The Woman with the Walker

I’m finding that “experiencing catharsis” (the purging of emotions) has been one of the keys to getting through this time as I find it to be very healing in a holistic way (Geesh…what a total “Hipster” thing to say, right?! I feel like I should move to Nashville, start wearing women’s jeans, grow one side of my hair long, and hang out at Starbucks all day with my I-Pad pondering life’s big questions…That description is a total shout out to my homey Savo btw..and I actually love Nashville, it wasn’t meant to be a cheap shot at the city…just hipsters). One of the best ways I’ve found that gets me to that place of “catharsis” is to watch a good movie (“good” being the key word there), so the other day I dragged RuthMom and Amy (actually they drove me so that’s not really true) to go see “The Descendants”, the new Alexander Payne film starring George Clooney, about a lawyer and absent father (and trustee of his extended family’s inherited land in Hawaii that he is being pressured to sell) who is forced to care for (and reconnect with) his two daughters as his wife lays in a coma after a severe boating accident. For anyone that has seen any of Payne’s films (Sideways, About Schmidt, Election), it’s directed with the same grace (and little contrivance) that so effortlessly tells the story of a “man” finally becoming a (true) Man. He also does it in a way that allows you to simply experience the story (meaning that you are no longer just watching). Also, like the rest of Payne’s work, it deals with some very tough/complicated (and even tragic) stuff but makes you laugh a lot along the way.

Watching a movie like this was actually a new experience for me as it dealt heavily with the issue of mortality and so it hit me in a way that most films haven’t before. I laughed and cried (a lot) and even cheered (at one part), and afterwards, I left the film feeling so good and relaxed (it almost felt like I had just had a massage…honestly) and since then I’m starting to see how connecting more to certain emotions is making a big difference in my recovery as well as in my daily life (and choices), so I thought I’d share a quick short story with you about a “cathartic” experience I had recently (if that’s cool).


Five days a week, Amy (mostly RuthMom actually) and I have had to muster up the energy to head over the massive hill (not to mention drive during LA lunch time traffic) known as the 405 (Carmageddon), and go to UCLA to get my head nuked. On top of that, the only free parking near the treatment center is about a half mile away, and on top of that even, I’ve been feeling a lot of fatigue from both surgeries and radiation, so (to say the least), after treatment, I’m not always up to making the trek back to the car. One day last week I was definitely feeling too fatigued so I asked RuthMom if she wouldn’t mind going to get the car and picking me up outside the treatment center. I took a seat on a bench just outside, and as I waited I chose to not do what I would normally do (which is put in my white earbuds…you know, the headphones that all of us own…and listen to music or an audiobook), and instead decided to try to sit there quietly (pray and process, etc). UCLA is a very busy place so it isn’t exactly quiet but since all this started I’ve learned some breathing techniques to help me relax me and I was eventually able to calm my mind.

As I sat there, the first thing I noticed were lots of “phone gazers” almost running into each other as they walked past me (there were two doctors that actually did bump into each other and I laughed out loud at them but then quickly felt bad ’cause I could tell that they were embarrassed…one of them did give me a nasty look actually, so I apologized and just told him that I’m a sucker for slapstick). At first I found myself feeling super annoyed (like “what is our world coming too?” annoyed) but I suddenly started to feel an overwhelming sense of conviction as I slowly realized that I’m not any different than they are. I’ve definitely had moments of being that head down (“I’ll just plow through this”), phone gazing, too buried in my “own self-importance to even care about what’s going on around me” type, but the problem is I find that behavior to not be only annoying (as you can tell) but in fact revolting. It goes against eveything I claim to be. I’m always striving to live in the moment, be kind, loving, courteous, courageous, servant hearted, and although I know that is who I am on the inside, I’ve often allowed life’s circumstances to suppress it down. However, life’s circumstances have changed for me now, so as I continued to sit on that bench now feeling convicted (and like I was just your stereotypical Christian hypocrite) I prayed for the courage to live from that place that pushes me to be a better man, and right as I was doing that, a middle-aged African American woman with tears in her eyes, and a phone to her ear (she also had the coolest dreadlocks I’ve ever seen) sat down next to me. Her voice was trembling and I couldn’t help but eavesdrop. As I listened, I quickly learned that she had just stepped out of the emergency room and was talking to her mother. I could tell she was struggling to break the news to her mom about something that had just happened and I gasped as I learned that her teenaged nephew (her mother’s grandson) had just been shot 15 times in a drive by shooting. As the woman continued to cry I felt the strong desire to approach her and just offer to do whatever I could to comfort her, but before I could do so she had already disappeared around the corner. Feeling somewhat helpless, I suddenly found myself absorbing all the woman’s emotions even though she was no longer there and I couldn’t help but cry a little. I quickly wiped my tears so as not to make it too obvious (I have no problem crying but I am a little weird about it in public).

As I finished wiping my tears, (as well as all of my excessive snot…I’ve always been a big “snot producer” because as I’ve pointed out before, I’m built “geek”) another woman sat down next to me. This woman was much different, she was caucasian, overweight, in her 60’s, and was using a walker. She definitely made her presence known because it took her a while to get comfortable and there’s something about that particular bench (probably because it’s so poorly made) that makes you feel every little movement that someone sharing it with you is making. I could tell right away that something was on her mind as she continued to fidget. I started to become a little annoyed by her struggle to get comfortable because it felt like I was sitting on one of those stupid playground toys with the giant springs that rock back and forth and are usually in the shape of a plane or a train or a McDonald’s character (I fell off one and bumped my head pretty bad when I was a kid so I think I was probably having some PTSD flashbacks or something).

Anyway, like I was saying, (read the next part in a Jeff Bridges “The Dude” voice) her fidgeting was ruining my “catharsis”, man, like total buzzkill, you know? Man. She did finally settle down though, and as she did, she pulled out her phone. I could hear her sniffling as she searched for the number she was trying to dial and as she put the phone to her ear, her sniffling became much more prominent, so I turned towards her and noticed that she had been crying as well. Whomever she was calling didn’t answer so she started leaving them a message and as she did so, she suddenly burst into tears, but it was much different than the previous woman (with the killer dreads), this woman (with the walker) was balling because she was trying to understand how she wronged the person she was leaving a message for. I had a hard time making out what she was saying exactly because she had a “wicked” thick Boston accent. She just kept saying “I don’t kna what I did wong” which I think meant “I don’t know what I did wrong” and slowly spiraled into a hysterical nonsensical mess (mascara everywhere). In my head I heard, “Do something, dude!” (I love that God calls me dude btw) but I found myself resisting that voice as I told myself, “No, Mom will be here in just a minute and the security guys won’t let her stay parked for very long.” The woman continued to wipe her face, then out of the corner of my eye I saw a huge snot bubble (it was so big it looked like she had one of those “bubble potion” bottles) coming out of her nose and it just so happened that I had some kleenex in my pocket, (I had some post nasal drip action going on, so I had brought it just in case) so here was my chance to “do something”. I took the kleenex and offered it to her and as she turned towards me I was a thrown off guard, (the shocked look on my face probably even offended her) because (besides the fact that she had snot everywhere) with all the mascara, she looked (and I mean this in the best way possible) a lot like Ursula from The Little Mermaid. She graciously took the kleenex and thanked me over and over again as I looked around to see if Ruthmom had arrived yet, I didn’t her so I turned back to the woman (with the walker), and introduced myself. She told me her name, but I couldn’t understand it through the crying and Boston-ese, and I leaned in and told her “Sorry, I couldn’t help but overhear, do you think it would be okay if I prayed with you?” She was a little hesitant at first because I could tell it was something very personal to her and I think she probably didn’t want to just open up to some complete (albeit handsome) stranger. One thing I should point out is that I’ve often questioned the importance of living out my faith an overtly “evangelistic” way (versus living by example) and I think it’s because I desire for that to always come from an authentic place…but I should also point out that when I do find that authentic place and allow it to guide me to being more overt with my faith, I have seen lives (including my own) transformed in powerful and (even miraculous) ways. This moment with the woman (with the walker) was coming from that place so I knew something cool was about to happen.

The woman (with the walker) stumbled for words a bit as I put my hand on her back. I think the touch was all she needed, because she suddenly broke down and told me every detail of what was going on with her. Again, her accent and hysterics made it pretty difficult for me to catch everything she was saying, but what I was able to decipher was that she had called her son, who lives in Boston, and he was (for some strange reason) upset with her over a misunderstanding regarding a package that she had sent him and was refusing to talk to her because of it. I know that I was only getting her side of the story, but in my eyes, the son was being borderline abusive and deserved some vigilante justice from “The Al-Exterminator” (he’s lucky he lives in Boston). My first thought to all this though was actually, “Someone’s nephew was just shot fifteen times in a senseless act of violence and here I am reaching out to some mother who is dealing with her bratty adult son instead.” As that thought left my mind though, the woman (with the walker) turned to me and asked me why I was at the hospital. I told her about the Cancer and the radiation, and as I finished explaining, her whole demeanor completely changed. This woman (with the walker), who at first resembled a Disney villain, was transforming right before my eyes into a caring, compassionate, and fully alive woman, (it literally looked like her face started glowing). I then looked around for somebody pulling a sword out a stone or a prince kissing a sleeping princess or something, because her transformation made it feel like I was living out the end of a Disney movie. We both were crying at this point and so we started praying. I prayed for reconciliation between her and her son and she prayed for complete healing and restoration for me (which I always love to hear people pray for me btw). As we said “Amen”, she thanked me, then kissed me on the cheek, and told me “You’re gonna be alright, Alex. Just don’t give up hope. Know in your heart that you’ll get better and you will.” I hear that a lot from people and although it’s definitely encouraging to hear, it just feels a little, I don’t know, naive, considering the situation (it makes me feel like I’m in the movie “Hook” where if I just believe, anything is possible for me…but let me tell you, I’ve tried believing that I could fly and it doesn’t work…at all…in fact it hurts…really bad). This time the words stuck though, because she went on to tell me that she was born with a serious heart defect and wasn’t expected to live past 2 years old and as she was growing up, she continued to baffle doctors with how well she was doing, her parents continued to pray for her and believed wholeheartedly that she was meant to live a long life, and as this woman (with the walker) got older she believed that wholeheartedly herself and here she was sitting next to me, a living miracle that is now 65 years old, newly retired, been married for 30 some years, has two grown sons (except one it a total spineless jerk), 3 grandchildren and the only thing that this heart defect ever did to her (other than strengthen her resilience) is require her to use the walker. I could feel a new resolve move and shake inside of me as I found her story hitting home with me, because not only am I too facing a chronic illness, but my grandmother’s (RuthMom’s mom — I called her “Gram”) also had a serious heart defect caused by rheumatic fever that was pretty much identical to this miracle (with a walker) sitting next to me. If my Gram didn’t have the same resolve as this woman (with the walker) did, I wouldn’t even be sitting there, because doctors told Gram that it could be life-threatening for her is she ever got pregnant (and it obviously didn’t stop her from having my mom). Gram also had a long marriage (my brothers and I called my Grandpa — “Grumps”), lived to be 62 years old, and got to see the birth of her 3 grandchildren (my brothers and I) as well. This encounter with the woman (with the walker) was definitely one of those experiences where both people involved were blessed by the experience.

I was so caught up in the encounter that I didn’t realize that RuthMom hadn’t arrived yet (it shouldn’t have taken her so long) so I told the woman (with the walker) that I should probably call my mom and make sure she’s okay, and of course, right when I was saying that, RuthMom pulled up with the car. I gave the woman (with the walker) my E-Mail address and told her that she could contact me anytime. She repeatedly thanked me as I walked towards the car, and as I sat down in the passenger’s seat, she yelled “You’re my angel, Alex!” and even though it feels so egotistical of me to even point that out, the way she said it really impacted me. She said it so sincerely that it didn’t feel like a Lifetime/Hallmark movie or anything, and because my reaching out to her came from that “authentic place” for me, I actually felt quite humbled by the comment. I then waved goodbye to the woman (with the walker) and turned to my mom who could tell I had been crying. “Is everything alright?”, RuthMom asked, “This woman was just going through a hard time with her son and I asked her if it was okay if I prayed for her.”, I responded. My mom then handed me some cookies from Diddy Reece and said, “Got you a little treat.” and I assumed that picking up the cookies was what made her so late, “Was there a long line to get these?” I asked. My mom responded, “No, there was no line…what made me so late actually was that there was a car getting towed in the garage and it was blocking the way out.” She then looked at me, nodded towards the woman (with the walker) and humbly said, “But it looks like I got here just in time.”