This past weekend I added a new experience to my ever growing list, and it effected me in a very unexpected way. But wait, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself! Let me start from the beginning…
Stephane, as a part of his academic program, is required to do a certain amount of hours volunteering at a medical facility. He was assigned to a Medical Center right down the street from my house, that I didn’t even know existed, and I thought that it might be really nice to join him one of the afternoons he was there. I asked if I could tag along, and after getting the green light, I planned to spend part of my Saturday afternoon volunteering with him. It seemed like a really good way to spend part of the day!
The medical facility, Markaz Refui Raut, being very similar to a convalescent home in many respects, is a place that houses people in need of round the clock care. The elderly who have suffered, and are suffering, from strokes, injuries, and illness (both mental and physical), make up a majority of the residents, but there are also younger people as well who use the facility to recover from any number of conditions. Stephane has been volunteering there for almost 3 weeks now, so naturally he has told me many stories about the people who live within the facility walls, each one more fascinating than the next.
Saturday turned out to be a perfect, gloriously sunny and warm day, and when I arrived at the hospital I noticed that many of the patients were gathered outside surrounded by family and friends who were spending Shabbat visiting them. I immediately noticed Stephane sitting with an elderly man, and went over to discover that it was one of Stephane’s newly acquired friends who he told me so much about.
Mark is an elderly gentlemen from Russia, who, despite being semi-paralyzed on one side of his body due to a stroke, and despite not speaking the Hebrew language very well, had a spirit and sense of humor that could brighten anyones day. I could immediately tell why Stephane gravitated towards him, and it was just as apparent how fond of Stephane Mark was. To be honest, I think he was just so happy that a young person valued spending time with him. I imagine it could get very lonely spending day and night at a place like this. He lit up when Stephane was around and it was so honored to simply be around both of them.
After about 45 minutes I learned about Mark’s family, including his beautiful wife, son, daughter, and grandchildren (who apparently love to play on the computer), I sat and watched as Mark gave Stephane an informal Russian lessons (he is actually getting quite good), and then I was lucky enough to experience a moment that will remain with me for a long time; a moment that made me realize just how amazing my boyfriend truly is. About a week ago Mark told Stephane that his wife’s birthday was coming up. Unfortunately Mark is stuck in a hospital, and wheelchair bound, which makes gift buying almost impossible. Without being prompted to do so, and without wanting any recognition for doing so, Stephane pulled out a bag and handed it to Mark. Inside the bag was a teddybear holding a chocolate bar with a glass heart taped to the center.
Stephane explained to Mark that he was to tell his wife that he magically escaped the hospital to get her a gift because he loves her so much, but he was not to mention Stephane in any way. Stephane wanted Mark’s wife to think this came completely from him. He then took out a marker and helped Mark to write “I love You” in Russian on the glass heart attached to the chocolate. The look on Mark’s face when he received the gift was one that I can’t adequately describe with words, but it brought tears to my eyes. I had a flood of emotions in that moment that are hard for me to explain. I was in awe of the amazing thing Stephane did for an old man he barely knew, touched by how happy this made Mark, and singularly inspired by this single act of kindness to do, myself, more for others . It was such a wonderful moment to be apart of, and you would have been so proud of Stephane.
After the gift giving had taken place, Stephane and I decided to take a little walk around the facility. During my tour I met another friend of Stephane’s, an old Russian lady (who interestingly enough spoke very good English), a French man, and many nurses who insisted on telling me how lucky I was to have a boyfriend like Stephane! Don’t I know it! He is a very special man, and so many of his most wonderful qualities were magnified to an unimaginable degree during my visit. Not wanting to leave I decided to extend my stay and join Steph for a quick bite to eat, followed by an after lunch rest in the sun. Surprisingly the food was very tasty, and the view wasn’t too bad either!
After a post lunch rest in the sun, and almost 3.5 hours of volunteering, I decided it was time to say my goodbyes and make my way home. The battery ran out on my electric bike which actually gave me a decent amount of time to reflect on my day as I manually rode my bike home. I loved everything about being at the hospital, from seeing the joy on the patients faces, to feeling like I was actually making a modicum of difference in someone’s life. I loved seeing how wonderful Stephane was with everyone at the hospital (especially Mark), and seeing how much everyone loved him in return only further inspired me to take a page out of his book and do more for other people. They say the great staple of lasting relationship is to find someone who pushes you to be a better person, even if they don’t know they are doing it, and that is something Stephane does to me everyday.
But as much joy as I received from my work, I was also filled with sadness. There are so many people who are sick, old, in pain, and alone, and most of them just want to be at home or with the people they love. I saw patients crying for their homes, people who didn’t even realize where they were, little children with burns covering their whole bodies, young girls who needed tubes to breathe, while all the while thinking how happy I was that you never had to be in a place like this. Thinking what a blessing it was that up until your last two days you were comfortable, at home, surrounded by your family, and most likely watching Fox News! I didn’t think it was possible to miss you any more, but after that trip I felt a huge emptiness.
I miss you every second of everyday, and I love you to infinity and beyond. And to end this post on a happy note it is imperative to add new pictures of the baby! Because I know how much you loved seeing him 🙂
Until we meet again <3,