The other day, as my wife and I commenced the weekly pilgrimage to the grocery, she insisted on going to a store other than where we usually shop.  She wanted a new hanging plant for the front porch, and one of the chain groceries has a plant department that would put some flower shops to shame.  I nearly argued with her.  Where she wanted to go, what costs a hundred bucks will almost always be ten dollars cheaper at the usual place, and besides, I've finally learned where everything is.

I held my peace though.  I do love watching that woman fool with anything that grows out of soil, and three to ten bucks ain't a lot to give up if it makes happier a woman who has so enriched my life.  As it turned out, by going to this more expensive store where I can never find what I'm looking for, I saw me a miracle.

A real one.

As I rolled a cart down some aisle or other, wondering where in the world the cat and dog food might be, a youngish looking man in a wheelchair said, as I squeezed past,  "Hello, stranger."

It was an appropriate greeting.  I had not a clue who the guy was, and for a moment assumed he was just an overly-friendly type who  "howdies"  anyone who looks in their direction.  But there was an odd familiarity about him, something that made me wonder if the highly improbable might be true.  I doubled back and queried,  "Is that you, Billy?"

It was Billy, clean-shaven and unponytailed from an over-long stay in several hospitals.  The lack of hair is why I didn't recognize him.  He looks ten or fifteen years younger without it.

Billy is someone I admire tremendously.  A retired Air Force career man, he was one of the first people to sign up when I began teaching writing workshops, and is one of the most gifted  "natural"  poets I've ever encountered.  He's got no formal training as a writer, but has a profound grasp of what poetry ought to be.  Billy lives in the next county over from me, but he was a regular in workshops he drove thirty miles to reach.  But this past winter, after two years of steady attendance, Billy stopped showing up.

For a couple of weeks I wondered what had happened, then got in touch with his family.  Something awful had happened.  On his way to work one icy morning, Billy misjudged a curve and collided with a tree.  He was in a coma, and nobody seemed confident he'd live.  And if he did survive the crash, he might not be much more than a lump of semi-conscious meat the rest of his life.

A few weeks later Billy's family let me know he'd come out of the coma, but there was no reason to believe his wonderfully bright and perceptive mind, a mind capable of drawing such fine word pictures, would ever be the same.

Truly, the world seemed darker without Billy's creativity in it, without more of his poetry to read.  I don't mind admitting I shed a few tears thinking about the loss.

But in the grocery, Billy made it clear if he ever was out of the world, he's for sure back in it now.

We talked about the workshops and a poem that especially impressed me.  I repeated one more time my sense he needs to submit some of his work for publication, and confessed that while he was laid out in the hospital I'd come close to asking his wife for permission to send off a few things for him.

Billy's back, and he's already plotting a return to the workshops  "someday soon."

"Miracle"  doesn't seem to be too strong a word...

And I reckon the next time my wife wants to go to that other store, I'll give it a shot.

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This page was tweaked Tuesday, 2 August 2005.