Joe and Rita Datz on their wedding day in February...

Joe and Rita Datz on their wedding day in February 1939 in Brooklyn. Credit: Datz family

I've always believed there is nothing harder to stop than someone who wants to believe a miracle.

Jets in the Super Bowl? Miracle.

A really expensive dress you wore once 10 years ago is back in style and still fits? Miracle.

Finding a parking space for your brand-new car in front of the hottest restaurant in Manhattan . . . under a light . . . far from striking distance of any other vehicle? Miracle. At least according to my husband.

Some of us demand more stringent requirements for an event to qualify for exalted miracle status. This is a true story for those who raise the bar a bit higher.

My friend Arthur's parents, Joe and Rita, moved from Brooklyn to Florida 27 years ago. After a lifetime of hard work, plumbing and bookkeeping, they were one of the lucky couples whose compatibility and friendship grew richer with the 62 years of their marriage. Now that Joe was home all the time, there was no need for Rita to ever drive again. Life in Florida was gentler, fueled by rich memories and the comforts of habit.

Then, five years ago, Rita started showing the first signs of Alzheimer's disease. It was as if her brain went to sleep before its time, removing from her awareness all the precious things it took a lifetime to acquire. If the ability to panic left her, it overwhelmed her family. Joe never let her out of his sight, checking on her every 10 minutes if they were in different rooms, sitting next to her in the beauty parlor, erasing the crossword puzzles she still enjoyed so that she could tackle them once more. Although she couldn't tell you what happened 10 minutes ago, she continued to look beautiful, taking pains with her appearance and managing to greet the people she encountered so warmly, so that if you didn't know, you couldn't tell.

One day, about 1:30 in the afternoon, Joe collapsed on the living room floor. Rita immediately dialed 911. Within minutes EMS arrived and carried a still-unconscious Joe out into the ambulance. When Rita attempted to climb in with him, a young man explained that only a parent is allowed in an ambulance with a child, that as a spouse she would have to meet him at the hospital. Rita wore no Medic Alert bracelet; the EMS driver had no clue she had Alzheimer's.

A worried neighbor phoned my friend. "I don't know if your mother called you, but your father was just rushed to the hospital."

"Is she in the house by herself? Can you just go in and stay with her until I get there?" Arthur asked.

There was a long silence. Then the woman said, "I don't know how to tell you this . . . she just pulled the car out of the driveway."

I have no words to describe how he felt at that moment, his father unconscious and his mother, who hadn't been behind the wheel in 27 years, on the road with a sleeping brain.

He called the police and explained the situation. They suggested he check after his father and they would start searching for his mother. Arthur made his way to the hospital, a sprawling three-building complex off the main road. The first building he went into was the wrong one. The receptionist in the lobby of the second building directed him to the emergency room in the back of the third building. He charged into the cubicle where his father lay still unconscious -- to find Rita holding his hand between hers.

"Ma, how did you get here?"

"I drove," she answered with a smile.

"But how did you find the hospital?"

"Oh, Arthur," she said, "I drive around here all the time." It took two hours to find the car when they left the hospital late that night.

When Joe regained consciousness three days later, Rita was at her post, holding his hand. As his eyes opened, she calmly leaned forward over the tangle of tubes and whispered, "I love you, Joe."

"I love you, too," her husband answered, giving their two children the gift of that memory.

Enormous good fortune? Evidence of the wonders of the astonishing, intricate, multigeared machine that is the mind? I prefer to go along with the miracle theory myself.

Marcia P. Byalick,

LET US HEAR FROM YOU Letters and essays for MY TURN are original works by readers that have never appeared in print or online. Share special memories, traditions, friendships, life-changing decisions, observations of life, or unforgettable moments for possible publication. Email, or write to Act 2 Editor, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747. Include name, address and phone numbers. Edited stories may be republished in any format.

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