On April 15, 2013, Jessica Kensky and Patrick Downes were newlyweds.
Jessica grew up in California, got a nursing degree, and went on to become an oncology nurse at Mass. General. Patrick grew up in Cambridge, attended B.C. High and then Boston College, making him a “Double Eagle.” When he was a boy in Cambridge, one of his Little League teammates was the son of a Boston lawyer named Rob Barber.
Rob Barber is now our Ambassador to Iceland, and he invited the Pianist to give a recital at his official residence. So, a few weeks ago we flew from Boston to the Keflavik airport, where our half-Icelandic granddaughter picked us up. One day, while they went off together, I got a tour of the Reykjavik courthouse with Judge Skúli Magnússon as our guide. Actually it was Rob Barber who got the tour, and he invited me to tag along. Skúli (everyone in Iceland uses first names) introduced us to the Chief Justice, and the four of us had coffee and an Icelandic delicacy that looks like a pancake. I’ve been in a lot of American courthouses, but no judge ever served me treats.
From the courthouse we went to an open house at a building called “Ocean Cluster” which houses several companies that turn fish byproducts into something good for you, instead of throwing them away. The developer, Thor Sigfusson, looks like a movie star and is tall, even for Iceland. Thor has created a clone of his innovative project, called the “New England Ocean Cluster,” in Portland, Maine.
Meeting such people as Skúli and Thor shows how useful it is to know an ambassador. But not even those tall, hospitable people with interesting Icelandic names compare to Patrick and Jessica, the young couple mentioned at the beginning of this article. They were visiting Iceland as the Ambassador’s guests, and we met them at the recital, along with various ambassadors and other dignitaries and friends.
Rob invited us and a man named Greipur to stay for dinner after the concert, and the six of us sat around the dining room table set with beautiful china and silver, attended by the chef and his assistant. What a meal – two kinds of soup, lamb, mushrooms foraged by the chef, and reindeer!
The people we met in Iceland were interesting, but the time we spent with Patrick and Jessica was memorable. They each lost a leg on April 15, 2013, Marathon Day, and eventually Jessica lost her other leg. They were in Iceland to visit Össur, the company that manufactured their prosthetic legs. Here they are with Rob Barber.
Before dinner we had drinks and hors d’oeuvres in the Ambassador’s living room. Much of the conversation was about what Patrick and Jessica have been through – two years of surgeries including a year at Walter Reed Hospital, rehab, learning how to walk, even dance.
At some point I turned to Jessica: “May I touch it?” I asked.
“Sure,” she said.
So I reached over and touched her leg.
“Would you like to hold it?” she asked me.
Who could resist such an offer? “Yes,” I said.
Before I could blink an eye, Jessica took off a leg and handed it to me. While I held it, two thoughts came to my mind. One was that that modern prosthesis technology is quite remarkable. The other was that this cheerful young couple is unbelievably brave and resilient.
With Jessica’s permission, I handed the leg around the room. When it reached the Pianist, she looked at the shoe and said “Blahniks?” referring to a maker of expensive women’s shoes.
“No,” Jessica replied. “Knock-offs.”