Summer 1962 I got a job playing my viola in the pit of a summer stock theater in Nyack, New York. I wasn't much of a musician, but violists were hard to come by, and I also agreed to babysit for the directors 4 kids every other weekend. On the last day of the theater season I woke up with bronchial pneumonia - lungs rattling, 104 degree temperature - the full drama. I ended up in an oxygen tank in a Catholic hospital in Suffern, New York. After a few hasty visits from other theater employees, exspressing their extreme grief at leaving me in this unfortunate situation, I was alone. No books, no cards, no visitors.
At one point a priest walked into the room and stared down at me. I couldn't talk but my mind began babbling: "Father, I am heartily sorry for I have sinned. I have taken the name of the Lord in vain on several occasions, I lied to get served alcohol at a bar, and then I let Fred Lindsey feel my..." Oh, he's leaving. I'm not dying! Yahoo!
After I got out of the oxygen tank, I noticed an old cleaning woman who came in my room every day, pushed the broom around, emptied the wastebaskets, made a few passes with a dustcloth and left. She was a classic - fat with wisps of gray hair pinned into a bun at the nape of her neck, wearing a shapeless cotton housedress that was permanently hiked up just a little in the back, to accommodate her world-class caboose, ankle socks and old tennis shoes cut open at the sides to accommodate bunions. Of course I, age 17, saw her as a visitor from another planet.
I still couldn't talk above a whisper, but my eyes followed her around the room. She came over to my bed, stared down at me, and started talking. "You're young. There's still hope for you. Spend your life being alive. Most people spend their whole lives eating, drinking, sleeping, going to work, and watching TV. If you have a chance to go on an adventure - go! To hell with the consequences. I'm just an old fat woman but last year I visited my cousin in Florida and rode a surf board. the year before I jumped out of an airplane with a parachute. Be alive!"
Sometimes angels come in the form of old fat ladies with bad feet. She changed my life forever.