Mr. and Mrs. Bush were in their late eighties when Mrs. Bush’s nurse referred her to Social Work Services. Mrs. Bush had Alzheimer’s disease and Mr. Bush was leaving her home alone for short periods of time to run errands. The nurse thought it was a “problem”; because Mrs. Bush was confused at times and it wasn’t safe to leave her at home alone.
Mr. Bush was a shoe repairman, a cobbler, by trade. Years ago, he’d owned and operated a local shoe repair shop, but closed up shop when cultural and economic trends rendered shoe repair all but obsolete. But he was still servicing a short list of long term professional clients. He picked up their shoes at their offices and returned them once repaired. He took pride in his trade and enjoyed the contact with his clients. Mr. Bush enjoyed the business of “saving soles”. Pardon the pun, but it’s not even mine. I encourage you to Google Search “Saving Soles: a history of shoe repair”; it’s a fascinating short history of how a shoe was more than just a shoe. I don’t think I’ll ever look at shoes the same again.
Mr. Bush was intelligent, articulate and exceptionally vital for a man in his late eighties. I introduced myself and explained that the nurse reported that there was a “problem” with him leaving his wife at home alone. He calmly and respectfully responded, “I don’t see problems; I see opportunities”. We immediately got down to the business of brainstorming options and I helped Mr. Bush locate a private duty caregiver who he paid to stay with his wife while he picked up and delivered his shoes.
Mr. Bush’s response to his situation reminds me of a scene from the movie, “Apollo 13”. Apollo 13 was a lunar mission which launched on April 11, 1970. The crew was comprised of Jim Lovell (commander), John “Jack” Swigert and Fred Haise. Space travel had become old hat to the general public; therefore not one of the major TV networks even covered the mission. The mission was upstaged by the reported breakup of The Beatles. (YouTube; “Apollo 13: The real story”) But that all changed when an explosion in one of the oxygen tanks blew out the side of the service module and crippled the space craft. Odds were slim to none that they would make it back to earth alive. Consequently, the nation’s eyes were glued to the TV screen over the next four days. I was a junior in high school and vividly remember the networks replaying, over and over again, the famous message from Jim Lovell to Mission Control, “Houston, we’ve had a problem”.
Now back to the scene from the movie. Every controller and engineer identified a problem with the spacecraft. One of the control crew was outlining the problems to another who replied, “I know what the problems are…This is going to be the worst disaster NASA has ever experienced.” Then Steve Hubbard, the flight director retorted, “With all due respect sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.”
Jim Lovell, when interviewed and asked by Matt Lauer years later, how he stayed so calm in the face of likely disaster replied, “I was faced with a problem, and so if I did nothing but bounce off the wall for ten minutes , I would be right back to where the problem was.” And Steve Hubbard reflected, “In our line of business you only worry about the things you can do something about…We have a problem, but how do we get out of this problem; what are the steps.” Mission Control engineered a five-hundred step manual procedure that had to be executed perfectly by the Apollo 13 crew; otherwise they would never make it back. And the rest is history.
Scott Peck in his book, “The Road Less Traveled”, wrote, and I’m paraphrasing, “Life is difficult. Until we accept this truth we will constantly complain about how unfair life is. Life is a series of problems; do we want to complain about them or do we want to solve them?” What we say to ourselves, our outlook, determines our trajectory in life doesn’t it? And in order to be different we must see differently.
So, hopefully, the next time we’re faced with a problem, if we listen hard enough, we’ll be able to hear Mr. Bush whispering, “I don’t see problems, I see opportunities.” And instead of murmuring and complaining, we’ll look for the steps. And may God wash the dust of an independent, possessive demanding spirit and self-pity from our eyes, for: “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye be good, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is that darkness.” (Matthew 6:22-23)
Loren Hardin is a hospice social worker at Southern Ohio Medical Center and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 740-356-2525