I am always amazed by the seemingly random moments that present themselves in our lives. I am even more amazed by how often they wind up not being quite so random as they originally seemed to be. I’ve been around long enough, now, to appreciate the importance of taking pause, as these moments come and go, at least long enough to make sure we don’t miss anything that might be important sometime later down the road.
Such was the case, not too long ago, when I was riding the bonnie new Mongoose that I had recently bought to extend my range of mobility (against the wiser wisdom of my dear friend and former OT). I was headed to the drugstore to pick up my monthly ‘scrip refills when I got a phone call from my oldest informally-adopted Texas son.
I drifted over to the right side of the sidewalk and stopped to answer.
As a bleed risk (because of my medications), and a fall risk (because of my three strokes), and as someone strongly advised not to ride a bicycle (because of my permanent partial blindness due to the aforementioned strokes), I wanted no part of having to explain to the doctors why I thought it would be a good idea to answer a phone while riding a bike and try to sustain a conversation with one hand.
My son and I babbled on for a few minutes about the weather in Texas before he scolded me would be on that bike. I changed the subject, and we check old for a minute or two more about what a stubborn old asshole I was before ending the call. As we exchanged goodbyes, I remarked that it wasn’t a pretty sight watching a fat old blind man riding a mountain bike but that I would be damned if I was going to be helpless.
I say this all the time to anyone who will listen… And knowing my kids and grandkids as well as I do, I’m fairly certain – headstone or urn – those words will be attached to me for eternity.
As we hung up chuckling, some random guy that had walked up behind me and then moved ahead past me, turned on his heels and said:
“Excuse me – I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop but – did you just say that you were blind? How the hell can you even ride that thing?”
I laughed and said that I was technically only half-blind but blind enough that I wasn’t able to work or drive and was barely allowed by my doctors to live alone, unsupervised.
Giving him the condensed elevator-ride version of my story, I explained that I had had several strokes a few weeks after my mother had died and that, while my limbs continue to function normally, I lost all of the vision in the right half of each eye while gaining several quirky cognitive challenges that had made my life pretty interesting. I mentioned my second divorce… even uglier than the first… that had brought me back from Texas in time to move in with and take care of, my mother during the last four years of her life. After an atypically candid moment of describing the hell of living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, I cut myself off and happily handed over control of the conversation to him.
He told me that he, too, had once lived the big life. He had once made lots of money, had a great job, and was the proud dad of a couple kids he put through college that had nothing much to do with him anymore. He even had, like me, an ex-wife that now has everything of any value he ever owned.
His life now, he said, was very much like mine. He is on disability because of his heart, he lives alone in a small apartment and is content to make the most of however many remaining days he has left on this spinning little blue ball.
We chuckled a bit, and exchanged our favorite war stories – each trying to one-up the other – and then he introduced himself (Tim) before taking a long thoughtful pause. As best I could, eyesight being what it is now, I studied his face trying to see whether I was looking at deep pain or stoic resignation and. The pause had gone on long enough, by the time I had made up my mind which one it was, that I was almost startled to see the light come back into his eyes. When it did, and as if to put a finer point of emphasis on it by squaring his stance, he looked at me and said:
“You know Dave… Sometimes what you’ve lost in your life is a whole lot less important than what you have overcome.”
Without another word, we shook hands again and parted ways. I got back on my mongoose and headed the rest of the way up the street to the drugstore. As I got off the bike, and change it to a signpost, it occurred to me that Tim and I might never cross paths again, but I will never forget our conversation nor the life-lesson he’ll probably never know he taught me that day.