Friday, August 15, 2008

I'll never whine again

I need to be serious for a moment here.

I'm not just a master candle artisan, I also work full time in the service department of a motorcycle shop. Very manly. I smell gas fumes and listen to classic rock blasting through an 80s boombox about 40 hours a week, and I love it. It definitely keeps me in touch with manly men.

Today I met a REAL man, and I'd like to tell you about it.

We did some repair work on a cool six wheel utility vehicle a couple of days ago- It's like a four wheeler but with two more wheels in the back. The unusual thing about it was that the thumb throttle was mounted upside down on the left hand side of the handlebars, instead of the right hand side where it usually is. I've seen this before- Sometimes people have hurt their right hands or even had strokes that limit their ability to use the throttle, and this trick is a clever adjustment that lets them keep riding and working.

When the man who owned the 6 x 6 came in I told him what we did to fix his rig, then he shakily signed his credit card slip with his left hand. I walked out to help him load it up on his trailer, and we got to talking. After some small talk while loading it up, I offered to help him down off of his trailer, and he told me his story as he took my hand to steady himself.

In 1967, he got shot in the left side of his head, just a bit above his eye, while serving in Vietnam. The medics got to him right away, but they thought he was a dead man. He wasn't. He stayed alive to the hospital, where he was operated on. He lived, but barely. His parents were called, and told that their son probably wouldn't live, but even if he did he would never walk again, talk again, or have kids.

He survived, but had to go through years of rehabilitation. He had to learn how to talk again. He had to learn how to walk again. Strangely, even though he had been a speed reader before he got shot, he was never able to read well again. Some things came back all the way, while others, like perfect speech and full muscle control for the right side of his body, never did.

It's been over 40 years since the bullet took the life he knew. For the last 40 years he's been building a new life, and a damn good one. The doctors said he'd never have kids- He's had five, and is now a grandpa. He not only walks and talks, he's built his own successful transportation company, and you might have seen his trucks on these local roads if you live nearby.

As he was telling me about his life I noticed that not once did I detect the slightest bit of self pity or sadness in him. To be honest, there wasn't much of any emotion in his voice or face, just the sense that he thought this was a pretty good story that he was glad to be sharing. We finished talking after a bit, and he shook my right hand with his left and got in his big Dodge Ram truck and drove away.

For some reason, I felt like crying after he drove away. I knew that I was in the presence of a real man, and I was better and stronger for having talked to him. I also felt guilty for some of the emotions I've been feeling for a while now (not recently, mind you, my life is incredible now, for many reasons). I told my wife this story as soon as I saw her today, and I told her that if I ever start complaining about things to remind me of today.

A typical ending to this would be a "moral to the story"; a way to sum it all up with a lesson for all of humanity to follow to become better people, but I don't think it's that simple. If you read this you'll take something away from it, but what you get is up to you. Some will see a story of triumph and be inspired. Some will see a story of loss and struggle and be saddened. And some will read this and be mad that I didn't write something funny today, and take nothing away, and that's okay too.

So I'm going to sum it all up with this: Today I met a real man, and had a great day. Thanks for reading.


ZenPanda said...

That was the coolest post I've read in a while. Thank you for sharing.

Liz said...

That was a great story! Thanks for the reminder....that Life is Good!