The Stranger at the Door

In December of 1938, a young woman returned home from the Plummer Hospital in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, with her two young children in tow. At twilight, the girl and boy played, oblivious to their mother’s agitated state as she moved through their snug rooms picking up toys, preparing supper, clearing a space at the table, and avoiding the hall telephone.

Absorbed in their game, the sister and brother remained contentedly heedless of all else, including a knock at the front door, which the woman promptly answered.

Outside, a bent and bright-eyed little man leaned in toward her on a crutch which took the place of his missing right leg. He wore a uniform of sorts, a smock with pockets full of serviceable goods for purchase: pencils, spools, thimbles, needles, sealing wax, envelopes, and ink. The amputee held a coin box. No sooner had they exchanged greetings, when the mistress of the rented house quickly turned to find her purse. “I’m sure we can use something,” she said.

“No, lady!” the man insisted. “I’m not here to ask for money.”

She stopped.

“What is it?” he said. “Something’s wrong. You’re upset. Who are you worrying about, lady?”

“My husband,” she replied, suddenly teary and surprised at how at ease she felt with the stranger.

She explained that last week the children’s father, a musician, had fallen ill with pneumonia. His fever had risen to the point where now, not only was he in hospital, but at death’s door which would surely open if the fever did not fade. An hour ago, the nurses had finally sent her home to feed the children and try to sleep. Tomorrow would likely require all the strength she had.

The visitor continued with his questions. “What floor is your husband on?”

She told him. Instinctively, she trusted him.

“What’s his room number?”

Again, she answered.

“What time do the night nurses change shift?”

Two a.m. That much she knew, from the reports she had been shown.

“I am going to call upon my doctor and ask him to pay a visit to your husband tonight. During the war, the same doctor saved my life.” Gazing steadily into the young wife’s weary, yet hopeful eyes, the soldier added, “If there is going to be an improvement, it will happen during that shift change.”

She nodded.

“That is,” he added, “if the nurse on duty isn’t sensitive, if she isn’t psychic. And if she is, then we may have a problem. Otherwise, I believe my doctor can help your husband heal.”


In December of 1978, the same woman sat with her two teenage granddaughters in her dining room, recounting this memory, which had become one of the cousins’ family favourites at Christmas.

Their grandma’s story ended like this: “Very early the next morning the telephone rang, and I answered right away. It was a doctor from the Plummer Hospital. ‘Good news,’ he said. ‘Your husband’s fever broke last night, and it seems to be staying down.’ I was just about speechless with relief. What joy! ‘What time did it happen?’ I asked him. He told me the night nurse noticed shortly after her shift began. ‘Sometime just after two,’ the doctor said.”

On cue, the older cousin insisted, “I’ll bet that right after the little man left your place, if you had gone back to look for him, you wouldn’t have even found footprints in the snow.”

Each year the younger cousin pondered that notion, although she didn’t form an opinion as to which dimension the old soldier had hailed from. The doctor, she was certain, operated from another plane. “If the night nurse had sensed his presence and panicked, then she could have ruined the whole thing,” the second girl offered. It was the only way her thirteen-year-old mind could make sense of the stranger’s cautionary note. She surmised that a person’s intuitive ability wasn’t the potential threat in the healing story; fear was.

Were the old veteran and his doctor still making rounds? Who knew.

All the younger granddaughter knew was that if her grandfather had not pulled through in ’38, then her dad never would have been born the following year. She chose to imagine that, in a way, she owed her life to a stranger’s visit. Two of them.

By now it’s likely no surprise to you that the younger granddaughter was me.

Was my grandma telling a tall tale?

I don’t think so.

Can our stories, and especially our dreams, be healing forces in our lives?

I know so. They hold keys.

That is, as long as we don’t let fear of the unknown block the way.

For all I know Gram’s story may have been a dream, but it was no lie. Even when such a story as this one, passed down through generations, takes on the patina of inevitably altered minor details, the essence of the story remains – and it holds gifts.

In December of 2018, as I look forward to a New Year of deepening my study of “healing” – a process in energy and soul force, and at times in events that could arguably be called outlandish (at the very least, precarious) – I consider anyone’s arrival and living presence in this world a kind of miracle.

Delve only a little into your own family’s history, and you will find at least one tale as strange as this one: moments when, if things had turned by even one degree, you would not have made it here.

How marvellous that you did.

And how wonderful Here and Now truly are.

Let’s make the most of this miracle.

To happy, holy days.

Wishing you joy!

Robin Blackburn McBride first name signature





P.S. I would love for you to share your own stories of healing, especially any that seem strange or particularly charged to you. Feel free to write in the comments or, if you prefer, send me a message. I’m gathering material for a new book, and your gifts would be most welcome.


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