I was only looking for some human company at a craft fair when I carried my bowl of soup to an empty table, then glanced at the next table where a lady was filling foam bowls with soup from a quart jar for her two sons. I had opted to buy a single bowl of soup, not only to help the fund-raising dance troop that was selling it, but to help my empty stomach as well. "May I sit with you?" I asked the woman.
She looked up, her blue eyes round with surprise. Then her face softened into a slightly crooked smile. "Certainly," she said. "I'm Kathy."
"Thank you. I'm Shirley." I set my soup and breadsticks down and pulled up a chair. Just then, her husband, Kerry, came to the table with a loaf of bread from the food counter. I introduced myself. The first thing he said was, "Would you like some bread?"
I indicated my stiff breadsticks, which didn't look nearly as fresh and nice as his thick fluffy slices. "I've already got some," I said. As I ate, I found that if I dipped my breadsticks in my soup, they were more palatable and really quite filling.
My dinner companions and I talked about where we were from, how we enjoyed the craft fair, and what we did. I never expected Kerry to make me cry. As a home health nurse, he told me of a 106 year old man he'd taken care of for eleven years. "You get attached to them," Kerry said. "It's hard to see them go." His voice wobbled, and he picked up a napkin and dabbed his eyes. He went on to mention a pair of brothers with muscular dystrophy. "They depend on me," he said. "I get them up, get them washed, dressed, and fed. They can't do any of that for themselves. The older brother, well, when he turned 20, he said to his mother, 'I'm not a teenager any more, Mom.' That made her cry, because neither of her sons were expected to live past 20."
"How old is he now?" I asked.
"Twenty Four. He likes to listen to music. It's all he can do to push the button." Kerry made his hand into a claw shape. "He gets as close to the stereo as he can, then he reaches out and pushes at that button as many times as it takes to turn the stereo on." Kerry made jabbing motions with his clawed hand, then shook his head. "He loves music. He's an amazing kid."
I stared into Kerry's eyes. "I'm so glad you care so much for them. They're lucky to have you."
Kerry's eyes filled with tears that escaped his eyes as he said, "I'm lucky to work with them. I love my job. It's just so hard, because I get attached to them."
Things were getting misty, and I blinked. Things seemed so much clearer now. For the past few weeks, I'd bemoaned many facets of my life, a life that now bloomed as a spectacularly blessed one. What a selfish outlook I'd been harboring. Then along came this saintly man, caring for people who would die without help for the simplest tasks, things that I took for granted every morning. I blinked again and said, "You make such a difference in the world. And you've just told me what I desperately needed to hear. Thank you for letting me sit by you."
I placed my hand over his in farewell, said goodbye to his wife and sons, and, walking on my own legs, my flexible hands obeying every signal from my brain, I went to throw my soup bowl away.