During the Christmas season, I am thankful for all that I have. All that I have endured, and all that God has taught me on this wonderful journey called life. Today, I wanted to share an award-winning story I wrote years ago, during the Christmas season where I felt more like Scrooge or the Grinch, instead of who I really am. Sometimes, during the holidays unexpected situations occur where we respond and are changed for the better. The Wake Up Call is such a story and experience for me. Rushing to shop on Black Friday, I learned the true meaning of Christmas. Sharing. Loving. Taking the time to help others. Believing in God and the powers He shares with us every day. I hope you enjoy the story. Merry Christmas!
Arriving in Greensboro, I met Joan at Friendly Shopping Center. I parked the car in the first available spot and headed towards Hecht’s Department Store. I rushed across the congested parking lot waving to Joan standing by the door. The after Thanksgiving sale crowd was anxious for the doors to open, pushing, and shoving to get closer to the entrance. Joan and I moved aside to let an elderly woman in a wheel chair take our spot in line. This year, holiday sales and life in general meant nothing to me. I’d experienced the worst year in my life, watching my father melting away from the toxic poisons of esophageal cancer and chemo-radiation therapy.
“Crowds bother me,” I said. “I hate the rudeness of women when they’re searching for a bargain.” Joan nodded. I turned my back to the street, noticing the trees decorated with bright lights. With exception of today, I’d forgotten Christmas was less than a month away.
“How are you doing now,” Joan asked.
“Okay,” I said, a little too quickly. “The trees are beautiful this year.”
I blinked several times, my eyes glaring at the spruce trees, melting snow on the ground.
“Just okay, huh,” Joan said. “It’s been six months since he died. If you need to talk, I’m here.”
Tears danced in my eyes. I looked away from her stare.
When the doors opened, I looked over my shoulder. Something caught my eye. Perhaps the uniqueness of the moment, the after effects of stress, combined with my desire to disconnect from life, forced me to see things in a different perspective. Something was lying in the road. Someone probably dropped a jacket, I thought, ignoring my discovery.
“Joan,” I said. “I’ll meet you in ladies wear.”
Curiosity of the image in the road captivated me, so I stepped aside.
I didn’t hear Joan answer me. By now, there were hundreds of shoppers pushing and shoving into Hecht’s.
While shoppers rushed for the early morning bargains, my eyes refused to leave the road. As I moved closer, I recognized the item by the curb wasn’t a jacket, but an elderly gentleman.
“He must be drunk,” I mumbled, moving closer to him. What if he’s dead? I can’t do this. Not again. I dialed 9-1-1 on my cell phone.
My mind rewound, stopping at the memories and heartache of July, 1999. That Tuesday evening in July I was late arriving at Sandpiper Convalescent Center. When I placed my hand on the door of my father’s room, a nurse intercepted me. Nurses were rushing around Dad’s bed.
“Can you get a pulse?” I heard someone say.
“His daughter is here. What should we do?”
Nurse Angie joined me at the doorway. Her eyes locked into mine.
“No, “I screamed. “No! Please God, No!”
Nurse Angie sat me down. She didn’t need to tell me what was going on. I knew the day had arrived, and although oncologist specialists told me in 1997 that I needed to prepare myself, I wasn’t ready to let Dad go. I still needed him in my life. He couldn’t leave me now. Not now.
Nurse Angie whispered. “He’s a DNR. Do you want us to do anything?”
I knew the definition of DNR, and I did not want to disobey my Dad’s orders of do not resuscitate. “I- uh – I can’t override his decision. Not even if it means—.” I couldn’t finish the words. Since childhood, Dad was my lifeline. Always ready to cheer me up. Always ready to teach me things. He and my grandmother taught me about God and prayer. Dad was the provider who taught me to stand up for myself and to speak my mind – but gently. Dad was the one who beamed with a golden halo when I sang in the choir. Dad was the one who encouraged me to reach for the stars. Now, my shining star was getting brighter, only at the cost of losing my helping hand.
“Dear God, give me strength,” I prayed. “Take care of my dad. Use his talents. Let him know I love him.”
A screaming horn brought me back to reality. I stared into the eyes of a driver. “Get the hell out of the way,” the burgundy haired woman shrieked. “I need to turn.”
I walked over to her. She had body piercings in her eyebrow and nose. “I’m sorry to inconvenience you,” I said. “There’s a gentleman unconscious in the road. I’m not moving him until EMS gets here.”
“Yeah, whatever,” she mouthed. “I’m in a hurry.”
“Aren’t we all.”
I kneeled down, touching the elderly gentleman’s forehead, feeling beads of cold sweat. His hair was thin, salt and pepper gray. His face was weathered, hands wrinkled but firm. “Dear God please. Don’t let him die. Not today.” My face lifted to the skyline.
His hands felt like ice. His body was thin. A gray beard covered his face. He wore a gold wedding band . By now, curious shoppers were moving closer to us. Removing my coat, I covered him. A young man with spiked hair removed his leather coat, bundled it into a ball, lifting the gentleman’s head.
“Does he have a pulse?” He asked.
“I didn’t check.”
“It’s okay. I’m a medical student.” He checked for a pulse, nodding yes to me.
The gentleman coughed.
“Sir, what happened?”
“I fell. I’m sick. My wife, Bernice, wanted to be here early for the sale.”
“Where’s your wife?”
“I don’t know. I drove her here. I let her out by the door. I had chemo this week.”
I warmed his freezing hands with mine. “Chemo,” I muttered, understanding his weakness.
Joan stood next to me, touching my shoulder. “You okay?”
“Cancer,” I said. “You go shopping. I’ll stay with him.”
“Sirens,” someone said. “They’re coming.”
The man squeezed my hand. “Don’t leave me,” he said.
“Your wife. Where’s your wife?”
“She wanted to shop. She’s buying me some fishing tackle.”
“You must like to fish,” I said, hoping he’d remain alert. “Is there someone else we can call?”
“My grandson. Hank. His number’s in my wallet.”
The medical student found his wallet, dialed the number.
When EMS arrived, a pretty older woman joined us. She smiled at me and thanked me. “I’m Bernice. His wife. Thanks for helping him,” she said.
At lunch, I found myself able to talk. A sudden burst of adrenalin had me chatting non-stop about Dad’s terminal illness, forgiveness and death.
“When I was little, I was hit by a car. My Grammy said I was spared for a reason,” I said to Joan, sipping a steaming cup of coffee. “Until today, I never understood what she meant.”
“You really have a way with old people,” she said.
I laughed. “Not until Dad’s illness. I’ve never told you this, but my relationship with my parents wasn’t good. When they divorced, I was angry. Until Dad got sick, I couldn’t forgive them.”
I looked around the crowded restaurant. “Life is so short. So unfair. I guess I never took life and death seriously until Dad died. Now, I try to make the most of each day. I’ve started praying every night. That’s something I didn’t do for many years. I was living in a spinning wheel headed no where, until Dad’s illness.”
I laughed. “Thanks to cancer. I’ve never told you this, but my relationship with my parents wasn’t good. Until Dad got sick, I couldn’t forgive them.”
“Dad’s illness was a wake up call. His faith taught me to step out of that rat race and reach out to others. Two days before he died, I visited him like I always did. I didn’t want him to die without me there. On July 4th he was sitting in his rocking chair, reading the Bible. When he saw me arrive, he raised his voice, asking me what I was doing there. I thought he was angry, so I only stayed a few minutes. I didn’t visit the next day. Now that he’s gone, I realized he was detaching. He knew his days on earth were numbered. Maybe God spoke to him.”
“You were remarkable,” Joan said. The daily visits, the letters you wrote to his family and friends every month. The care you gave him. He was blessed.”
“I was blessed. People come into our lives for a purpose, and God brought Dad back into my life, forcing me to wake up. Rebuilding that relationship gave me the courage I need to live the rest of my life and to make a few changes. Just when we think the door has closed, God opens a window. What more can I ask for?”
My cell phone rang. The medical student shared an updated report about the gentleman in the road. He was stable. Bernice was by his side.
The experience of stopping to help a total stranger during that holiday season opened my eyes and heart to our purpose in life. Each life has a reason for existence. My grandmother always told me to look for rainbows when life gives us detours. As a child, I didn’t understand her wisdom. Now, older and much wiser, I appreciated her words.
When life brings rain, look for the rainbow. Grammy’s wisdom about God, along with my dad’s, was instilled forever inside my heart. This would be a Christmas to remember and cherish.
Born in Columbus, Georgia, Barbie Perkins-Cooper is a talented, award-winning writer of screenplays, fiction, non-fiction, plays, and over 60 articles for regional and trade publications. Many of her articles have appeared in regional trade and travel magazines, health and beauty web sites, and newspaper publications. She began her writing career as a child, publishing a science fiction story during third grade in Atlanta, Georgia. Her areas of writing expertise include fiction, non-fiction, articles, plays and screenplays. In 2001, she published a complex memoir based on her father’s battle with esophageal cancer. The non-fiction memoir is titled, Condition of Limbo.
As a writer of accomplishment, she works diligently to achieve her goals as a professional screenwriter and playwright. She was selected as a finalist in the teleplay category with her screenplay, the Commish…The Signature Rapist. Additional screenplays were selected as finalist for the Chesterfield Writers’ Film Project and the Goldie Film Awards, Fade In competition, The Writers Network, and America’s Best, The Writers Foundation. In February 2004, she was awarded the Grand Goldie Film Award for her screenplay, Not My Papa.