I see him around town sometimes. The other day he was in our neighborhood coffee shop where I heard the lady behind the counter call him Ray. He looks to be in his thirties with brown hair and always wears neatly-pressed khakis and a flannel shirt. A red bandana is usually tied around his neck.
Whenever I see this man, I’m struck by his courage.
Ray sits in one of those high-tech wheelchairs that support not only his legs, but back and head.
The coffee shop was quiet that mid-afternoon, two days after Christmas. A few people were scattered about, myself included. Once settled, Ray’s aide, a small African-American woman, handed the lady behind the counter a loaf of bread. I wondered if it was gluten-free or easier for Ray to swallow.
While waiting, he and I happened to look at each other. I smiled and he gave a shy smile back. In a few minutes his sandwich arrived, cut into four neat triangles. It looked like tuna fish. He said thank you in labored speech.
I sat at a nearby counter, eating my egg and cheese, wondering what had happened to him. Was it Illness? A car accident? Was he born with this affliction or did it come later in life? I wondered if the red bandanna hid a medical port. How is it to go through days always at the mercy of others?
Ray slowly fed himself while his aide chatted on her cell phone. The coffee shop was full of tinsel and garland strung around the ceiling. Something about guinea pigs played on the television, switched to the Animal Planet.
Like many of us, Ray probably just wanted to get out of the house. Perhaps he wanted to feel part of the world, something I understand. I wondered where he lived and who he lived with? Does he get lonely, even though he’s surrounded by helpers?
A few minutes later, I finished my meal, taking one last glance. He sat watching the television, a piece of sandwich in his hand.
I walked to my car but couldn’t help think how bravery’s defined in many ways. In the movies it’s often with gun-toting macho men, coolly walking away from bombs detonating ten feet behind them.
But there’s another kind of bravery, the kind that touches me most. It’s the quiet courage needed to muster through another day with a body that doesn’t work, the kind of fortitude it takes to be different, of having to put up with stares and questions.
For some people, the simplest things, like going to the neighborhood coffee shop is an act of will and strength. For some people, going anywhere is an act of courage.
Every time I see Ray I’m struck by how remarkable he is. I hope I see him again. He doesn’t know it — and would probably be surprised if he did — but he’s become one of my heroes.
Do you have a Ray who inspires you? I’d love to hear. And by the way, check out a similar post I wrote back in May, inspired by the late Maya Angelou called “Still I Rise.”
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