Living through several life-threatening medical conditions has given me a new appreciation for the people in the past who, just by being themselves, have immeasurably enriched my own life.
I’m not talking about the obvious support systems people inherit through family members. I’m thinking about the folks who you bump into, usually through some random process, sometimes referred to as “being at the right place at the right time.” Friends certainly fall into this category, but there are other, more fleeting relationships…well, maybe “encounters” is a better description…that I have come to appreciate in greater measure.
I could fill several pages with the names of people I have thought of in this context, but I’ll give just one example from my past.
In 1962 I had just been divorced and was basically homeless, sleeping on a couch in one of the offices at the University of Illinois Medical Center Neuropsychiatric Institute in Chicago, where I was a part time electronics technician. The psychiatrist I worked for conducted research on infant sleep and motility, and his monitoring and recording equipment required constant attention. My day job was in Wheaton, IL, about 30 miles west of UIMC. All in all, I was pretty depressed.
For a while I drove a well-worn 1954 Ford stick shift sedan, but the rear main seal leaked oil into the clutch and the Ford had to be replaced. Ever since my Grand Prairie days, I had lusted after owning a decent vehicle: one of my GP roommates drove a ’57 Studebaker Golden Hawk, and another owned an Austin Healey 3000. I settled on a used Triumph TR4. I loved that car, but I was still depressed.
Among the cars in the lot I parked in at the medical center was a new Jaguar XKE in British Racing Green. The color was the perfect complement to its owner, a tall, young, long-legged woman with a tangle of bright red hair. Her name, I learned after our paths crossed on several occasions in the snack vending room at the medical center, was Georgiana Jagiello, a resident at the med school. She recognized me as the driver of the Triumph, and we had a brief conversation about our respective automobiles. She had an easy manner, and smiled a lot. One day I asked if she would like to go for a ride and was surprised when she accepted. So one sunny Saturday we headed for the country on the Northwest Expressway.
The details of the day have disappeared in the mists of time, but I remember a beautiful day, charming company, sparse traffic, and being stopped by the Highway Patrol for speeding: the officer said that I must have been going 80 mph, but he couldn’t be certain, so he could only issue a warning. In fact I had reached 110 mph at one point…the fastest I have ever driven (and never will again). I was exhilarated!
I never ran into her after that day. I since learned that she became a world famous physician specializing in reproductive biology and endocrinology, finally ending up at Columbia University. She is retired now, and her hair is cut short in pictures on the web. I don’t know if she still drives a Jag, but she will always be that exciting young redhead who, on one sunny day, made a difference in my life, simply by spending an afternoon with me, going for a ride in my new car. Thank you, Dr. Jagiello.