Over 10 years ago I was working as an interior designer in Phoenix. One afternoon I took a phone call from a potential new client. The woman was expecting her first child and needed help with a window treatment for the baby's nursery. She asked if I could come to her home later that day.
It was typical to meet new clients in their homes but my manager had recently decided our policy needed changing. Not every home visit resulted in a sale or even the possibility of a future sale and the manager decided we should screen customers before investing too much time in them. The new policy meant that potential clients needed to visit us in the store first so we could assess their design needs and get a sense of their intent to purchase. I agreed with the new policy for two reasons: first, I didn't enjoy driving all over Phoenix resulting in dead ends, especially during the scorching summertime, and secondly, my manager had a way about her that made my stomach hurt and I didn't want it to hurt worse.
"I'd love to help you with your baby's nursery. Why don't we schedule a time for you to visit me at our store? I'll show you some of our work and you can give me an idea of what you're looking for. After that, I can schedule an in-home appointment," I explained.
"I really need you to come to my house," she insisted.
I was baffled. I'd given her the I'm-not-coming speech and she was telling me she really needed me to come. "It's very helpful if we start in the store with all the fabrics and samples. We'll narrow it down and then schedule a visit to your house to firm up the details."
"Please, I really need you to come here. I know what I want. It won't take much of your time."
My stomach started to hurt. Manager would not like this at all. I asked the woman where she lived and determined it was a mile from my house. I would have to pass her neighborhood to get to mine. Something told me I needed to make an exception to the new policy. Her voice was persistent but not demanding. She needed me to come over and I felt I needed to go. "Well, you are right down the street from me. How about if I stop by on my way home from work?" I figured the manager couldn't berate me too much if the appointment was on my own time.
I gathered the necessary samples of window coverings and fabrics and hauled them to my car. This was another downside of home appointments, the carrying of multiple materials back and forth. I arrived at the woman's home, loaded my arms with the samples, walked to her door and placed all the samples at my feet so I could ring the bell and professionally greet the client with a handshake.
The door opened and I met my client. She was very pregnant and had no arms. No arms. She had shoulders but no arms. I smiled, introduced myself and collected the samples from the porch. I followed her into the home and down a hallway to the nursery. She had no arms and she was pregnant. I placed the fabrics and samples on the floor of the nursery and she and I sat down. I commented on the cute bedding she'd chosen for her child. We talked about the excitement of having one's first baby. I was still four years away from my first. I looked at the window in question and listened as she described her wants. A fabric would need to be selected and I watched as she navigated the sample books with her foot, flipping through fabrics with her toes as easily as I could with my fingers. We tossed around ideas and it was business as usual.
Except that while I'm talking design, I'm thinking arms. I was amazed at this woman, this very pregnant woman, without arms. And while we were talking about windows what I really wanted to talk about was her. I didn't want to know how she'd lost her arms, I wanted to know how she'd found her way. But I said nothing. This was 10 years ago and I was younger then in more ways than age. Would it be rude to ask questions? Was I supposed to pretend I didn't notice she had no arms? I didn't know what to say so I said nothing.
The woman made her decision and the sale was made. She disappeared into the kitchen for a few minutes and then spoke of the deposit check she'd left on the counter. I took it and walked to the door. The woman opened the door for me. My arms were filled with books.
I reached my car, put down the books, fingered for my keys in my tote bag, placed the key in the lock and opened the door. I had never been so aware of my arms in my life. They felt extravagant. They went on for miles and ended in hands with fingers. I didn't know arms could be a luxury. The woman ran through my mind. I knew my meeting with her was not by chance, I knew that, but I couldn't figure out what this meeting meant. Maybe I was supposed to be grateful because "it could be worse" as they say. But that wasn't it. Nothing about the woman warranted sympathy.
I never saw her again. An installer completed the job. I never forgot about her either. A few years later, I caught part of a talk show where she was interviewed about her disability and how she coped. Years passed, careers changed, my boys were born and I forgot her name. I remembered her though. She meant something to me although I wasn't sure what.
In March of this year, my boys participated in Little League opening day. It was a big production of teams and banners. Hundreds of boys, their siblings and parents turned out to kick off a new season of baseball. Jake's team took its turn parading around the field, carrying a banner with their team name and players' names. Action Andy walked with him as assistant coach. I waved at Jake and snapped pictures. His team took their place in the grass and sat to watch the other teams parade by.
Andy left Jake's team to join Zach and walk with him. This was Zach's first season of baseball. He was on the Challenger team, a team of kids with physical disabilities or mental disabilities or both. The Challenger teams would parade in last. Finally I spotted Andy and Zach and their beautiful motley crew of players. Zach was sticking close to his daddy. This was a big crowd of people to navigate.
They found their seats on the grass and I tried to sneak some photos. Zach was holding up pretty well and I didn't want him to see me. Zach tends to hold up well until the sight of Mommy allows him to safely fall apart. There was a ceremonial first pitch and two players were chosen to deliver a pitch each. One player represented the Little League. He walked to the mound and pitched it over the plate, just as expected. The second player represented the Challenger team. He, too, walked to the mound but with the help of arm crutches. When he reached the mound, he eased his way onto the dirt and released his crutches. On his knees, in the dirt, that boy threw a strong pitch right over the plate.
I cheered and cheered and wiped tears. Somewhere in this crowd was a proud mother, a mother who didn't expect her son would play on the Challenger team because no one expects that. But a mother who loves her child with his arm crutches like nothing else. A mother who is used to white baseball pants always being covered in red dirt. A mother who watched hundreds of players walk by on legs that work perfectly but she only had eyes for her boy.
Later that day, Jake's team played a mini-game. Zach's games would start next week. I can't remember exactly what Jake did to get himself into trouble but when we arrived home, a lecture was in order. Andy and I sat with him at the kitchen table and the lecture focused on self-control and doing your best. To make his point Andy brought up the boy who threw the pitch for Challenger. It's natural to use comparisons to illustrate a lesson, to make a point. The it-could-be-worse theory.
In that moment I knew what I had learned from the woman without arms. It had taken over 10 years but I finally got it and not a moment too soon. I looked at Jake and said, "You do your best, not because someone else can't, but because you can."
The woman had taught me this. She had taught me that seeking value in your life by measuring it against someone else's doesn't work. Looking for your purpose in life by sizing up another's won't do it either. This woman, having had more than her share of unfair, taught me that fair doesn't exist. She taught me to do my life with what I have.
The boy who threw the pitch on his knees. The woman without arms. Why is it that the people who do this life best are the same ones who have every reason not to?
Maybe they know what I am now learning and that is God has written a unique story for each of us. Live yours out.
I wondered about the woman and wished I could remember her name for this story. An Internet search turned up her name and some video clips. I kept clicking and searching for a website. I had thought about changing the title of this post, in case it seemed offensive, then I found her website.