In Search of Better Stories

Mary’s Story

     She had a good run until she turned eighty. Then, her dog died, followed shortly by the passing of her husband. Still in shock and grief over the sudden loss of her two dearest companions, she stepped into the street. 

     The morning was cool and bright. The sun’s rays had a blinding quality in the early dawn. She never saw the car coming, and the car didn’t see her. The screech of brakes came only after contact was made.  The force of the blow immediately shattered many bones on Mary’s right side and rocketed her skyward. She crashed down in the middle of the street, bloody and broken. 

     This is fearsome trauma at any age but at eighty? The hospital staff had small hope for Mary’s recovery. If she managed by some miracle to live, what kind of life would she have? The doctors predicted little more than confinement to a bed. 

     Six years later, I met Mary, but not laying helpless in a bed. She walks the sea wall, wearing out the wheels on her walker as she crushes mile after mile. Each morning, she plods by me as I sit on my bench, looking for inspiration to write. I don’t remember how our connection happened. Maybe I offered a word of encouragement as she trudged by. Walking is serious business to her, and I could see myself cheering her on. I know at some point, she asked me if I was a writer. When she found out I was labouring to produce a book, she was all in to buy a copy as soon as it was published.  She didn’t even care what it was about!  Finally, at long last, that day arrived. As Mary ambled by, I waved a copy of my book in front of her. She slapped down more money than my asking price, cheered me on for such a great accomplishment,  had me sign it, and put it in the basket of her walker. It was here that Mary’s story of survival and determination tumbled out. She simply would not let the weight of her accident, combined with the sorrow of her double loss, sink her beneath the waves of despair. There was still life to live, so Mary, with bulldog determination, worked through the pain and rehabbed her torn and broken body back to life. 

    All of Mary’s efforts to regain her health were rewarded in splendid fashion by a beautiful person who runs the seawall. He did what so few people seem to do these days: he noticed another human.  Over time, he came to appreciate Mary’s single focus and resolute commitment to walk. As he observed her grim face of determination, the white knuckles, and the sometimes unsteady shuffle of her feet, he perceived that her efforts to move were no small accomplishment.

     He stopped one day and, looking down into Mary’s eyes, he said with a big smile. 

“You are number one!” 

“What do you mean?” Mary asked. 

“In your age category, there is no one better. You are number one. You are the best!” 

     For a trophy, he handed her a Flash Gordon action figure and then disappeared down the path. Mary stood a little taller that day, and I have no doubt she walked a little faster, too. She went straight to her physical therapist and had him zap-strap the action figure to the front of her walker. 

     Mary and Flash Gordon continue to take the sea wall by storm every day. The sight of them fills me with deep happiness.

     How can I not be happy as Mary shuffles by, knowing her story as I do? How can I not be doubly happy when I see the Flash Gordon figurehead crowning her walker, right arm raised, fist clenched in defiance? It’s a trophy for Mary, to be sure, but it is also an unmistakable glimpse into the beautiful heart of someone who took the time to see Mary, perceive her situation, and then step into her world, bringing joy and encouragement. We need more people like that. 

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15 Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing more bits of Mary’s story sounds like quite an exciting life! She walks by me on the seawall, maybe a couple times a week

  2. Hello there! Elizabeth from Gothenburg, Sweden joining you. So nice but strange to read about my sister as the old lady still walking along the shore! Walking has always been her passion but mostly she’s been walking with her dogs. They have all been poodles, big and proud and the love of her life as has her late husband Ken. I gather you still se she is a beautiful lady since she used to be the hottest girl in town in her teens and on.
    She also had the most beautiful voice and used to sing jazz with well known jazz orchestras around Sweden. She once trained to be opera singer.
    Her story is that she left Sweden in her twenties and had been living abroad since then. Our mother was born and raised in Vancouver…

  3. Thankyou,Dennis, for your inspiring article of two admirable characters : my indomitable friend Mary, and the caring soul who “took the time to see Mary”.

    It has been said that one becomes invisible as one becomes older. My friend Mary amply demonstrates that age does not make one invisible. Her daily bravery in overcoming huge challenges, relentless pain, coupled with stubbornness and gritty attitude, has made her a figure to be noticed.

    Your observation of the runner who notices the people around him and took time to connect and encourage a stranger is a heartening reminder there are still people who truly care, and take time to encourage another.

  4. Mary is a superhero! She’s a voracious reader too; a true lover of the written word and believer in the power of words to illuminate and enrich our lives. I love that someone thought of and presented Mary with this trophy. We will all be on the lookout for Mary on the seawall with her pimped out walker and its new hood ornament. Thanks for sharing her story, Dennis!

  5. Dennis, I absolutely LOVE this story. I will look for Mary when on the Seawall next. Hope you are well. We think of you often.

  6. Thank you for your beautifully written piece about my longtime friend Mary, so well deserved

  7. oh my. You have written a beautiful tribute to my friend Mary whose fierce determination is a beacon for all of us. Liz Dohan

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