A patient told me a haunting story.
Forty years ago, a young man from New York had occasion to order a piece of machinery for his boss from a company in Virginia. The young woman he spoke to was engaging and very helpful. One thing led to another and they started chatting on the phone as the piece of machinery was being built.
When the job was done and ready for shipment, the young man prevailed on his boss to allow him to go in person to make sure that the machinery was up to the expected standards. When he told the young woman the plan, she was delighted and offered to meet him at the train station. She would then personally escort him to the plant.
“How will I know you?” The young man asked.
“I’ll be wearing a red dress.”
When the train arrived, just as promised, a pretty, dark-haired woman wearing a red dress was waiting for the young man. As he descended from the train, she smiled and waved from her wheelchair. The young man, who had no idea that she had suffered from polio and had been wheelchair-bound from the time she was a child, fell instantly and irrevocably in love.
They married, raised a family, and had a wonderful relationship.
My patient, who just recently met the now 62-year-old lady with the red dress and her husband for the first time, said with a sigh, “They were in love.” He sighed again. “Most of us married people love our spouses, but this was different. They were obviously still as madly in love as when they first met on that railroad station forty years ago.”
So why do I, a person who has never seen or met this lady-in-red, also love her?
I love her positive attitude and her ability to accept what she couldn’t change and still make the most of her opportunity to have a good life. It is what I want for myself, my wife and children, my friends and my patients. The woman-in-the-red-dress never defined herself as a woman in a wheelchair with polio, but only as an attractive, intelligent, exciting person who never bothered mentioning the fact that she was impaired because in so many ways she wasn’t.
The story is for me what love stories are all about. Love, mystery, spirituality and the magic of the human condition. It is what I believe in, what I write about, and what I dream about.
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