I took my friend to a new coffee shop. Set out in the rolling hills of the country, with outside patios and a balcony, it was a perfect place to go on a Sunday afternoon while scouting new trails to hike. I purchased my coffee and sandwich and went outside to the balcony to save us a table. My friend did not show up until I was nearly done with my sandwich. I asked her what happened. She said “I met Eric”.
Right behind her, coming through the door and up the steps, was a man. I knew immediately it was “Eric”. It was apparent, quickly by sight, that Eric had a physical disability. It was learned, by talking with him, what had happened. Though inquisitive as I may be I would never start to question someone about their story unless they initiated the conversation. Eric did. He followed us up to the balcony over looking the countryside, sat at the table next to us and engaged us in conversation.
His smile was disarming. His cane and anything first noticed by eyes was quickly replaced with what was learned through his words. Twenty-seven years ago he was driving his truck. A woman in another vehicle was putting on eye-liner while she was driving. She “t-boned” his vehicle. He spent the next two years of his life in a hospital and rehabilitation. He was told he would never walk again. We saw first hand the inaccuracy of that prediction.
During his story he smiled. A lot. Actually I don’t remember him not smiling. He said he used any anger he may have had from the accident as fuel, energy to heal and rehabilitate. Even though he recognized that the accident was most likely preventable he also voiced that he knew that woman did not wake up that morning, stretch out of her sleep and say “I think I’ll go kill someone today”.
By this point we were asking questions. He was happy to answer. I think he was happy in general. He could not work after the accident. He did get to a point where he could travel, so he did. A good deal it sounds like. He traveled alone. He did his own thing on his own time line. At one point I stated that it didn’t seem like what he went through, stopped him, from anything. He said it had not. He told us he eventually met the love of his life. Joan. They were married for ten good years before she was diagnosed with brain cancer. They had three more years together. He was helpless in stopping what was happening to her. I asked if that wasn’t much harder, to see her go through that, than what he had gone through. He said it was much more difficult.
The three of us discussed relationships. He said he and Joan didn’t argue. When one of them had a problem with the other they discussed it. There was never any name calling or snipping at one another. My friend said the minute disrespect enters a relationship it goes downhill. We all agreed.
I couldn’t help but notice how bright his eyes were, the dimple when he smiled, the high arches of his eyebrows when he became more expressive. And mostly, I couldn’t help but notice his comfort in talking with us. I told him that I shouldn’t need to hear his story to be more grateful for my life, but I couldn’t help but feel grateful for the blessings I’ve had. He responded that we really don’t know how good we have things…until we hear or recognize others stories.
We parted without any fanfare. Grateful to have heard his story. Grateful for someone we didn’t know to have healed through all of his suffering and enjoy his life. Grateful for a Sunday afternoon and the ability to go looking for small adventures with a friend, drinking coffee, and hearing life stories.