Allies and Stanwix: a postscript
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Her name is Debbie Kalbfleisch. That she was able to pass along something as simple as her last name provided the ending I needed for this year. She is a legal secretary. She will be one again. I wish I could type and applaud at the same time.
Three weeks ago, I was on the 36A Mt. Lebanon bus, heading into town just before dawn. We hit her as she crossed Stanwix Street. The bus broke her skull and ribs. I was knocked out when the sudden stop threw me against the inside of the bus, and when I got out, she was gone -- ambulanced away. All that remained at the scene was a red stain on the pavement and talk that perhaps she would live.
The accident haunted me. I had long ago realized life is fragile, but now it seemed infused with a taunting capriciousness. I'd come in early to buy tickets to a play, which meant I didn't pull the cord for my usual stop a block before Stanwix. If I'd done so, the 36A would have pulled over and paused long enough to let me off. Debbie would have been well across the street before the bus turned the next corner. But I was in a hurry. We are all in such a hurry.
Debbie's letter arrived last week, thanking me for what I'd written the Sunday after the accident, and telling me she'd be fine. I phoned her.
"I remember almost reaching the curb," she said. "The last thing I remember seeing is the bus right on top of me." When she awoke in the street, she didn't know how she'd gotten there. It was still dark. In the coming hours, her memory returned in pieces: the drive to town from her home in Ellwood City; her walk toward the law office where she's a secretary; people standing over her as a bleeding head left a widening stain in the middle of a street.
We compared notes. I got home midday. She got home midweek. She had a broken skull, fractured ribs. I had no fractures and three stitches.
"You actually got more than I did," she said. "I didn't have any stitches. They just decided to let nature take its course."
It will take nature some time. She's had a bad blow to the head and won't be back to work until the middle of next month at the soonest. Getting hit by a bus is no small bump.
Ten years ago on this date, I lost one of the two closest friends of my youth. His name was Bill Giltinan. His father and mine had been friends in their youths and when Bill and I met in 1970, we were astonished at how well we got on. He taught me to drive and we spent long hours just driving, talking: politics, art, religion, music. Late in life, he became a priest, then a hospital chaplain and, as a strange and inexplicable liver disease set in, he became the bravest patient I have known.
On Christmas Eve 1995 I stood outside a hospital in Oakland, where a transplant was doing nothing for a friend who would die before I got home, and I asked aloud where to find all these miracles we hear about.
A decade later, my anger dulled, it occurs to me that we get our miracles upfront. They do not come in the shape of death forestalled, but as life conferred. The trick is to recognize them at the beginning.
Just getting through the day might be miraculous. Just getting across the street might suffice. Just getting here might have been something more profound than we could have imagined.
Two weeks ago in this space, I wrote of wanting to picture Debbie with Christmas shopping in her arms and meeting friends and strolling the holiday streets. She will -- maybe not this Christmas but next.
"I'll just celebrate it at home," she said.
I don't know where Christmas is likely to go better.
First Published December 25, 2005 12:00 am