I had Thanksgiving dinner with my sweet client at a skilled nursing facility. I was his dinner date. Traffic was horrific and I got there when everyone was being served. When he saw me across the room he smiled ear to ear.
“I’m so sorry I’m late,” I said while taking off my coat.
“I didn’t think you was coming!”
I sat with him and two other gentle ladies with Intellectual Developmental Disabilities. I introduced myself to them and one told me that my date had been talking about me all afternoon. I giggled like a school girl and they joined me.
We laughed. We talked. We shared. We told stories of past Thanksgivings. He told me his favorite desserts. And we spoke of families and such. We spoke about bingo and movies. I felt right at home.
As dinner was finishing he grabbed my hand and in his slurred speech he said, “Okay. I’m ready to tell you my story….”
I’ve asked two times in the past seven months of taking over his case and he wouldn’t share with me anything about his past. The details of his accident are not available in his chart because they happened many years ago. But, tonight holding my hand with hundreds of people talking around us, he handed his story as if giving me a Medal of Honor for sticking with him…for continuously showing up. He shared details of how he became paralyzed, of his stroke, of his brain injuries. He laid it out for me taking deep breaths squeezing my hand and heart in between his. In that corner table by the kitchen he showed me himself, exposed in full vulnerability, knowing I would not judge or interrupt. He returned to that day as I watched it all in my own movie reel with him as the hero.
He shared it all while staring into my soul acknowledging that I was listening…that I was fully present with him on this journey. He stopped several times and I allowed for the words to return without pressure each time coming closer to him so I could hear it completely while the noise in the room grew louder.
His eyes watered. Tears swelled in mine as I tried to compose myself. I patted his hand and thanked him. Silence engulfed us for a few minutes and he added, “You earned it. You earned my story!”
It’s a privilege to have soul to soul conversations with others. I kissed his cheek and told him that he was one of the bravest souls I’ve met in a long time. I reminded him of his life and how he has chosen to travel the path with humor and dignity. He grinned showing me his gums.
I rolled him on his wheelchair back to his room. Quietude of grace filled us both. “Thank you for sharing your story with me. I am honored that you entrusted me.”
“Millie, the honor is mine. I’ve been tough with you. I don’t trust many people. Thank you for your kindness. You are patient.”
As I was closing his room door I looked back and he had removed his shirt. I witnessed the many scars visible to the eye and all the deep ones hidden underneath. He is my hero.
Our lives can transform in a single moment. Things happen that change us, shake us, and we are never the same again. The life he once had will never be again. And he wants no pity. He wants to keep his dignity. I love that about him.
This is the virtue of giving thanks. It isn’t only in the holidays. But it is an opportunity to share and receive, give and exchange, from heart and soul.
His words echoed all the way home driving in the dark. I didn’t turn the radio on. I didn’t busy myself with phone calls. I was given a gift that I will never forget. He taught me the value of trust, timing, and acceptance. It’s important to know who and when you share with the essence of your truth and history. Those stories need to be earned so they truly penetrate their importance…
Because we all matter. We all have something to give and take. We all have a story that can change another.