The first time I had cancer, there was a two week period when I was really sick. I was going into the latter half of treatment so I was prescribed different chemotherapies and anti-nausea medication. The anti-nausea medicine had a side effect that raised blood sugar which, having Type I Diabetes, posed a problem for me. The high blood sugar affected my ability to eat, not eating induced nausea, thereby increasing my need for the medication. Add to that the common cold and I had a perfect storm of illness that kept me grounded and surviving on pretzels and diet ginger ale.
When I started to feel better I was grateful for hunger pangs, but I knew I had to choose wisely. I had been sporadically pacing my 30 foot apartment to maintain some strength so I felt cautiously optimistic about venturing out. I settled on a trip to the Chinese restaurant for wonton soup. The idea of the warm, salty broth was appealing and each wonton could be its own little meal over the next few days. There were two restaurants nearby, one about three blocks away and one about six blocks away. I opted for better quality food six blocks away.
After being stagnant in my apartment for so long, the liberation of being outside was dizzying. I was blinded by the spring sunshine and took deep gulps of fresh air. I took my time. I moved so slowly that elderly, cane carrying women were leaving me in their dust.
About 45 minutes later when I was on the way back I was drowning in regret. The sun was beating on my bandana covered head and the quart of soup was becoming too heavy for me to carry. I concentrated on each tiny step, pushing away fear and the impossible reality of four more blocks until I was home and safe. I was lost in my own misery when a voice from the shadows materialized: It’ll get better baby. The speaker was a homeless man finding his own solace in the shade of the subway entrance. Tearfully, I thanked him.
What must I have looked like to compel this man to offer me comfort?
This vagrant was a regular at this station. Brown and scrawny, he moved through the station folded as if prepared to snatch up any coin he may come across. It wasn’t long before this that he asked me for breakfast money.
I couldn’t avoid thinking about the judgments people carry about one another.
In that moment my body was wrecked and my spirit was shattered. No stranger to suffering, this drifter had the humane presence to recognize my anguish and provide words of encouragement and the support I needed to carry me home. It was the kind of humbling experience that stayed with me and reminds me to be grateful for all of the good fortune that is so often taken for granted.
I don’t see the homeless man anymore.
But he taught me a valuable lesson that day about the perception of human hierarchy and I’m proud that it’s part of what makes me, me.
What makes you, you?
Pivotal Moments is a collection of experiences that contribute to who I am. Have you considered what makes you, you?