They’d forgotten me.
Tired and breathless, I began to cry. There I stood, in front of a roomful of strangers, sharing my tears with my old college sweatshirt and my trusty work badge still dangling from my neck. For several weeks, I’d been trying to maintain a facade of strength and smiles. Inside, however, the sheer exhaustion of not feeling healthy was slowly taking its toll.
After 3 months of coughing and finding no relief, I had taken myself to an urgent care on this particularly rough day, checked in, paid my copay, then resigned myself to sit and wait for however long it took until I was seen. They warned me it would be awhile. Hours, even.
Four hours and about fifty coughs later, I hobbled over to reception desk and asked if I was anywhere close to being called yet. They looked at me as if they’d never seen me before, and stared blankly at their list. Their expressions told me everything. Somehow I’d been overlooked.
I had spent the afternoon and part of the evening sitting in a corner that was not within their sight, listening to a Chip and Joanna marathon blaring over my head. I hadn left to go get food, even though I hadn’t eaten…I didn’t even use the restroom because I didn’t want to miss my turn. Now it was past dinner time, and past closing time.
They apologized profusely, and since it’s not in my nature to get angry in front of a roomful of strangers, I fumbled on my words as I produced my receipt of payment and quietly insisted I hadn’t left in all that time. I had gone weeks without proper sleep, had tried various medications, and continued to go to work through it all. I just couldn’t carry this any longer. It was affecting everything.
So when I realized I may have been sitting there waiting longer than I might have done, I wept.
My blurred vision from the tears led me back to my chair, and I kept my eyes on the floor trying really hard to not be noticed. Crying in front of others is not my favorite past time, but I’d been doing it a lot lately. This was not the me I was used to.
I honestly cannot fathom how people with chronic illness persevere. And knowing that they do, my heart holds a special place for them.
All of a sudden there was someone by my side. A beautiful blond-haired woman had abandoned her take-out burrito to come over to check on me. Apparently, everyone in the room overheard what happened as much as I had tried to blend in with the walls.
Sadly, I don’t even know her name, but she said she was in town from Kansas for work. She had arrived awhile after me, but when she discovered how long she would have to wait she had gone next door for a pedicure and some dinner. She sounded congested, like so many of us this season, but she chatted on as though she wasn’t bothered by it much. Impeccably dressed and well-spoken, she had been Face Timing with her children before their bedtime.
I explained in between coughs what had happened while trying to maintain my composure. By that day, I had reached a place where I no longer cared that I was in shoes with no socks (the absolute worst feeling!), with no makeup and wearing the vest that just that morning I’d spilled coffee down the front of. My hair hadn’t been washed in days because I ran out of energy to do even that, and I couldn’t even tell you if I’d remembered to brush my teeth. I remember wishing I had her joie de vivre.
She was just so kind.
That’s what struck me. Most people would watch and listen, but go back to their phones or continue watching the home makeover on TV. But the fact that she left her seat to come see if I would be okay—such a small gesture, just a couple of minutes– but in the moment when I felt so down…it meant so much.
In the middle of our conversation, they called my name and I bolted up so fast my back felt like it would snap. It was time to get a move on. We smiled at each other, wished each other good luck, and off I went ready to be helped. Later, I was the last patient let out into the cold, black night, so I never got to tell her thank you for coming over to comfort me with her benevolent compassion.
As I drove home later, I wondered at her kindness in a roomful of strangers. It is not that unusual, really, if you stop to look around. There is kindness being shown all over, even though the news would like us to believe the world is at its worst. Yes, horrible things truly are happening, but there are still plenty of good hearts out there who know how to extend a helping hand or a comforting word.
I try to be kind, but honestly….sometimes I’m just not that courageous about it. I thought on this for quite awhile, even into the next day. When it comes to strangers, I’m generally cautious. Especially when their emotions are trembling. If I say something, will I say the wrong thing? Will I set them off into a tailspin? Or will I really be helpful?
This has been bothering me for a few years. For example, I’ve thought on it when I saw a young family struggling with their rambunctious children in a quiet restaurant. I wanted to reassure them that people understand that kids sometimes have meltdowns, or are loud. The mom had given up, clutching the stem of her still-full wine glass staring straight ahead like she wanted to be anywhere else, barely holding back tears of embarrassment. Meanwhile, the dad was about to snap with frustration that none of his efforts could stop his littlest one from happily bellowing gigantic grunting sounds so he could hear the delightful echoes from the concrete walls. They ended up getting the rest of their meal to go and left with heads down, mouths drawn tight.
I wondered after that, if I had just said something to encourage them would they have been able to relax and enjoy themselves? Or would they have told me to mind my own business?
And when a stranger is crying, like I had been. Have I ever reached out to try to offer an encouraging word?
Or have I been afraid?
Thank you, kind lady from Kansas. Thank you for making me think. For causing me to pause from now on when I see someone who is struggling and perhaps attempt to give them a kind word. Further, thank you for being an example of someone who takes the time to see what is happening around them….to really look in a person’s eyes and be attuned to what they may be feeling. For acknowledging that even reasonable, sound-minded people are not immune to unpleasant emotions. There is nothing wrong with that. We. are. human.
It’s kindness, yes. But it requires courage, too. Courageous kindness.
Let’s have more of that.
“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” -Colossians 3:12-14