Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The Real Thing

For the past two years, I have been visiting Stephanie, my manicurist/pedicurist, the greatest import from Vietnam since Chao Tom. It's become a necessary part of my life...the one nice treat I allow myself each week. I slip me feet in to the warm, whirling water, switch on the massage chair and let the stress of my life wash away.

It's a busy storefront salon, hardly conducive to relaxation, but I've learned how to tune almost everything, and everyone, out. I pay no mind to the typical salon gossip, and I barely take notice of people when they walk in the door. Sometimes I'll recognize a familiar face, and I'll smile politely and say hello, but it's my personal time and I try to keep to myself.

This past Sunday was a particularly quiet day at the shop. When I heard the door open, I looked up and saw a woman, small and frail, struggling to walk in. A man was helping her, supporting her every movement. I recognized her, but knew I hadn't seen her in some time. She was pale, and her hair was very short and thin - the unmistakable sign of someone going through a nasty battle with chemotherapy.

She and her companion sat down in the waiting area. I watched him gently remove her coat and open a bottle of water. She was so weak that he had to hold it to her lips so she could drink.

While polishing my nails, Stephanie explained that the woman was a long-time client of hers. She had been diagnosed with cancer and one of her lungs had been removed. The man, her husband, drove her to the salon once a week, and sat patiently as she received her manicure. I couldn't help thinking that it was the one thing she could still do that gave her some sense of femininity...of normality in a life that had been turned completely upside down.

When Stephanie had finished with me, I moved up near the front of the salon to sit and wait for my polish to dry. I watched as the woman's husband walked her to Steph's table and slowly help her sit. He came back up to the waiting are and began reading a book. A few minutes later, she called him over. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but what I saw will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Her nose was running. Weak and beaten, she was unable to lift her arm to wipe her own nose. He pulled a tissue from his pocket, wiped her face, kissed her forehead and then sat back down to read. I had to turn away so he couldn't see me crying. I didn't want either of them to think what I was feeling was pity.

How often does one get to witness an act of pure love for another human being? Even something as undignified as wiping someone else's nose can be an expression of total devotion. The truth is, love isn't what you see in the movies. Sometimes it isn't pretty. It can be difficult and painful. I can't help feeling, though, no matter what hell that couple has been through over the past year, that they are two of the luckiest people in the world. Why? Because they know for certain they have what so many of us search for and never find...the real thing.

Thank you, Cindy, for making me see that it does exists. You'll never know how grateful I am for that.

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