We don’t meet people by accident. They are meant to cross our path for a reason.
1.1 Robert: Pushing Back the Wind (from “The Merging”)
When I was a teenager, my dad, a heavy smoker, had several heart attacks before the last one got him. He worked as a mechanic one block from our house; the garage was behind a Texaco and was owned by Johnny, a playboy of sorts. My younger brother, Ray, at 16 was already a little taller than my dad who was about 5’7″. Ray was hanging out in the shop when our Dad told Ray he was having trouble breathing and felt weak. But even so, dad waited until quitting time and they headed home together, walking as usual.
In West Texas, they have some horrific wind storms, the sky full of red dirt, the sand tearing at any exposed skin, wind gusts up to 60 mph. They started down the dirt road to home against the wind. It became clear immediately that dad could not walk against the wind. Ray moved in front of dad without being asked and slowed his pace down knowing my dad was unlikely to admit that he needed help. At a snail’s pace they worked their way home without speaking. When my dad got home, he drove himself to the doctor’s office who admitted him to the hospital because he had just suffered a heart attack that would eventually take his life.
We had relatives visit last month; my wife has been diagnosed with cancer. An event on their visit when they were visiting with my wife took me back to my dad’s walk. My wife’s brother, sister-in-law, their daughter who was about twelve and their son who was about eight came to visit Helen, my wife, perhaps to say their last respects. My youngest daughter, Lisa, came up from college to see her cousins.
I had a great talk with Lisa while I burned up the hamburgers and asparagus. She told me she was having problems with depression and pointed out that she often can not identify where her pain comes from. She let me know she is in poor health, clinically depressed, and dropping out of college. I fought my urge to argue with her because my world had already begun spinning out of control.
After the barbecue, we did the traditional everyone walk the dog around the block event, all eight of us plus the dog of course. The two cats walked to the edge of our property and then waited for us to return. The wind was gusty, the type that often comes before a thunderstorm. I was worried about my wife, Helen, going on the walk; she seemed tired to me, but she said she was fine. It is about a mile around, a comfortable walk for a healthy person. Helen walked very slow from the beginning, her brother Mitch and I stayed back with her. Ashton, the Jack Russel, who was not on a leash, made periodic journeys between the two groups to see that everyone was okay. About halfway around I moved over and took her right hand. It was then obvious to me how much she was struggling. I let her put as much weight as she could on my left arm.
The front group had slowed down and come back to us. I didn’t see when Lisa, my youngest daughter, moved in beside her mom, but there she was holding her mom’s left hand in her two hands, struggling with the weight of her mom as Helen moved forward slowing with each step. The rest of the group was around us talking and laughing and having a good time. Helen never said a word and no one in the group knew she was struggling except for Lisa and me. She never told me, but I believe her calves were cramping up and it had become very painful to walk. We got back to the house, Helen and Jill, the sister-in-law, went inside and I turned on the gas fireplace.
The rest of us went outside and played hide-and-seek in the dark in the backyard. Ashton helped the seeker find select people, mostly me and my older daughter, Ally. You can’t really hide from a dog in the backyard, even in the dark.
The walk around the block marked a small moment in the unfolding of Lisa’s life, but an important one. She noticed when almost no one else did that someone was struggling and reached in and helped without saying anything. For a moment, it wasn’t about her own pain, but about someone else needing her help, someone that was too proud to ask for help.
Helen, her mom, was dying of cancer.