My Journey to Joy

April 24, 2017

Lessons from a Friend

Filed under: Contemplations — aunthoddy @ 1:21 PM

There’s a crooked fork in my silverware drawer.  The handle is bent to almost a 90 degree angle.  It isn’t fancy or expensive, but to me it is priceless.  When I see it, sometimes I sigh and sometimes I smile.  It used to belong to a friend of mine, and I keep it there to remind me of who he was and how he lived.

The year 2011 found me searching for a job.  And searching.  And searching.  Along the way I found a website that facilitated employers finding employees and vice versa.  I turned in applications and looked for opportunities.  I walked a dog who snapped at me and scared me to death.  I looked through babysitting jobs, and eventually opened up my profile for “Special Needs” to make myself accessible to more parents.  And that’s how he found me.  Soon I was headed to his house on a Sunday afternoon for an interview.

As Bob outlined the requirements for his care, I realized I was not suited for this job.  At all.  And so I told him of my complete inexperience.  And so he hired me.  A few weeks later, I started a “short-term” job that would last for almost four years…but I also began a friendship that has changed me forever.  I hadn’t planned on a friendship, but Bob had.  I’m so glad he did.

Initially, I watched other caregivers, taking notes and trying to soak in every detail.  All too soon Bob asked if I was ready to give it a try.  I wasn’t, but I did.  I was a nervous wreck the first time I lifted his broken body from his chair to his bed.  I know we were both immensely relieved that I hadn’t dropped him, but Bob had a courage that had been cultivated over years of struggle.  He was one of the bravest people I have ever known.  There wasn’t much that Bob couldn’t figure out, or that he was afraid to tackle.  He calmly talked me through medical procedures (which I was completely unqualified to perform!), wheel chair repairs, and precisely how to drive him to work (in which lane, at what speed…)

Over time, I discovered Bob’s wiiiiiide stubborn streak.  And he found out about mine.  With mutual respect, we maintained a great working relationship, while enjoying each other’s company.  As my tasks became second nature, we were able to talk about a wide variety of topics.  We argued about historical facts and which band sang a particular song.  We learned to leave our arguments at a draw until one of us could research and see who was right.  (It was usually him.)  I was no match for his brilliant mind and impeccable memory…but that didn’t stop us from the fun of our debates.  Over time, I saw what an asset his persistence really was.  With no feeling below his bicep and no use of most of his body, Bob worked a full-time job at a nearby hospital.  His extraordinary grit and determination drove him to accomplish amazing things.  He was a strong and independent man.  When I met him he had been paralyzed for almost forty years and utilized countless solutions to navigate daily tasks, including bending his forks to slide them into his hand splint so that he could feed himself.

But honestly, it wasn’t Bob’s intellect or perseverance that meant the most to me.  He was a kind man.  On days when he had abundant reasons to be grumpy or unkind, he was gracious.  When there was a problem, he was willing to apologize.  He was unfailingly generous.  One of our most frequent arguments was over how much he would pay me; he was always suggesting a bonus for this or that.  He seldom spoke of his pain and struggle, but often asked about what was going on in my life.  He was a wonderful listener, offering support and genuine sympathy.  Many days I left his home feeling better, lighter.  He had a knack for making me laugh with his corny humor and his sharp wit.  I was lucky enough to be able to return that favor.

I think one of Bob’s greatest gift to me was seeing him be gracious in the face of ignorance and even prejudice.  Bob knew who he was.  He knew his worth.  And people who couldn’t understand that simply missed out.  (We certainly chuckled together over their ignorance later!)  Bob was gracious to me when I made mistakes.  And I made some doozies.  Once I almost unintentionally let him smother, while I was standing right beside his bed.  As he gasped in big gulps of air, he simply said, “Just give me a minute.”  Later, he never mentioned it at all; eventually we were able to laugh about how I cried the whole way home.

One ordinary evening I tucked Bob into bed and wished him goodnight.  The next morning I got a terrible phone call and learned that my friend was gone.

I learned so much from Bob.  I still think of him often.  He has changed how I see the world, changed how I see others, changed how I see myself.

There’s a crooked fork in my silverware drawer…and there always will be.

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2 Comments »

  1. Just noticed this. Neat tribute to a wonderful man. I know you gained a lot from him, but he did from you also. That’s what friendship is-right?

    Comment by mom — April 26, 2017 @ 7:27 AM | Reply

  2. Beautifully written , beautiful story!

    Comment by Bethany — April 26, 2017 @ 11:24 AM | Reply


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