I volunteer for a non-profit agency that, among a lot of other things, runs a food pantry and soup kitchen, and prepares and delivers meals for Meals-On-Wheels (MOW). Hunger services is run out of a beautiful gothic church in the heart of an inner city neighborhood. I’ve been working there for three months, and what I’ve learned working in all three areas is more than anything I ever learned in college.
When I do a MOW route, I’m always a visitor, never a driver, because I get all turned around in the neighborhoods we service. Yesterday, I was teamed up with driver Deacon Smith, a retired postal worker, who’s been with MOW for 20 years. He’s the sweetest, most laid-back man I’ve met in a long time. Knows Route 3 like the back of his hand.
Our first stop was an apartment complex where two clients live. The instruction is that if we didn’t reach one in her apartment, she was likely at the other’s. When I rang the lobby buzzer for one and didn’t get an answer, I rang the buzzer for the other and was let in and got on the elevator.
Knock, knock, knock. “Meals On Wheels!” I said, in my sing-songy voice.
“Come on in! Door’s unlocked!” said the voice inside.
I walked in, and sitting at a table were two 80-something-year-old women in short-sleeved housecoats, drinking coffee and listening to music.
“Honey, just set those down here,” said the woman to my left.
I took the food out of my basket and cautioned them about the sweet potatoes wrapped in tin foil.
“They’re still pretty warm. Be careful when you pick them up.” I set my basket down and leaned over to take out their meals.
“Do you see that cleavage, Marge?” said the woman across from me.
I was wearing a grey t-shirt and a thin white jacket. It’s been unusually warm in Pittsburgh, so a winter coat isn’t warranted. My shirt wasn’t low cut by any means, but apparently when I leaned over…well…the Canal of Boobage was front and center.
“Make sure you’re not leaning over when you deliver meals to men!” the women advised. Embarrassed, I smiled and said I’d be careful.
And I was. The girls were tucked and out of sight the rest of the route.
Deacon and I talked about grandchildren and the craziness that is Pittsburgh’s streets during our route. On our last visit, the instruction on the clipboard was to call the client, who is wheelchair bound, and let him know we were there so he could throw down the keys to the front door. Deacon asked me if I would be OK with climbing the fire escape to deliver the client’s meal. I thought about it for a second and said, “Sure!” So I called the client and said something I’ve never said in my life: “I’ll be walking up your fire escape in a few minutes!”
While Deacon parked, I eyed the fire escape. It was steep and narrow and it reminded me of the steps outside the apartment I lived in when I weighed 300 pounds. It was on the top floor of a 19th-century two-story building, which is more like the height of three stories today. The stairs were narrow and steep, and when I lived there, I had many anxious moments about the “what ifs” of those steps.
What if I got hurt and needed to be brought to the hospital in an ambulance? What if there was a fire and I needed help out? How would EMTs haul me down on a gurney? Would I fit in an ambulance? How would I escape the flames in a fire? Those thoughts haunted me. I know professionals are trained to handle these situations, but to be the source of someone’s potential physical distress really bothered me.
I got out of Deacon’s car with my basket and crossed the street. I looked up and saw the client opening the window at the top of the fire escape. I grabbed the handrail and started my ascent. But what I thought as I climbed was not what I thought I thought I’d think.
‘I’m climbing a fire escape! And I can!’
300-pound me hated the struggle with those apartment steps, and she was the one who said, “Enough!” on January 1, 2005, and began losing weight. She didn’t anymore want to experience that out-of-breath feeling from walking up a flight of narrow stairs. She no longer wanted to have to sit in a chair to catch her breath the second she walked in the door before carrying on with her life. She wanted walking up stairs to be as natural as…breathing.
At the top of the fire escape, I handed the client his meal and cautioned him about the sweet potato. He smiled and thanked me and I did a quick look down my shirt to make sure the girls weren’t exposed. They weren’t. Everything was properly copacetic.
When my 3-year-old grandson accomplishes something, he exclaims, “I did dit!” As I walked down the fire escape, I high-fived my 300-pound self. I did “dit”.
I got in Deacon’s car and we drove back to the church. I thought about my goal anniversary the day before (March 12, 2007) and the fleeting moments of movement I’ve taken for granted since reaching goal: taking the stairs in a parking garage rather than the elevator, walking the dog around the block, putting my bike on the bike rack, taking my bike off the bike rack, standing for an hour cutting vegetables for dinner. As I lost weight, I stayed focused on the big stuff: Can I walk 6, 10, 20 miles? Can I bike 15, 20 miles? Can I crank the elliptical to high for 30 minutes?
I’d lost sight of the little things. Walking, climbing stairs, standing… things that hurt before but don’t anymore.
What I realize is, how cool is it to change the way you eat and move for no other reason than to eventually climb stairs without feeling depleted? What an honorable goal! I admire folks who want to lose weight to climb mountains and run for hours. I sincerely do. But if you can climb stairs and walk around the block? Man…you did “dit.”