a black belt looped in the shape of a heart

MS, New Orleans and a Shift in Chivalry

The quintessential heart-melting scene in any Hollywood love story is when the chivalrous man offers his coat to the woman who looks cold.

It’s such a standard romantic gesture. Heck, even Bruce Springsteen paints such a scene in his song Brothers Under the Bridges (one of Jennifer and my favorites):

“Tonight up on Signal Hill
I watch a young man in a red shirt walking through a night so still
Put his jacket ’round his girl as the autumn wind send a chill
Through the brothers under the bridges”

MS and my go-to men's clothing store

This sounds all gushy and loving, but leave it to Multiple Sclerosis and help from my go-to men’s clothing store to lead me to caregivingly redefine chivalry with Jennifer in the heart of downtown New Orleans.

After our failed attempt to travel and present in The Big Easy last year (because I got sick at the worst possible time!), we finally made it to speak at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s On the Move Luncheon. We were in our room at the Hampton Inn Hotel preparing the presentation we had rehearsed for weeks. We had directions to the nearby hotel hosting the luncheon. We were ready to go.

We had a problem

It hadn’t seemed like a big deal that for this trip, because of the smaller airplane that flew us from Detroit to New Orleans, Jennifer had to use her smaller power wheelchair—we affectionately call it “Belle.” Belle isn’t as big, comfortable or functional as her larger power that we lovingly refer to as “Grape Ape," but it works fine for the few short days she needs it.

But using Belle, Jennifer doesn’t have as much room and support for her arms and legs as she does in Grape Ape. Her MS-weakened left leg eventually bows out and causes painful pressure on her left foot and hip.

Controlling MS symptoms with a black belt

Our non-medically-authorized-quick-fix solution for this always has been to pull Jennifer’s legs together just above her knees using one of the black belts I wear with dress pants. We even have one hanging up at home that specifically is designated as “Belle’s belt.” But for as infrequent as Belle is used, we unfortunately forgot the belt; that is, until we noticed Jennifer’s left leg starting to bow just as we left our hotel to present to nearly 300 people.

Remember that whole chivalry thing?

Why, yes, Dan, why didn’t you just let Jennifer use your belt like the loving romantics offer their coats in the movies? Great idea, dear blog reader, but here was the deal: I NEEDED my belt because my pants were pretty loose, we had to walk nearly three city blocks to the hotel, and I had to stand and present to nearly 300 people.

Then it hit me

Connected to our hotel was a Jos. A. Bank men’s clothing store! My closet is chock full of Jos. A. Bank ties and business and casual shirts. I always tell Jennifer when we go shopping there that I truly am only going to buy two shirts and two ties. I usually leave with at least four of each.

We left our room and made our way down to Jos. A. because we HAD to get to the luncheon and Jennifer HAD to get a belt. I know how incredibly helpful the sales people are at this clothing store, so I had to be up front the second I walked into my tailored wonderland of ties and dress shirts.

I commented how much I shop at Jos. A. back home in Michigan, but all I needed on this day was a belt. I told him the above story in about 12 seconds. He waved to Jennifer who sat in the hallway and promptly told me, “The belts are right over there, and they’re on sale today. Buy one, get one for half price.”

That’s exactly what I expected from Jos. A. I felt so close to home!

When fashion sense makes good cents

I quickly proceeded to the belts. Black belt…not too wide…not too thin…not too casual…not too dressy…34-inch waist…BINGO! I found it! And it’s…a little expensive just to serve as Belle’s belt.

The reality is, I didn’t need yet another black belt. And I realized Jennifer needed it, but still. I stood and stared at the price tag. I looked out at Jennifer in the hallway. I glanced at the salesman who fortunately had left me to my belt buying business. Back to the price tag. OK, so it’s a little pricey, but we really need it for Jennifer for this trip, and we really have to get going.

Done. I’ll buy the belt. It’s the cost of doing business, right?

I walked up to the counter and presented Jennifer and my salvation to the salesman. He punched in a few numbers, scanned my purchase. Punched in a few more numbers, and I almost cried when said my total.

He rang up my one belt for half price!

Helping an out-of-state couple in need

I couldn’t believe it. I wondered: Is this whole buy-one-get-one-half-off thing just a sales ploy and the belt would have rung up at price anyway? Or, did the salesman do the kind thing and give his lowest possible price for an out-of-state couple in need?

I figured he likely gave me the benefit of the doubt, and so I did the same for him. He went out of his way to be kind.

Leaving the store, I pulled the stickers off the half-priced purchase and got down on one knee next to Jennifer. Romantic, right? I then strapped my new black belt on just above her knees to hold her legs together.

Help from a stranger

This is how, in the heart of downtown New Orleans, Jennifer and I received help from a complete stranger and then caregivingly redefined chivalry by replacing the traditional warm coat with a 34-inch black belt.

And as we walked to the hotel to share our stories at the luncheon, Jennifer cracked what is one of her favorite jokes:

“What did the 0 say to the 8?”

“Nice belt.”

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The MultipleSclerosis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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