Last night I arrived at my fuel stop in Van, Texas eight minutes before I would turn into a pumpkin. I only had that many minutes I could legally drive for the day so I found a parking spot and decided to explore. Loves was wedged between a local Barbecue buffet and a family style restaurant. I checked them both out but finally opted for veggies.
While walking through the truck stop, I almost ran right into Ralph. Standing upright, he would have been almost seven feet tall but he was permanently bent at the waist. As a result, he stood less than four. He was busy grabbing a soda, snacks and whatever else he felt he needed to keep him going.
I expected Ralph to exit to the auto parking lot after making his purchases but he did just the opposite. He lumbered out the back door to the fuel isle for trucks.
Ahhh, a ride-along, I thought to myself… until he began to climb into his rig. I had to stop him. And with my typical fascination, I bombarded him with questions like, what happened to you? Is it difficult to drive? Are you in pain? Do you have any limitations?
Ralph broke his back in a car accident almost twenty years ago. He was hit by a drunk driver at speeds over 100 miles per hour. His wife was killed and he was pronounced crippled for the remainder of his natural life. Ralph was not pleased with that prognosis and decided to reject it.
He worked very hard to overcome. Enduring excruciating rehab, he was finally able to walk again. Unfortunately, the fusion in his back failed, leaving him permanently bent at the waist. He has a really good sense of humor about it though. He says he has a birds eye view of the floor. He doesn’t miss many pennies that people drop.
Ralph also loves to be a trucker. His odd shape is perfect for driving. He is in the exact position his body needs to be in to sit at the wheel all day long. While most drivers get stiff and need to stretch, it doesn’t bother Ralph in the least. Others give him a wide berth because they are afraid they’re going to hurt him.
“How much pain are you in?” I just had to know.
“No more than you are. I’m sure at your age you have aches and pains. Well, so do I. Hey, it’s nothing more than I would have had anyway. It’s just different. That’s all.”
Ralph is a shining example of overcoming adversity, sorrow and enormous loss. He lost his health, his mobility, the love of his life. As if to mock him, the cure made him worse. Yet today Ralph had a smile on his face, eagerly embraced the day and didn’t give it a second thought when he had to ask for my help to get his soda off the top shelf.
On the driver’s side of Ralph’s truck, he’d placed the inscription: “I bend but I don’t break… much.” The truth is he’s been broken more than most of us will ever endure and yet he continues on his journey as if nothing bad ever happened to him. He embraces life and takes tragedy in stride. He is alive an well living life at 90 degrees. He cherishes each breath he takes and doesn’t take anything for granted.
My life is greater because I bumped into Ralph last night. Hopefully, yours is as well.