Friday, March 13, 2009

the waiting room

He sat across from me in the doctor's waiting room this morning, a retired music professor in a loose-fitting sweat suit. Each Friday he arrives for physical therapy, the last step in a long and arduous recovery from a serious fall. As he eased into his chair, I introduced myself. He didn't know me, but being a violinist, he knows #1 Son. We have numerous connections, this being a small and friendly community, and we chatted in a friendly way about music, the college, and the coming of spring.

"So, how are you doing?" I inquired with genuine concern. Last year, I had heard of his misfortune and knew how grave his condition had been.

"Much, much better," he assured me as he stretched his arms gingerly to demonstrate his returning mobility. The doctors had told him that he may never play the violin again, and so far their diagnosis held true.

"I am only happy to be alive -even if I never play again." He drew in his breath and grew thoughtful.

"Something very difficult happened to me yesterday though," he continued. "A very close acquaintance of mine died." I immediately expressed my sympathy. Tears began to course down his face and his voice trembled.

"I have never asked a question like this in my life. But now I say to my wife, 'Why me?"

At first I thought he was asking why such bad and sad things happen. But as he continued to speak, I realized he meant the opposite. Why did this friend die -and others I know that have grown old along with me- but not me? Why have I been given this gift to stay alive?

This retired professor who I hardly knew was pouring his heart out to me, and it all happened in an instant. A moment ago, I was reading People magazine and now I am holding a stranger's heart in my hands. I adjusted my perspective, put my magazine aside, and leaned toward him in order not to miss a beat.

"I looked out the kitchen window this morning, "said this tender-hearted man, "and I noticed the blue sky. And the birds! The beginnings of green things, the sight of the sun in the sky....and I told my wife, 'I just know this will be an amazing year! I have my life back."

He drew a handkerchief from his pocket and swabbed his eyes and face. The magical moment of transparency was fast disappearing and I eased the awkward beat by touching his arm. My friend emerged from her therapy session and the receptionist called his name.

A shake of hands, a wish for good health, an assurance of prayer, and this surprisingly intimate exchange of words was behind me, leaving me somewhat breathless.

Every room can be a waiting room.

And as I wait there, I am reminded today to be ready to listen, to expect a meaningful exchange of words, to give the gift of caring. It costs so very little and enriches so very much.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow...thank you for sharing this!

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

every room is a waiting room. i'm experiencing that every day and night. i'm wondering if that was Ethan's violin teacher?

2:39 PM  

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