He was dignified – almost regal, this gentleman pushing his wife in a wheelchair. Over six feet tall, he was thin, dressed in the clothes of his culture, starting from the perfectly formed turban on the top of his head to what had been a mirror polish on the black shoes on his feet.
He had a long, nicely trimmed beard, evenly split between salt and pepper. His wife was dressed in all the finery of her culture as well. There was a comfort between the two of them. They were partners, life partners, and though they may not have said the vows we’re familiar with in the US – they had clearly said, and honored, whatever vows they had shared.
I met them waiting at the doctor’s office, a place where you have to bare your body, so you tend to build walls up around your soul. We were all hunkered down inside our own guarded little walls, alone with our thoughts and problems, each with our personal list of miracles we wanted from the men and women wearing the white coats. And we were waiting for the elevator to take us there, but it didn’t come. As the minutes went by, and as we all grew a little fidgety, we started peeking up over our walls a little, and making small talk.
After a few more minutes – I went over to talk to someone about the elevator, as there was a bit of a crowd now waiting, and of course, as soon as I talked to the fellow about the elevator, we all heard this “ding” as it showed up.
I returned to the crowd a hero. (They thought I’d fixed it – little did they know…)
The doors slid open, and the whole group of us oozed in, filling all the empty and personal space as we tried to get in and turn around to face the door again, all of us, including the gentleman who was trying to get his wife in with her wheelchair.
It turned out the regal gentleman and his wife needed to go to the same place I did, and as we sat there, waiting, she was wheeled off for some tests, and he sat, like so many husbands over history, waiting, with his wife’s old brown purse in his lap.
The incongruity of it was impossible to ignore.
I looked over, and simply couldn’t keep myself from saying it.
“I have to tell you, that purse looks very nice with your outfit…”
It took him a moment to realize that I’d completely knocked my own wall down and was knocking on his.
He smiled, recognized the joke, and laughed – a wonderful, hearty laugh that came out both surprised and delighted, and something made me feel that he hadn’t laughed in some time. There was a joy to it of finally letting go and being able to laugh at the silliness of his proper, very fine clothing contrasting with that old brown purse.
We stepped through the rubble of the walls between us, and while his wife was getting her tests done, we chatted. I was getting an x-ray to see if some screws that were holding a few things together were settling in well – and the next thing I knew, he was telling me this story about two screws he’d had – holding the same part of him together. Turns out that when he was younger – he’d been riding a moped and had what was obviously a bad accident. He told me that the two screws they used to do things like hold his leg together were three inches long – ironically about the same length as the deck screws that had just been used to rebuild my porch.
That got me thinking – I thought I might want to chat with the fellow rebuilding the porch to make sure he wasn’t missing a couple of three inch ones…
At any rate – we got to talking about screws and how you can acquire them by simply riding around on mopeds (or in my case, hanging around under linear accelerators), and as he told me this story of his youth, I saw, inside that dignified older gentleman, a bright smile, some fun memories, and a sparkle in the eyes of the young man who was still very much alive in there.
We chatted some more – and then they called my name, I got my x-ray so I could see my deck screws, and was going to continue the conversation when I got back, but when I got back, he was gone.
And I didn’t even get his name…
…and now that I think of it, that purse really didn’t go with his outfit, but I couldn’t tell him that…