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Presence can be a gift

Katie Couric, left, interviews Aimee Copeland, 24, who survived a rare fleshing-eating disease.


Katie Couric, left, interviews Aimee Copeland, 24, who survived a rare fleshing-eating disease.

It was just a few months ago that we first heard the strange and sad story of Aimee Copeland, the pretty young Georgia woman who went ziplining with friends one sunny day. The line broke, cutting her leg and setting the stage for a terrible infection that cost her parts of all her limbs.

So when I heard she was going to be a guest on Katie Couric's new daytime talk show, I had to tune in.

I don't know what I expected, but it certainly wasn't to see Aimee walk out on the stage, aided only by a prosthetic leg and a walker. She wore a cute tank top, summery skirt — and an enormous grin.

Katie teared up. The studio audience teared up. I teared up.

Aimee, a 24-year-old graduate student, talked about the shock and pain she has endured, and how her family and friends have supported her. She described the joy of standing up again and being able to look people straight in the eye. She explained how she's relearning everyday tasks, and especially looks forward to driving.

Driving with a prosthetic leg, she confided, is a little like driving in a pair of really high heels — you can't quite feel the pedal and brake. Katie giggled. The audience giggled. Me too.

Then Katie confided something about herself.

"When I first met you in Atlanta this summer, I have to say I was nervous,'' she told Aimee. "You know, I didn't know how I would deal with what happened to you . . .''

I knew exactly what Katie was talking about.

Just the day before, I returned from a visit to Minneapolis to see a college friend who suffered an inexplicable and catastrophic stroke. In an instant, this busy mom, business executive and athlete lost the use of her left side. For a time she improved, then things started going south. When I last saw Margaret in May, she was back in the hospital. It was hard to feel optimistic about her prospects.

But the minute our friend Rosemary and I walked into her room at a rehab facility this month, we saw that her progress in many ways was extraordinary. To be sure, her challenges are huge. She told us, with stunning matter-of-factness, she likely won't walk again.

But she wanted to go to the mall with her girlfriends. We ate sushi and shopped at Victoria's Secret and took pictures and talked about our own kids going to college.

My old friend was back. She was lively, engaged, funny and probing.

And perceptive as ever.

After we'd left the rehab center, Rosemary told me Margaret had asked her a question that seemed odd to her: "Does Charlotte seem nervous?''

Well, I told Rosemary, I was nervous, even though I tried my best to hide it. But I always knew Margaret was smarter than me, and here was yet more proof.

Which made me feel better still about her recovery.

I think Katie Couric came to a similar realization about Aimee Copeland.

After expressing her initial nervousness over meeting Aimee, she told her this:

". . . but I was made aware immediately that what you don't have was so eclipsed by what you do have. . . . I mean you're just an amazing girl.''

So is Margaret.

Maybe you're like me — more nervous than amazing. You don't know how you'll react to a friend in crisis. You may be awkward and overly cheerful. You may say something goofy.

You may get more out of the visit than your friend does.

But you will have been present for her. And that's the important thing.

Presence can be a gift 09/21/12 [Last modified: Friday, September 21, 2012 4:30am]
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