By: Jill Fiore
I was scheduled for my weekly volunteer work at a rehabilitation hospital for the elderly on this particular Valentine’s Day. Though I did believe it to be a beautiful way to spend it, actually going in felt really challenging.
The joy of volunteering was always up against the sadness of seeing people in the pain. I did my very best to lift the spirits of the injured and recovering, most of whom were octogenarians plus, but even my bubbly personality was not always welcomed or appreciated. I had actually been told to “get out” on occasion.
I don’t put that much importance on Valentine’s Day when I’m in a relationship. I’m more of a “it’s a hallmark holiday” kind of thinker, as I’d rather get flowers from a special someone on a random day, just because. I mostly just look forward to the card in the mail from my dad which is always signed “Love, your first Valentine.” So sweet and so true.
This year’s Valentine’s Day was significant. The man I was dating throughout the summer and fall broke up with me exactly two weeks before Christmas. Though it was a break up I had been struggling to initiate myself and the relationship had run it’s course, it was abrupt, there was another woman involved, and I got hurt.
It set a particularly sad tone to my holiday season. Something I remedied with lots of great friends, booze, and decidedly steering clear of men. This Valentine’s Day was essentially the last leg of the crappy holiday run and I had a ‘can’t wait to get this day over with’ attitude.
I walked into a 90th birthday celebration taking place in the common area around a big, deliciously decadent cake covered with tons of sugary white frosting from a New York bakery. It was a gathering of people who both stay at the hospital and some visiting from a different community.
I was asked to join the celebration. Who am I to say no to a party or a piece of cake?
An exceptionally tall gentlemen was being tenderly escorted to a seat. I was introduced. ‘Big Ed’ put his hand out nowhere near my already extended hand was. As I reached over to meet his hand, he pulled me in surprisingly close to his face to get a look at me. I now understood. Big Ed was legally blind.
Big Ed was charming and funny. He had one liners and jokes from a classic generation. He was even a bit flirtatious considering the amount of years he was my senior, but it was harmless and endearing. He made me smile and he was awesomely old school.
Before the party wrapped up, I excused myself to carry on with my volunteer duties and said my goodbyes. Big Ed asked when he would see each other again. I assured him that there was “no doubt, our paths would cross again.”
I finished the day, grabbed my coat, and sat with my phone for a moment in the lobby of the hospital to coordinate cocktails with my best friend.
The elevator doors opened. Into the lobby comes Big Ed by himself with a white can, working his way towards the main door.
Admittedly, I was ready to leave and relinquish all my responsibilities for this day. But I had made a promise and that promise was immediately presenting itself as an opportunity. I knew the difference it could make for him.
I walked up and touched his elbow. “See Ed, I told you our paths would cross again….may I escort you out?”
Once again, he adjusted to a short distance between our faces.
“Lovely Jill! I would be honored.”
Unclear of how one without full sight could possibly get themselves around the bustle of this big city, I asked “do I need to call you a car?”
“Absolutely not. I take the bus. Always have.”
Nice. In a city of Ubers, Lyfts, and accessibility, this man stays true to his native New Yorker instincts. I was impressed.
“Ok Big Ed, let’s walk to the bus stop.”
“I am the luckiest man in New York,” he responded with true excitement.
I put my hand through his arm and he folded his cane. We walked out into the cold day making playful and genuine conversation. I told him how impressed I was with his mobility, and that most people with sight are lazy. He had a ‘nothing’s gonna stop me’ kind of attitude, it was truly inspiring.
We reached the bus stop and I offered to wait until the bus showed up. Big Ed asked if I was going to meet my boyfriend for Valentine’s Day.
“I don’t have a boyfriend right now.”
“Well then I would love to take you for a drink!” His old school chivalry stepped up to the plate.
“Thank you, I do have plans to meet my best friend.”
“Well another time then. Here, could you please hold this?”
I took the black plastic bag from his hand and he continued, “That’s for you, keep it.”
It was a half eaten heart shaped box of chocolates. I was touched to receive a unexpected Valentine gift after all.
Big Ed started feeling around at his pockets and his bag. “Uh oh. I can’t find my phone.”
“I can run back and see if it’s at the hospital. Do you want me to call it?”
“Yes, please” as he gave me the number.
After I pressed the call button, a low ringing came from Ed’s pocket. Without moving for the phone, he smiled widely and said, “Now I have your number!”
I laughed and commended him on the smooth moves.
I went to hug him goodbye and thank him for being my spontaneous Valentine. As I pulled away, he grabbed the outsides of both my arms and centered me, accentuating the importance of what he was about to say. He looked me directly and closely at me when he said “Jill, you’re so pretty, you can make a blind man see again.”
My eyes instantaneously filled with tears. I heard something I had not wanted to hear in months. Something I wasn’t able to believe because I was committed to feeling bad. I heard honest admiration from a man who was handicapped and exuded more confidence than most men. I heard what I needed to believe again, and could have missed out on if I passed on the day. I had an experience that snapped me into action, made me kick the dust off my boots and get my hot ass ‘back out there’ again feeling pretty, knowing what I’m worth, believing it, and radiating it.
I hugged him again tightly. “Thank you Ed. That is the best compliment I have ever gotten in my life.”