We met on the elevator. I had noticed him earlier, of course. He was hard to miss. I surreptitiously watched him eat breakfast with his daughter, wondering what their story was. We had a one-minute conversation on the brief ride from the first floor to the second, and then he was gone. I don’t even know his name.
This weekend did not go at all how I imagined it would. Saturday we were at a birthday party, the kids happily playing football outside until someone came in to tell me, “One of your boys got hurt.” Nothing new there. They’re always hurting themselves playing football. But this was different. My eldest was screaming in pain, barely able to move his leg due to excruciating pain. Fearing he’d popped his hip socket out of joint, we loaded him into the van and my husband made the 40-minute drive to the hospital nearest us.
As luck would have it, the X-ray showed a high femur break, and a pretty bad one at that. Now we’re talking surgery. So they consulted with a pediatric surgeon in a town with a bigger hospital. They transported my son via ambulance to a children’s hospital there, where they got him ready for surgery to put in a metal brace. The on-call surgeon came in and began the surgery shortly after 11:30 PM. There were a few complications during surgery, so it went longer than expected. By 3:00 they were done, but I still had to wait until my son was over the anesthesia enough to see me. We finally got to the room around 4:30, and I enjoyed a whopping three hours of interrupted sleep on a pull-out hospital couch with a plastic pillow.
I woke up with a terrible headache and a great feeling of self-pity for my son and myself. Of all the kids, it would be the one I don’t homeschool who has to be immobilized in a wheelchair at first and crutches after that. His basketball season is shot. No more playing outside in the field after school with his friends. And now I get to be nurse to the one who is usually the most independent of my five children. Sigh. Lucky me.
Thinking that some coffee might put me in a better frame of mind, I went to the cafeteria for some breakfast. And that’s when I saw them.
The father was ahead of me in line. From the way he spoke to the cook making his breakfast, I knew he’d been there many times before. And when I took my plate out to eat alone, I saw him sitting in the corner with his daughter in a wheelchair, her IV’s hooked up on a rolling cart. I couldn’t stop watching them as I ate. He took a picture of her on his phone. He put a blanket around her shoulders. His love for her was obvious.
As I looked around the cafeteria, I noticed kids with bald heads, kids getting pulled in wagons with pillows and blankets surrounding them, and kids pulling around IV carts. Suddenly, my own situation seemed very, very insignificant indeed. A broken femur is nothing to sneeze at, certainly, and I don’t envy my son in the upcoming weeks and months. But his leg will heal. He may miss basketball, but he’ll be okay in time for Little League. My son will live.
Sitting in the cafeteria, I started to cry. I went out onto the patio for some fresh air and the chance to cry freely. And as it happened, when I came back inside, the father and daughter were right there, walking to the elevator with me. He observed that I had been crying, and asked, “How are you holding up?”
That did it. I burst into tears again and confessed, “I’m not crying for me. I’m crying for you. My child is only here for a broken femur.” Words I never thought I’d utter.
He smiled sadly and said, “She is dying.” No time to mince words.
“I know,” I said, tears streaming down my cheeks.
“Her heart—they can’t do anything else.”
I could only nod.
“I’d gladly have her lose both feet just to have a healthy heart again.”
By now we had reached his floor, and he pushed her off, saying, “But God is good.”
How could I even respond to that statement? As the elevator doors were closing, I told him, “I’m praying for you.” And then he was gone. My parting words to him seemed so trite, so hollow and flippant. I’m sure he’s heard those words from other people hundreds of times. But there’s so much more I meant when I told him I was praying for him. I pray that God would give him and his family strength and, in time, His perfect peace. I pray that both he and his daughter have the assurance of eternal life in Jesus. I pray that even as they stare death in the face, they know it does not have the last word. For, you see, Jesus already won the final victory.
I reached the nurse’s station outside my son’s room, and his nurse could tell I’d been crying. She asked if I was okay, and I related the conversation to her. “I never thought I’d be grateful for a broken femur,” I concluded as I walked back into my sleeping son’s room.
The exchange was over, but I couldn’t get it out of my mind. As a matter of fact, I had a burning desire to find that father again, to say the things I hadn’t said, to explain what I meant by my assurance I’d pray for them. It became almost an obsession. So I did what I do best. I wrote. I wrote him a letter. I cried as I wrote. I wrote Bible verses of comfort and hope. I wrote hymn verses that speak of the resurrection. I told him I didn’t know if I would ever meet him again on this earth, but that my prayer was to see him and his daughter again in heaven someday.
When I finished, I felt much better. But now what? How could I find him again? I went to the morning chapel service hoping to see him there. I scoped out the cafeteria at lunchtime hoping to find him again. I watched for him at the magic show that afternoon. Nothing. So during a slow time at the nurse’s station I walked out to our nurse and asked, “Wanna help me go on a wild goose chase?”
Together we called the nurse on the second floor. After our nurse explained what was going on, she handed the phone to me. I described the father and daughter, and the other nurse knew exactly who I meant. She told me to give the note to my nurse, who would deliver it to her, and she would give it to the father. So we did just that.
I still don’t know who that man is. I don’t know how long he’s been here or how much longer his daughter will be with him. I haven’t the faintest idea what his name is. Nor does he know mine. But someday, someday, I pray that I’ll see him again. With his daughter. And if so, we’ll be together in heaven praising our Savior. With whole hearts.