74: Teacher in a Wheelchair

74: Teacher in a Wheelchair

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Hope & Miracles

Teacher in a Wheelchair

A few years of trouble, ten thousand years of bliss.

~Chinese Proverb

Hobbling across the parking lot like a crippled old man, I was feeling mighty sorry for myself. My injured back was not getting any better, and I had begun to wonder if the constant pain would ever go away. The doctors and surgeons, specialists and therapists, chiropractors and acupuncturists, pain pills and cortisone injections, spinal manipulation and electrical stimulation did not seem to help me, and my insurance coverage and savings account were both running out. Therefore, I was being “shown the door” and left to battle the problem alone.

Such was my mindset as I entered the grocery store in Durango, Colorado that afternoon to pick up a few things on my way home. Walking down the aisle, I spotted a young man in a motorized wheelchair. His entire body was twisted and deformed. Something horrible had happened to him, possibly while still in the womb, and as a result his arms and legs and torso and neck were all curled around each other. Everything was completely out of whack.

Well, not quite everything . . .

For right behind the boy stood his mother, a small blonde woman with a round and gentle face. Blissfully shopping for groceries while simultaneously operating the control stick at the rear of the wheelchair, she seemed to be moving in some sort of sacred synchronicity with her son as if they were one living being rather than two.

I could see the whole story with just that first look. The early signs of trouble, the worry, the diagnosis, the confirmation. The silent agony, the growing darkness, the “Why me, Lord?” questions. The endless doctor appointments, the operations, the ever-ongoing therapy. And yet also plainly apparent was that stubborn, steely, never-say-die attitude.

Because, you see, that child needed help, lots and lots of help, and his mother gave it to him. Simply, freely, unconditionally. In essence, his suffering became hers, and her joy became his. Something was being shared here, exchanged here, transformed here. It reminded me of a scene in the movie Resurrection where the healer cures a crippled woman of a similar affliction, but then temporarily exhibits a grotesque contortion of her own limbs, even as the patient stands up for the first time in her life.

This marvelous film from 1980 starring Ellen Burstyn is based on a true story about a woman who almost dies in a car crash, but then somehow returns from Heaven with the ability to lay hands on sick people and heal them. When pressed to reveal exactly which God or entity enables her to perform such miracles, she describes it simply as “the power of love.”

As I neared the woman and her son in the wheelchair at the end of the supermarket aisle, he appeared to be trying to say something, but it wasn’t easy for him to do. His mother leaned down to listen, and then suddenly both of them burst out laughing! Whatever he said was obviously outrageously funny, and the two of them enjoyed a good long belly laugh together.

Normal, healthy, able-bodied people walking past must have wondered what these poor souls could possibly have to laugh about, and yet laugh they did. Unrestrained, unashamed, unstoppable mirth emanated from them both, as if they had not a single care in the world.

Instead of a hundred of them.

As I passed this tender scene, my mind ran down a list of things that the young man had never done, and probably never would do. Yet he seemed, at least for a precious minute, to be happy. I suddenly found myself in a totally different frame of mind than the pitiful one I’d known only minutes earlier. For as I walked around the store—on my own two legs—and carried my groceries—with my own two hands—and prepared to leave—all on my own—I stopped moping and feeling sorry for myself. My back problem no longer seemed so serious, so worrisome, so capable of ruining my entire life. In fact — almost miraculously — I could scarcely feel it anymore.

Just before heading out the door, I glanced back and saw the young man in the motorized wheelchair approaching the checkout stand with Mom right behind him. Although no longer laughing out loud, both had serene looks on their faces in spite of the enormous lifelong affliction that they shared. For the two of them, together, had discovered the key to happiness.

While I was still learning.

~Curt Melliger

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