Sunday, August 20, 2017

A Little Help From a New Friend

My life has been full of ups and downs.  Until five years ago, many more ups than downs.  I was raised by strong loving parents who I appreciated more every year until they passed.  Their senior years were a glowing example of a true love that lasted decades after the aches, pains and wrinkles began to accumulate.  I married the first girl I really truly fell in love with and have three very handsome boys who are each beacons of kindness.  For the first time in my life though, a problem crept in that I couldn't seem to fix.  My dear wife began to slowly drift away from me until I finally realized that, like a person thrown overboard, no matter how hard I thrashed and fretted, I could never regain her love and affection.  I've seen therapists and ministers and talked to other divorcees and discovered that little could be done to assist in repairing my broken heart and crushed ego.  It's much like a horrific auto accident, with the pains and anguish fading a little each year, like a slowly turning rheostat.  But there are scars that remain and emotional setbacks to occasionally navigate through.  Interestingly, I've found that friends from other cultures take a more abstract view of marital splits.  Expressions like.. These things just happen...She's just gone a different direction... Some day the right person will come along.  Funny... I recall on a pivotal day of no return when that's exactly what my "then wife" said to me. "Oh you'll find somebody new".  I had no idea her casual comment rolled out so easily because she already had "somebody new".
Now five years later I've improved immensely but there are still things that stir negative emotions.  I have friends divorced for over twenty years that still have flareups that trigger deep emotions and the ensuing mental playback of negative snapshots buried deeply beneath the surface. I try to stay busy any way I can, patiently waiting for the healing process to continue it's slow progress.
 But early this year I had something of an epiphany.  I'm in the gym 4-6 days a week and on one such visit I saw a young man I'd seen before.  He was struggling to stand up from his wheel chair.  I had noticed him two days earlier sitting in his chair but had never seen him actually doing any activities.  But on this day I had a clear sight line of him struggling with all his might to stand.  His trembling legs were reinforced with multiple opaque hard plastic reinforcements that wrapped his legs from ankle to  thigh.  It appeared to be an exhaustive process just to move one leg slightly ahead.  At that moment I did something I'm just programmed to do.  I silently asked God to bless this young him.. even heal him.
I completed the exercises I needed to in the room I'd been observing this guy and moved on to another area.  I typically try to keep moving quickly from station to station to elevate my heart rate and was walking briskly back to the weight room I'd started in.  As I raised my head I saw this young guy settling back down into his wheel chair.  He looked exhausted and the sweat was rolling down his face.  I felt guided to say something as I approached him.  "Wow..that looked like a tough workout" was all I could manage.  He quickly smiled as he began to describe his routine.  He worked on a few weight machines primarily to stretch his legs outwardly from the point at which his hip joints attach to his pelvis.  He tried every day to walk once around the 1/10 of a mile loop.  Since his legs didn't really work from the thigh down, his "walking" was accomplished by using his hips and upper body to literally drag each leg along the track.  He used his wheeled walker, he explained, to maintain his balance as he made this plodding journey around the track.  He kept a free weight sitting on top of his walker to stabilize it as he dragged one leg and then the other along.  I introduced myself and as we shook hands he said.."Just call me T Man."  "No one can pronounce my real name" he said with a smirk.
I quickly realized that I'd met my match in this bright articulate young man.  He appeared to be mid thirties and explained he had immigrated from Vietnam.  He had an "accident" some fifteen years ago which he'd survived, but the damage had caused irreversible leg paralysis.  He had closely cropped hair revealing some large scars across his scalp.  He wore glasses that appeared to need some adjustment or maybe all the sweat was causing them to slide down his nose a little.  He had a strong voice and began to talk with his head tilted upward about his approach to life.  How he loved to read.  How his Mother and Grandmother had raised him well, always teaching him that kindness and caring for others was always the quickest path to one's own happiness.  He did mention his Buddhist faith but mainly focused on how he had heeded his Grandmother's guidance.  His strong foundation was helping him cope with this enormous life challenge he was now working through.
As I listened, he paused and looked up at me.  Pushing his glasses back up his nose, he said "John I can tell you are kind man.  Most people that pass me look away and very few greet me".  Then this young man started quizzing me about my life and who I really was.  As usual I started describing my three sons and those that know me understand that I'm rarely unable to come up with more details than required about any subject.  In the midst of my narrative he stopped me.  "What about your wife?"  I make a point to avoid discussing the divorce, especially with strangers.  I was as brief as I could be.  His first response was "Wow..She left you after all those years?"  "I know you must be deeply hurt".  After his comment I struggled to say anything.  H'ed hit a nerve with that comment.  He was silent for quite some time and then looked back up.  He told me he had a girlfriend before the "accident" who he loved dearly and that she stayed right with him through all the challenges during his recovery.  He tilted his head up at me again... "She stayed with me for five years!" and then his voiced pitched higher..." she took care of me and loved me so much!  But finally she had to leave".  He was smiling but I could see tears pooling in the corners of his eyes.  As T man stared silently at me I thought ..OK Show this kid how an older real man acts and do not start crying like a baby!  Then he spoke..  "So John, you lost the love of your life.. but you can still use your legs"
Wisdom from the mouth of a severely disabled young man who had a very mature view of life.
I ended up talking with him for quite some time.  Told him he should start a blog about his trials and just as importantly his positive outlook on life.  His adherence to a strict nutritional regimen.  He takes no medications.  He works out several days a week.  He reads constantly.
I run into T-man on occasion and at our next meeting I helped him climb on to some weight machines he uses.  When he started his track "walk" I asked him how long it took to force himself around the 1/10 mile lap he does. "40 minutes" said T man.  I set a starting point and told him I'd set my phone to time his "walk".  He looked up at me and smiled a little.  I even set up an official start/finish line and explained I'd be waiting for him as long as it took.  He was off and I went back to my weight training.  About 18 minutes later I hear this loud grunting from the track.  I started walking against runner traffic and I reached T man dragging each leg along.  With each leg movement, he let out this loud scream/grunt.  He was moving at an incredible pace and I cautioned him not to push too hard.  I began advising him of distance to go as he got louder with sweat trickling down his face.  Once again I warned him not to do anything that hurt.  He said nothing as he grimaced with each sweep of his legs.  He crossed the "finish" line in just over 28 minutes, a good full 12 minutes faster than his usual time.  He was beaming but breathless from his efforts.  I helped him to get back into his wheelchair and into the elevator and walked outside as we waited for his van.  Our schedules don't always match up, but now when he sees me he breaks out into the biggest smile.  He doesn't realize that he's helped me immensely and perhaps more than I have helped him.  This young guy really bumped me forward in my life and increased my awareness of the needs of others.  So many people carry terrible burdens but look normal and happy on the surface.  Sometimes a smile or a kind word is all that it takes to peel back that exterior a little.  Everyone has a story they want and need to share.  You just have to ask.  We all just need to be nice when we can, karma or no karma.

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