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Karin Fuller: The long walk fueled by faith and devotion

January 20, 2019

“Did you see this story?” a friend asked in an email. “It reminded me of a column you wrote a long time ago.”

The link she provided took me to an article about an elderly New York man who walked six miles each day to visit his wife during her stay in a Rochester hospital. Although details regarding the man’s age and the length of their marriage became a point of contention, his devotion remains unquestionable. He never missed a day, regardless of the weather.

The story was much like something I encountered back in 1998. I’d gone to Red House one evening to use my parents’ washer and dryer. It was just getting dark when I headed back toward home. As I started down the hill - which snakes steeply back and forth, without much of a berm - I spotted an old man shuffling right down the middle of Route 34. I pulled up beside him and stopped, but before I could speak to offer a ride, he opened the door and began struggling right on into my car. As my Toyota was low and small, that was no easy feat. Several cars stopped behind me, and when I glanced in my rearview mirror, I saw the man behind me was laughing. I somehow suspected he’d encountered this same senior before.

“So where are you headed?” I asked.

“I’m goin’ to see my wife in the nursing home,” he said.

As I knew of no nursing homes nearby, I asked, “Which one is she in?”

“Behind Putnam General,” he said.

He stared straight ahead as he spoke, and from the way he declared his destination, I could tell there was no doubt it was where I would take him. He never asked if it was near where I was headed (it wasn’t), or if it would take me well out of my way (it did). It was simply where we would go, so we went.

If I would’ve kept quiet, I believe he would have, too, but my curiosity got the best of me and I chatted him up. I learned his name was Burton Cummings and his age, 81; I learned he had children “scattered all over,” as well as grandkids, great-grandkids and a couple great-greats. His wife had been hospitalized and then sent to rehab, until deemed well enough to go home.

“I know it’s late,” he said, “but I was missing her.”

“Do you get to see her often?” I asked.

“Every day so far,” he said.

He’d mentioned his car hadn’t worked for months, so I asked how he got back and forth.

“I have faith,” he said. “Somebody always picks me up, and somebody always takes me home.”

I got the feeling Mr. Cummings would have never come right out and asked for a ride but would have always accepted one. I found it touching that a man as proud, tough and stubborn as him was missing his wife.

When I arrived at the nursing home, Mr. Cummings struggled out and thanked me for the ride. I never saw him again. Just a few days after our encounter, Mr. Cummings died.

I’ve met so many people over the course of my life, yet despite our extremely short time together, Mr. Cummings has remained a constant character for me. He comes to mind often and in a variety of ways. For instance, I was recently reminded of the relationship Mr. Cummings and his wife seemed to have because of how similar it seems to that of my parents; my dad’s dogged determination to get home to Mom.

And I’ve been thinking of Mr. Cummings’ bullheaded resolve, how he would head off in the direction he wanted to go, confident he’d somehow arrive. Jump, and a net will appear. Or a car.

Mostly, though, I’ve been thinking about the faith he had, how he trusted that God would provide. He hadn’t seemed fearful or doubting. Simply trusting.

Trusting simply.

It’s hard to hand over the reins and allow someone else to take lead, to trust they’ll get you where you’re needing to go. Even if it means walking down the center of a steep, winding road.

Just not walking alone.

Karin Fuller can be reached at karinfuller@gmail.com.

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