I first met Wilbur and Karen in January. They are about my parents' age and Wilbur was mad at me before he ever knew my name. We were out of Ribeye that night, and he was simply disgusted that a hotel such as ours would run out of an entree such as Ribeye. I tried to make it better with vodka, but it only worked marginally. He was ill. I will admit to plenty of muttering under my breath and thinking about what he could do with that steak knife...until his son walked up to me and said, "I'm sorry about my dad. My brother is in the hospital and he's really stressed out. He really doesn't mean it."
Immediately my heart melted and I felt the uncontrollable need to give them free cheesecake. That always helps, right? So the next night, when Wilbur and Karen returned, without their son, I talked to them longer and learned their other son, Eric, was in the hospital with aplastic anemia. He was 34 and facing the fight of his life. His brother had come to town to see if he was a bone marrow match as finding a donor would be his best opportunity for healing. Over the next few days I watched as the couple came rolling in each night, worry on their faces, determination in their voices, and Ribeye in their bellies. (High five to my hotel for actually getting their shit together.)
They kept me up to speed with the treatment Eric was getting at the hospital. He would need to be stripped of all of his bone marrow, lots of toxic medicines, days upon days in sterile rooms hosed down with bleach, and lots of endless question marks. His brother, sadly, was not a match, so he faced an aggressive treatment with only a sliver of hope on the other side. Every night, while he was sleeping in his sterile room, I fed Wilbur and Karen calamari and steak, vodka and wine. We talked. They asked about my life, which I felt almost embarrassed to share knowing they were going through such hard times. But I got to KNOW them. They told me how Wilbur's first wife (Eric's mom) had died in a car accident and how that had made Eric angry at God. But they KNEW that God would find him again and maybe this, the sickness and the fear, would get his attention. They talked about their granddaughter, their brilliant ray of sunshine, in such a gray world. They laughed as openly as a couple that had just come from the store instead of the hospital. They smiled and encouraged one another, and at some point, the LET ME IN.
What they didn't know about me, was that I was having my own struggles with God. I hadn't felt spiritually connected in a long time, and had really begun to question just how big God's involvement in my own life really was. They had no idea that as they talked about prayer and miracles that in my own mind I was questioning whether or not God really cared...or whether or not prayer would work...or whether it mattered at all. It was a spiritually dry place that had been suffocating my soul for months. And as they talked about their faith, on the inside I ached for it. Nevertheless, I said a few prayers for them...out of respect...out of affection...out of habit.
After a while they went home to West Virginia and every few weeks I would watch as they turned the corner into the restaurant, always nervous about why they were back, and always armed with wine and vodka for the purposes of either celebration or alcohol induced sleep, as the case demanded.
Last night something special happened. I was watching American Idol with Kenny, the Coors Lite drinker for Cincinnati, when I saw Wilbur and Karen come into the restaurant. I got nervous. Why were they back? What had happened? Was Eric ok? I watched nervously as they sat down at the bar, my eyes wide with anticipation of what they were about to say.
"You're back?" I asked anxiously.
"Yep! And do we have a story for you!" Wilbur said. "Pour me a vodka and get ready for this..."
I poured a glass of Grey Goose and Karen said, "We're not even staying at this hotel. You guys didn't have any rooms. But when we found out about this we knew we had to stop by and tell you."
And they told me the story of a miracle. Actually...several miracles. Several years back, Eric had a friend that died of Leukemia, and he was so inspired by her journey with the illness that he decided to donate stem cells. The stem cells were given to a family with a young child, also suffering from Leukemia. And then they were forgotten about. Now, unbeknownst to Wilbur, Karen, and Eric, his Dr. had been searching for those stem cells only to discover that they had never been used by the young child, because miraculously, the child had gone into remission. And miraculously, the family was found. And miraculously, they were willing to relinquish the stem cells back to Eric's Dr. And miraculously, those stem cells, which Eric had donated to save a life,
WILL BE USED TO SAVE HIS OWN.
Wilbur and Karen credit prayer and give God every ounce of glory. Eric has said he's ready to talk to his pastor again. And last night, behind the bar, with a bottle of Grey Goose in my hand, my eyes welled up with tears of celebration and silently I prayed,
Ok God. You have my attention.