Everybody has a hard luck story. At my age, I don’t even pause to hear most of them anymore. I hang up mid-sentence on telephone salesmen, ignore the homeless waving at my windshield and no longer drop bills in the boxes of those who’s signs say: “Lost My Job.” I’ve just seen too many of them at the liquor store later.
They’re just the same old words out of different mouths. Today, though, was different. As I was leaving the pool this morning, an elderly woman wheeled herself up to the end of the ramp in a motorized wheelchair. The lifeguard helped her maneuver her large, awkward body into the water. She wore a snug wetsuit, that given her limited mobility must have taken her perhaps an hour to get into.
Feeling strangely transfixed, I waited for her to enter the water. As our eyes met, she beamed the most warm and radiant smile. It was only then that I realized just how pretty she was. Her eerily, young face seemed out of place on her crippled body. We began walking together as if we had done this for years.
Over the next 20 minutes, she told me that she has osteoporosis, and both knees and one hip were replaced. The second hip needs replacement, but it cannot be done due both to her fragility and an underlying auto-immune disease. Her eyesight is also failing partly because her eyes cannot tolerate the medicinal drops they need.
She fears her husband is in the throes of Alzheimer’s but does not know what to do. In the last month, “He has dented all four sides of his car.’ At the market last week, he forgot to purchase the items she needed and returned to get them a second time. When he still came home without them, she suggested he not go out again and reached to pick up his car keys. When she did, he grabbed her so hard, “I was scared for my life.”
She has two sons: one is severely diabetic and the other, a former minister with a wife and 3 children was just diagnosed as bipolar. His wife has taken a job as a part-time cashier, but my aging friend is sending them money from her dwindling retirement to keep them afloat.
“Well,” I said, “your plate is full this Thanksgiving, but certainly not of things that you are thankful for.” “Oh, my dear!” she beamed. “I am VERY thankful. I just had YOU to share all of this with!”