I remember being 9 or 10 and my dad picking me up for a weekend visit. He told me that he wanted me to meet this guy at the hospital where he worked. As I remember, he talked about the guy the whole way there – 3 hours! My dad was an orderly back in the day when hospitals had orderlys. He worked on the quadriplegic and paraplegic floor. I learned what those words meant because my dad worked on that floor. I didn’t know those words before that day.
Of course, since I was coming, my dad had the weekend off, but he wanted me to meet this guy so we went in anyway. I didn’t realize everything we were doing exactly but hospital rules required visitors to be 12 years old. I’m sure we went in the employees’ entrance and not the main visitors’ entrance. I remember a few key spots where we sneaked past at just the right moment to get to the right room. Then on the way out we walked slow and talked to people. Everybody talked to my Daddy!
Those days were also days when smoking was allowed in the hospital. When we got in the room, the guy I was there to meet was smoking. There was a tube and clip attached to the side of the bed that he could lean over a little and smoke. As I came in closer to the bed, I was eye to eye with him and the smoke was bothering me. He noticed, said, “Is this smoke bothering you?” and had my dad put the cigarette out.
The very last thing my dad had told me about this man before we came in to see him was that he couldn’t move his arms and legs by himself. My dad had talked about him for 3 hours without telling me that! He told me all these wonderful things about the guy but only mentioned that “minor” detail at the last minute because he didn’t want me to be scared. He was a quadriplegic because he got hurt saving his buddies in Vietnam; we were going into the VA Hospital.
I’m guessing that was about 1975 or so. (Saigon fell April 1975.) When I was standing eye to eye with this guy who was lying in a hospital bed and I was just short since I was 10, I saw the darkest skinned black man I had ever met. Of course, lying on white hospital sheets made the contrast more stark. The whole 3 hours my Dad talked about him, he had never mentioned his skin color. He just hadn’t got around to it because the other parts of his story were more important. After we were introduced the guy said, “Your Daddy loves you so much. He talks about you all the time. I feel like I already know you.”
My Daddy taught me that people are people no matter what. God breathed life into each one of us and *that* is why we care for them. Not because of how they treat us but because of who we are. This is just one story that shows how he taught me that by how he lived his life as a loving Christian who cared for others. He was an Orderly who had to do all the jobs no one else wanted to do which means he did everything for this guy. It was a time when in other places folks were being mean to the men and women who had come back from Vietnam. My dad was going out of his way on his day off to bring his little girl in to meet this guy – sneaking her in! What better way to say to someone “You are important.” “I care about you.” “Thank you for your service.” What better way to live your faith? To teach your faith? We don’t always use words to teach important lessons.