Friday, June 6, 2014


A couple of days ago I was taking my early evening walk along Minneapolis’s beautiful East River Parkway. Half a block ahead, in front of the Shriners Hospital (for children with severe muscle, bone and joint conditions) I noticed a young family sitting on a bench near the sidewalk—a pair of pretty down-and-out-looking parents and a seven- or eight-year-old boy in a wheelchair, one leg heavily splinted and jutting out in front of him.

Just then, I was passing a lovely Japanese lilac bush in full, fragrant bloom. On a whim, I stopped, reached in and broke off a single stem.

Thirty seconds later, I’d passed the family, said nothing and still pinched the lilac spray between my thumb and forefinger. It seemed to wilt as I looked down at it. I’d let my chance pass me by, a chance to hand the boy the flower, wish the family well and maybe brighten the day for all of us. I spent the rest of the evening pondering why.

The reasons—involving, I suppose, body language, lack of eye contact and perhaps a bit of shyness—made sense, but, in the end, they were far from relevant enough to salve my regret.

One just doesn't get chances like that again.

     He lifted it to his nose and, as if the sweet 
     scent had just inflated his cheeks, beamed.

Yesterday I took the same walk again. I wondered what the chances were of seeing the same family again. This time, though, there was no one at the bench. So I’m not sure why I once again stopped at the lilac bush and cut another spray; I didn’t give it much thought.

As I passed the bench, I couldn’t see a soul anywhere on the hospital’s sweeping lawn. I wondered about the boy, how he was doing today, and whether he’d be able to live a normal life. Just then, as if materializing out of my very thoughts, the family appeared from behind some trees, turned onto the sidewalk and headed toward me.

What a gift!, I thought. How often does one get a second chance at doing something spontaneous? Had my thoughts—or perhaps my instinctive cutting of another flower—somehow caused these folks to appear out of nowhere?

This time I wasn’t going to let the moment escape me. “Hello…lovely evening, isn’t it?” I said to them all. Then I bent over and looked down at the boy. I tried to imagine what his life has been like dealing with whatever had brought them to Shriners; I pictured him soon laughing and running with his friends.

My words were, I’m afraid, far less articulate than my thoughts. “Hi. How are you?” He turned a slightly wary expression my way, a drop of his Coke lingering in one corner of his mouth. “Good,” he replied flatly. I smiled and handed the lilac to him. He lifted it to his nose and, as if the sweet scent had just inflated his cheeks, beamed. 

Lacking the right words no longer seemed to matter; our exchange had been most articulate, most complete, without them. And I was grateful, not just for the fates bringing us together, but for their having done it twice.

I still don’t know how the boy and his parents suddenly appeared out of nowhere, but I’d like to think it was preordained, yet another lesson in how the simplest bud of impulse, when honored with one’s full intention and presence, can blossom.


jean said...

I love it when those kinds of things happen----really makes me believe in angels :). I am so glad that you were given a 2nd chance!

Jeffrey Willius said...

Right you are, Jean. There are angels everywhere. They're there whether we believe in them or not; believing just gives you magic glasses that let you see them!

Vishnu said...

A lovely story and I too am glad you had a second chance, Jeff. I've been in situations like this where i could have said something, offered something or simply smiled at someone. then regretted and hoping I could catch them again. These coincidences don't happen that often (where you saw them again) but these small miracles do happen. Glad you were able to have the exchange the second time around and share a moment of humanity and compassion with this family.

Jeffrey Willius said...

Thanks, Vishnu -- Judging from your thoughtful, inspired cyber-presence, I'd say you're no slouch when it comes to seizing those FIRST opportunities! It is a joy that we are of like mind, my friend!

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