that spoke volumes. Each time he looked at her his smile would broaden. There was love in his eyes for her even though she lay there motionless and totally covered from the top of her head to the bottom of her feet by that gaudy striped blanket.
A few minutes later a repairman approached with a tool case in one hand and some type of heavy webbing folded up and attached to a seat belt type of buckle in his other. It was soon obvious that some prior arrangement had been made for the three of them to meet at this time and place. The young man in love gently announced, “This man is here to fix your chair.” Then he pulled the blanket down off her face.
“No. Cover me up!” she ordered once again.
“But he would like to see how beautiful your face is,” he replied with a proud smile. Even though most of us would probably think her bucked teeth and gaunt face was less than beautiful, it was easy to see that through the eyes of his love he truly saw her as beautiful.
“Cover me,” she responded. He smiled a knowing smile and complied. She may have been shy and preferred not to be seen by strangers, or maybe the cover over her face just made her feel warmer.
Turning to the repairman he explained how someone at the nursing home had carelessly allowed the seat belt buckle to get run over and broken by the weight of the motorized chair. He said that since they were in town that day for other reasons, he thought it would be a good time to get the buckle fixed. The repairman got down on his knees and silently went to work.
The young man pointed out the control tube and told how someone at the nursing home had used it as a handle and broken it. He had not been able to find an exact match, but had resourcefully managed to get it back together and working again. He found it inconceivable how anyone could be so irresponsible as to have caused such a problem. And it was self-evident that he could never had been so inconsiderate of the impact of his actions upon others.
The repairman explained that even though only one side was broken, both sides had to be replaced to make sure the buckles matched and fastened securely. The old safety belts had to be taken off before the new ones could be attached, so the young man had to remove the blue zebra striped blanket to get them from under and around her body. She was neatly dressed in clean pants and shirt. There were light canvas shoes laced and neatly tied on her feet.
That is when I saw just how helpless she was. Her whole frail body was like that of a rag doll – completely limp and motionless. He carefully and lovingly picked up each thin arm, pulled the old safety belt away, and then replaced each arm tenderly back into her lap. And then he gently covered her once again.
She made some comment about a shoulder belt. And they had a short conversation about various types of seat belts for motorized wheel chairs to be used during vehicle transport. Their conversation was quiet, but I could tell they were each intelligent people and her wit sparkled through in spite of her immobility. Their effortless banter was surely the basis of their relationship. He explained to the repairman that she was referring to something they had seen in a magazine that was a whole upper torso harness.
The repairman finished his work and rose from the floor. And the young man once again removed the blanket, fixed the new safety belt securely around her body, and neatly covered her back up. As a few more adjustments were being made to the length of the new belt we were finally called into the emergency room and so I don't know what happened next in their lives.
However the memory of them has stuck with me.
Of course, whenever I recall the image of these two young people that we just happened to meet so briefly I am so thankful that our own problems are not as challenging as those of that young lady.
But etched even more deeply into my memory is the fathomless, selfless love that young man had for her as shown in his careful attention to her needs and wishes during those few minutes. His actions that morning inspire me to love better … and less for what I can get out of a relationship than for what I can give … regardless of what, if anything, I will ever get in return. His love was a level of true love to which we can all aspire.