My grandfather "wasn't doing well" during the summer of 1990, back when people had just started saying the word cancer in octaves higher than a whisper.
His cancer had advanced to the point where it became time for a nursing home -- and where my grandmother was determined to visit him every day, despite the fact that she didn't drive.
Undeterred, my grandmother took a maze of public transportation in Philadelphia to reach the nursing home -- one bus, two buses, three in all. Maybe she boarded the subway, too; my memory of her exact route is fuzzy now.
What's crystal clear is that as she navigated her network of tracks and wheels, returning home to her gritty neighborhood long after dark, she was teaching me something about love.
While this was happening, I was a self-absorbed college student with a bit of a messy love life. I bemoaned walking across my suburban college campus in a light drizzle, while my grandmother was taking three buses each day in all kinds of weather just so she could spoon-feed my grandfather his dinner and be the last person to wish him a good night.
That there, I realized, was love.
So I looked at the guy I was dating and asked myself if he was the type who would ride three buses every single day just to give me a can of Ensure as I was dying. And the answer was ... eh, not likely.
As these things sometimes go, another guy was biding his time, waiting in the wings. I asked myself the same question: Is this someone who I thought was Three-Bus Worthy? Who thought I might be Three-Bus Worthy?
This time, the answer was ... maybe so.
That guy became my husband. Recently, he had his own health scare, during which I realized that my grandmother's Three-Bus Worthy lesson had become a legacy.
Like in any relationship, my husband and I have had situations where the other's Three-Bus Worthiness has been proven. At other times, we've been stubborn enough that we didn't even want to take three steps -- let alone three damn buses -- to reach the other person's side.
At the end of the line, each one of us is on a journey and a ride in life similar to the one involving my grandmother's three buses. Because let's face it: Life is tough. When the big stuff comes calling -- like a spouse getting cancer, or any myriad of things that can befall a person -- that's when you find out just how Three-Bus Worthy someone really is.
And if you're lucky? It's the person who has been sitting beside you during the whole ride.
Melissa M. Firman of Cranberry, a fundraising professional, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published February 8, 2013 5:15 AM