Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Perspective where you least expect it

I gave blood at the Red Cross donation center Tuesday, and a nearing 50 man named Kelly conducted the pre-donation run-through.

He pricked my finger to test my iron, took my temperature and my blood pressure and asked some questions.

He made small talk, too, although he seemed uncomfortable doing it. I wanted to tell him he didn't have to talk to me; I wasn't feeling all that social either.

But he saw the Runner's World magazine I'd brought with me and asked if I was a runner.

I was, I said.

So is my son, he said.

I nodded.

Where does he go to school? I asked.

Nebraska Wesleyan.

Does he like it? I said.

Kelly shrugged. "Quiet kid. Doesn't talk much."

Sadness sort of surrounded this man, but I felt like he was genuinely trying. I wondered if he liked his job.

Later, I asked how my iron level was. It was great, he said. I told him that was good because I'm a vegetarian.

"My wife was a vegetarian, too," he said.

I noticed the "was" but didn't say anything. He went on to tell me she worked in trauma at one of the hospitals here and the scenes there were what turned her off to meat.

But, he said, after they married, he convinced her to eat meat again. He smiled.

And then a few minutes later: "She died last year."


"I'm sorry," I said.

What else do you say?

So tonight I went to Wal-Mart, and the kid cashier was chatty.

I was buying Cold Duck, a kind of champagne, for Dane because Cold Duck spritzers were always Christmas tradition at his house. The kid asked me why it was called Cold Duck. I had no idea.

At his house, he said, family tradition to was to sit around and get drunk on rum and vodka.

When he was 4, he said, it was his birthday party and his grandpa was outside on the back porch drinking, though he was already drunk. The kid and his cousin, being kids, ran around and shot Grandpa with squirt guns.

Later, Grandpa got them back. He came INTO THE HOUSE with a garden hose, soaking everything. Even the birthday cake.

"He died last year," the kid told me. He was 70. But that's what you get, he said, for smoking and drinking every day of your life.

I offered something about 70 being a long life, as I plucked plastic bags from that stupid Wal-Mart spinner, wishing I'd remembered my reusable canvas ones from the car.

Then: "My step-dad died just last week."

I busied myself locating the debit card in my purse.

"He was only 35."

Heart attack.

"I'm sorry," I said.

What else do you say?

I'm fairly certain I've never had a stranger tell me about losing a loved one before, unless I was interviewing him or her for a story. Ever.

So if I believed in God, I bet I'd think this was some sort of sign.

Now, I have no idea what it means. Maybe just a strange coincidence.

Either way, I drove home to my husband and my son, healthy and reading Elmo books upstairs. I thought about Thanksgiving last week, the race I ran, the family we ate with and the others I talked to on the phone.

Everyone's healthy, fairly successful, mostly happy. That's a pretty big thing.

And I'm thankful for it, though sometimes I forget.

I'm going to work more on not forgetting.


Jeannine said...

Well said dear friend. Great to talk to you today.

bryan said...


I may bookmark this one for future use.

Jonathan said...


You've made my day.