The Good Life: Grounded. Disconnected. But Grateful.

The Good Life: A Year of Thoughtful Seasons by Sarah Mattison Buhl

Sweetness of Strangers Gives Strength In A Crisis

A helping hand is so poignant and strength-giving when it comes from a stranger.

I was in Florida just after Christmas visiting my dad. It wasn’t an expected trip, but the emergency sort filled with last minute searches for one-way plane tickets, and feverish texting with family. At the time I was sick with worry, exhausted from lack of sleep and answers, and restless from endless hours spent waiting for doctors to share the tiniest crumb of news from this test result or that scan. Dad had been on vacation, but was ready to call it quits. He wanted to go home, and so did I. We wanted the comfort of our own beds, the warmth of our own coffee pots, and the familiar light from our own kitchen windows. We wanted to be exactly where we were before all of this discomfort and uncertainty happened.

It all started with the ambulance crew who assured me that they would call back as soon as they got him to the hospital. Captain Vagel kept his word, and called me from 1,000 miles away with the phone numbers to the emergency room. The cab driver who picked me up at the Fort Myers Airport 24 hours later asked, “What’s your name? Where are you going? What is your dad’s name?” As we sped toward the hospital, he said, “I’ll pray for you. It’s what I do.” At the hospital, the nurse hovered like a cheerful bee, assuring us that the doctor had ordered exactly what we needed to point us toward some answers. The hospital floor was clearly very busy, especially with the influx of northerners looking to revitalize themselves with orange juice and sunshine. This nurse was smiling every time we saw her. She was unphased, and I was glad. Dad’s doctor spoke several languages. English was not his first. I was surprised as I made plans to send dad back to Wisconsin for treatment, that he came out strongly saying “NO traveling.” His English was strained, but his intention was clear. So dad was grounded, and maybe I was too, worried about my three kids and the husband I had left behind in a flurry of laundry and wrapping paper. Dad was visited by a host of other doctors who came like ninjas without my ever seeing or hearing from them. More tests determined a blood clot in the portal vein, and blood thinner was started immediately.

The problem when you are far from home is that no one knows what is “normal” for you, and assumptions are made based upon appearance. I wore the same bulky winter clothes for days before buying a .99 skirt that said “Fort Myers Beach.” My appearance? Not so good. Dad couldn’t speak due to a former stroke, and the therapists questioned whether he should be alone. Yet he was too healthy for nursing care. His appearance? Vulnerable. Dad’s caseworker was a lovely woman in her 70’s who was a Boston native. I could hear it in her voice as she told me how the Boston traffic “invigorated” her, and how Florida was not the right place for her. She wanted to go home, too. She checked on us daily, and as dad regained his strength, she took note, overriding the worry and handwringing of others. She finally arranged for dad to leave the hospital, and my desperate husband booked me a plane ticket to leave immediately. I had hated that trip, hated Florida, and couldn’t wait to get home. Dad wasn’t so lucky. He had to stay to recover. The airport was packed, with many would-be flyers on stand-by. The gate attendant was busy, but had a spring in his step. He greeted every passenger by name as they boarded, and from where I was sitting, every traveler appreciated his hospitality. I know I did. I helped a woman board with a toddler and her diaper bag, as I have been in her overloaded situation many times over the years. She looked at me gratefully and said “the kindness of strangers…” Pay it forward, I thought I said to myself. She replied “I will.”

I cried as I boarded the plane. I cried for joy that my dad was going to be okay, for relief that this plane was headed north toward home, and with gratitude for the cast of strangers that made the worst kind of journey bearable.

[Photo credit: (cc) Jasonparreira]


Sarah Mattison Buhl

As a mother of three, Sarah appreciates the extraordinary beauty of the ordinary. She makes her home with her family in Northampton, MA.

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