Her name is Chimere Hunter. She lives in inner-city Chicago and commutes two to three hours to get to her job on the registration desk at Springhill Suites by Marriott near O’Hare International Airport.
She is exceptionally gracious to hotel guests, sometimes to those who don’t deserve it, and is very good at her job. Whatever she earns, it is not enough. She is not only an ambassador of goodwill for the Marriott chain but an Angel of Mercy.
I know this for reasons that will become clear, but one thing Chimere has done for me is restore a faltering faith in humanity in a world that sometimes seems to be swirling out of control, full of hatefulness and bitterness.
Despite the blathering on cable news and talk radio, despite the actions of the repulsive Donald Sterling or the scofflaw cattle rancher and racist Cliven Bundy and his gun-toting compatriots, despite the raging political polarization and pettiness, there is goodness to be found all around us.
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I first met Chimere literally by accident. My wife, Mary Frances, and I were en route to South Bend to visit our son Greg at Notre Dame, where he is graduate school coordinator in the political science department, and had to change planes in Chicago. It’s hard to go anywhere from Sacramento without going through Chicago.
We had some time to kill, so we headed for the United Club and were going up on the escalator when disaster struck. I’m still not sure what happened, but I fell back into my carry-on, which, domino-like, fell back into my wife and knocked her down. She fell on her head. Rushed by the paramedics to Resurrection Medical Center not far from the airport, she was found to have a concussion, injury to her ribs and a punctured lung.
It was going to be a long stay, and I took up residence in the closest nearby hotel, Springhill Suites.
As soon as Chimere and the hotel staff learned of our circumstances, they began to look after me and Greg, who had come over from South Bend. They made sure we got frequent rides to and from the hospital, provided us unbelievable moral support, and Chimere gave us frequent hugs.
She is a deeply religious woman, but she doesn’t wear it on her sleeve. She lives it. She became the living embodiment of the biblical admonishment to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
My wife was in the hospital for a week and then spent three more days at the hotel recuperating. When she was about to be released, I called the hotel and asked if they could send a cab. I knew she would not be able to step up into the hotel van.
Instead, the hotel general manager, Gary Maass, drove over in his personal car and brought help with him to get us back to Springhill, then helped her to get to our room. Chimere and her colleagues had been at work there, too. Our room was filled with sacks of goodies and beautiful flowers, with signed get-well cards. We were both in tears.
I would be remiss if I didn’t add here, by the way, that the doctors and staff at Resurrection were terrific. We are especially indebted to one nurse, Francis, whom we dubbed St. Francis. I never learned his last name, but he is a hospital treasure and simply the best.
Since the pulmonologists told us that Mary Frances would not be able to get on an airplane for at least two months because of damage to her lungs, we were faced with making a long and lonely drive home. No way, said our other two children, Gene and Fran.
Gene flew from Sacramento to Chicago, rented a car, made sure his mom was comfortable in the front seat with pillows and head rest, and drove us to Denver, where we spent an extra day to rest. Then he flew home to fulfill a commitment to our granddaughter, which we insisted he not miss, and Fran flew into Denver to bring us the rest of the way. It’s nice to have great kids.
We took six days to get home – the Fulton Avenue turnoff from Interstate 80 never looked so good – and all across middle America, even though Fox News seemed to be the channel of choice in restaurants and motels, people were unfailingly sympathetic, helpful and kind. No debates about guns, God or gays, or all the things that seem to divide us, just decent people doing what seemed to come naturally.