When You Don’t Need a Wheelchair

I couldn’t help myself.  There was the wheelchair, soft and inviting.  Just for a moment, I thought, the airline would let me use it.  Nobody else was.

I had been flying all day, landing in Santiago, the Dominican Republic in the night—a night heavy with Caribbean heat.  For just a moment, I thought, I could catch my breath before heading through customs to meet my local friends.  Be careful what you ask for.

A burly Dominican grabbed me by the chair and began pushing me down the long corridor.  At first, I liked the idea.  How often I had envied those kids in the Costco shopping carts, young, innocent and entitled.  Just once, I’d wished to ride in a cart from one food-sample table to another, chicken-wing in one hand, ravioli in the other.

Then my airport ride got old.  I asked the man to stop.  I could walk the rest of the way.  He would not, and my run-away wheelchair careened through passport control, the immigration checkpoint and finally through the open airport.  People sympathetically watched as I cried, “I got it, amigo.”  Such empty words– the ones I would speak just before dropping an in-field pop-up in grade school softball.  “I got it, amigo.”

I was afraid that Yahindi, the woman with whom I had been corresponding for years, would see me as “damaged goods,” infirmed as well as old.

Yahindi in sight in sight, I jumped to my feet and ran toward her, a virtual Miracle of Lourdes.  The airport guy followed me.  To him, a good tip is a miracle too.  Healing is heavenly and priceless—or, in the Caribbean world, five bucks in the off-season.

In the Dominican Republic I have found love deeper than I have ever known.  It is more than love for one person, Yahindi.  It is love of God and life itself.  Sometimes one needs to be open to life’s possibilities, open to the beautiful face that meets you at a strange airport in the middle of the night.

Funny as it is, that story is a perfect metaphor for what has been happening to me these days.  Tired and needing rest, I stopped.  But someone or something pushed me forward, past the barriers that had defined me.  And finally I stood to walk on my own.

Watching old videos of my late wife Nina this summer, I have been reminded of that metaphor.  When I came here 20 years ago, I was tired and sought rest.  She proudly pushed me forward, past barriers and through gates, sustaining me while I couldn’t yet stand on my own.  Maybe she was controlling me.  But maybe she didn’t want to see me get hurt.  And maybe she didn’t want to lose me.

When my boss 20 years ago demoted me, I thought of quitting my job to live with my mother.  Nina taught me I was better than that.  And besides, she knew, my mother didn’t deserve it.

True enough.  I kept working and added to it teaching at College of the Redwoods.  If nothing else, I taught my students that they could be better too.  And for that lesson, they could thank Nina, a size-four Korean woman with a thundering voice and a big heart.

I thought of all that watching those home-videos this summer, Nina scouring Manhattan gift- shops to buy a tee-shirt for her dog Fiona.   “Tee-shirt for a dog?” asked the shopkeepers.

“She’s not a dog!” Nina would insist.  And once again, Nina was right.

I was sure that video would be forever lost in memory.  The family had clearly forgotten it.  Still, in faith, I assembled it.  That’s when the boss, my boss at CBS 17 said it needed to be on the air.  And so, KVIQ presents “Remembering Nina,” a half-hour commercial-free tribute to our spiritual journey with her.  Watch for it.

Sure, I have once in a while needed a push through life’s corridors.  As my dear friends, you helped me push myself through this one.  I’ll always be here just as Nina would have wanted.  But now I can stand—and walk, thanks to Yahindi.  Thanks forever.

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