A few months ago, I was watching an interesting Cardinals game. We take our baseball seriously in St. Louis. I compound the problem because I was raised by a baseball fanatic who kept score even when he was not at the game, and insisted that the radio volume had to be just so when our team had the lead, and at a different level when we were behind and trying to stage a rally. The sport reminds me of my youth and brings back many fond memories. I tend to take the sport a bit more seriously than any rational being should.
It was the bottom of the seventh and we were in trouble. Our eighth inning ace was brought in early. As he finished his warmup the phone rang. Call waiting informed me that this was an out of town number. Although these calls are almost always for marketing and fund collection purposes, and even though the action was to start soon, something told me that I should answer.
“This is Dr. Garriga.”
“Is this Paco?”
Good news: this is someone who knows me. I feel glad that I decided to take the call.
“It’s Gina Cummings.” (I have not asked her if it is OK to use her name; I have changed it).
A giant wave of memories comes crashing down on me. Half of me cannot believe what I hear.
“THE Gina from med school?” I ask.
“You remember me?” She sounds excited.
Do I remember her? How could I ever forget? Gina went to high school in rural Missouri. She was a bright, popular, successful student. During a student outing, the car that she was riding on was involved in an accident. Gina was never able to walk again.
After a long and excruciating recovery Gina decided that she would become a therapist, in order to be able to help other people who were in the same situation that she was in. Wheelchair and all she finished college and was accepted to the therapy program at our med school. They only accepted a few students a year. It was considered a highly competitive slot.
There was one (major) problem. The therapy building had two stories and no elevator. Classes were held on the second floor. All the students were female; none of them was built strongly enough to carry her up the stairs. Our med school class was recruited.
One of my classmates made a few calls. Within minutes he had made up a schedule to cover five days a week. My day was Tuesday morning. At 8:50 I would carry her up the steps; shortly after noon I’d bring her down. She was slender, and she had a way of molding her body to her helpers that made it easy and effortless to accomplish the task.
As the weeks went on, I got to know her better. She was the first to arrive at the parties, and one of the last to leave. Always in the middle of the dance floor. Always engaging with others. She wore a perennial smile. She was great with patients and kind with classmates. After a while I never saw her as a “different” person. She was one of us.
I lost track of her after she graduated. But I never forgot her story.
“Do I remember you? Are you kidding? You were a huge influence in my life!”
She thanked me. We spent the next few minutes catching up on our lives. She married a wonderful man; had children; was successful in her career. She had just retired. Once we were up to date she paused; her tone of voice became more serious.
“I’m calling all of the guys who helped me. It took me a while to find you.”
“That was a good bunch of people,” I said.
“I know. I wanted to call all of you to thank you for what you did for me.” I was touched.
“I’m glad you called, but it should be me that called to thank you. You taught me so much, and the beauty of it is that you were not even trying. You were being you.”
We spent a few more minutes talking about teachers; geography; weather; children. We exchanged e-mails and hung up.
I went back to my game. We got out of the inning unscathed. The game was almost over. I looked around my living room, fixing my sight on the possessions that look so good and that seemed so important a few minutes ago. I turned off the TV. Maybe tonight was made for reflection and gratitude. There will be another game tomorrow.