Hospital Waiting Rooms

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?” – Henry David Thoreau

Everyone should have to go into a hospital waiting room once a week and just sit – just sit and observe. I believe the results of such an experiment would be extraordinary.

Because it’s in the hospital waiting room where outward beauty is revealed for what it is and inward beauty shines.

It’s in the hospital waiting room where we are among those walking wounded. Those who bear their scars with nobility. It’s in hospital waiting rooms that you don’t try to hide tears; where you can’t hide anger or disappointment and where shock is just a part of the day’s story.

It’s in hospital waiting rooms where you realize that you share a lot more with fellow humans than you choose to admit. Where you realize that we’re all patients walking a hard path in a broken world.

Where tears fall with abandon but the cries of joy and thanksgiving mean more than we can imagine.

It all happens in a hospital waiting room.

And always there’s the waiting. The waiting for the doctor or therapist; waiting for your family member to pick you up; waiting to hear the results of the blood test. Always waiting and learning to wait more patiently, feeling your heart and stomach flutter with nervous dread.

So head over to a hospital waiting room and feel your heart change.

Blogger’s Note: Cleveland Clinic produced an extraordinary video called “Empathy: The Human Connection to Patient Care” Take a look at this short (4 1/2 minute) video and be encouraged. It felt like the perfect ending to this post.

The Cry of Humanity

Subways in cities are a microcosm of our world. In an enclosed space with graffiti and advertisements for art, we bump into, and sit by, complete strangers. It is in subway cars that languages from all over the world blend together, a verbal match to the rhythm of the train, and every shade of skin color is present. You never know if you are sitting next to a soon-to-be Nobel prize winner or someone who can barely make it to the next day.

Except sometimes you do – because sometimes the person is so drunk that they teeter across the moving train and fall against you.

Sometimes the person is so mentally ill that if you make eye contact you will face burning rage that reveals itself through a nonsensical tirade.

Other times the person is violently lashing out and your heart beats a little faster, wondering if now is the time to pull the emergency lever. 

It’s these times that there are clear distinctions between the sane and the insane; between the ‘broken’ and the ‘whole’; between the drunk woman and the rest of the car.

It was like this the other day. The sane and sober watched as a drunk woman took the stage on the ride home. She alternated between angry belligerence and tearful grief. She stumbled and fell, held up by the sober man who was with her. Her face spoke a hard life with mascara and lipstick smeared, premature wrinkles, and a glazed hard shell over her eyes.

What grieved me was the laughter and mockery her performance yielded. It was human on human attack and inside and outside I cringed. There was no effort made to hide it; she was a person to be mocked and avoided.

But what resonated to my core were her words just before we reached my stop. Sobbing she looked at the man with her and said “Just let me go! Let me cry! Let me be. You don’t care anyway!” 

The words struck me as the cry of humanity – a cry that pushes away, that can’t receive comfort, that, despite the tears and sorrow, wants to go it alone. The cry that reminds me of a two-year old “Do by self!” — emphatic in its scream of independence.

The cry of humanity that every one of us on the subway understood, but that most of us have learned to disguise.

The woman pushed away at the man who was with her the way I push away at God.

Let me go! Let me cry! Let me do it my way! Let me be! You don’t care anyway. The cry of all of us really. The cry of humanity that has echoed to the Heavens since time began. 

The man wouldn’t be put off. He held her as she pushed back. He took the punching and the hitting and spoke softly to her. He stood tall as she fell against him, finally defeated, finally realizing that yes – she did in fact need him. She couldn’t have taken two steps without his support, his strength,his sobriety.

And the rest watched – mocking.

We got off at the same stop. I went one way. They went the other – the woman leaning on her support as he walked her toward the exit.

It struck me that despite appearance, they may be the two sanest people in that subway car. The one – who realized despite her drunken state, that she was desperate for support; the other – determined to stay with her and support her through the ride.

These two, broken and exposed, illustrated in virtual reality both the cry of humanity and the answer to that cry. 

The Broken Suitcase

Fridays with Robynn

A typical suitcase

I was on my way to Turkey to speak at two back to back women’s retreats with my friend, and the coauthor of Expectations and Burnout, Sue. It was the first time I had travelled internationally in four years. For someone who has had a passport since she was eight, who’s traversed the globe multiple times, who’s childhood was expended overseas and who’s birthed two babies on the banks of the Ganges river– this was a really big deal.

And I was excited.

I think because travel is built into my DNA and I love it, I’ve always had this quirky but simple fantasy. I long for the day when I can travel with matching luggage. We’ve always had mismatched pieces. We’ve scrounged them at yard sales and thrift stores or we’ve found them on sale racks. Most of the time they’re sturdy pieces, hardy little things that carry the weight of our burdens on their little wheels. Often they have a slight warble to their frame, or a snag in a zipper. But we make do. They work. And when they no longer work we replace them quickly, easily, cheaply.

But I would love to have matching luggage. Streamlined and floral perhaps? Or I’ve seen some interesting pieces in unique colours. Luggage that says “Travel is my priority. It’s what I do”. Bags that wear the Panera Bread name tags that declare, “My passion is Travel”. That’s what I’d love. I think I would look impressive pulling such bags behind me. I would look calm and collected, ready for the world and whatever it might bring.

On this particular trip to Turkey, matching luggage was not to be. I had two small bags packed and ready to go. One was black and tidy, the other flaming red and flamboyant. The red one housed copies of Sue’s and my book to sell at the retreats as well as gifts for the attendees. It was a heavy bag. I had probably asked too much of it.  To make matters worse, as Lowell was loading it into the back of the car, one of the wheels fell off! The timing couldn’t have been worse. We were on our way to the airport. There was no time to stop and buy another bag, or to really even repack. Lowell ran back into the house and brought out a bag that was bigger. He cleverly set the red bag inside the bigger bag zipped it up, threw it in the back of the car and off we raced.

When we got to the airport and weighed my babooshka Russian stacking doll suitcase it was too heavy. We took the red one out of the bigger one and Lowell advised trying to purchase another bag en route at the next stop. It was annoying to say the least, to have this gimp bag, but I really didn’t have any other immediate solutions.

Of course the first flight was delayed which meant my opportunity to replace the broken suitcase was gone. I checked it in, through to my final destination, and hoped for the best. I also ran a prayer tape around it asking God to please, at the very least, hold it together. It seemed to me that copies of Expectations and Burnout would do better in the hands of the women than strewn from here to Istanbul and back! We needed those books and treats for the women.

Please God protect my little worn out suitcase!

When I reached Ankara, I couldn’t find my bags at all. Neither one of them. After some limited exchanges in English and sign language, I discovered a whole other terminal with a whole other set of conveyor belts. There, forlornly, going around and around were my two bags, one black and the other red. To my shock and great amusement (it was either laugh or cry at this point!), both the wheels were now off the red case. In their place were the two spiky attachment posts. The case was too heavy to carry and I couldn’t find a trolley so I dragged the case toward the exit.

Turks take their travel very stylishly. Matching suitcases are a given. They also wear fashionable clothing and amazing footwear. I was surrounded by beautiful men and women wearing beautiful things and carrying beautiful bags. It seemed no one had travelled very far…no one had the glazed over fog of jet lag in their eyes. Everyone laughed and smiled glamorously. There were reunions and joy and beauty all around.

Meanwhile, feigning confidence, I dragged my bags to the exit, successfully carving out two parallel scratch marks in the Ankara arrivals hall.

A couple of days later while Sue and I were preparing to teach the retreat, I had a wave of thick insecurity and raw paranoia. Suddenly it struck me: who did I think I was to come to this place to teach on burnout? I am not an expert. I am not educated in these things. Expectations and Burnout was born from Sue’s Masters Thesis. She is the expert. She is well read and researched on the topic. She has read the surveys and she has studied the materials. It was natural that they would invite Sue. Sue is the obvious candidate to speak on these painful issues. I am not Sue. I shouldn’t have been there.

And then we got word that one of the women had decided not to attend. She said she wasn’t well enough to come.

I knew the real reason she cancelled….she decided not to come because she heard I was speaking.

As ridiculous as that sounds, that was the “logical” conclusion my soul came to. I was beside myself with nervous self-consciousness. I was tying myself up in knots of fear and insecurity and self-pity and inferiority and shame and embarrassment.

I excused myself early from lunch to go to my room to pray. I needed the Outside Voice of God to speak calm and reassurance to my soul. I needed to cast my cares on Him. I needed to hear loudly from Him that He did still care for me–as ridiculous as I was being.

As I sat on my bed, I looked down at my little red suitcase. There was a bedraggled bag, worn out from use, broken from being mistreated. If God could use that little suitcase to successfully deliver books and treats, truth and love to these women in Turkey….surely he could use me. I am worn out. I’ve broken and been misunderstood. I’ve carried too much for too long. I’ve barely held it together. I have disappointed people and I’ve been disappointed by people. I’ve fallen apart repeatedly. I’ve obsessed. I’ve given into self-pity many times. I often don’t match the suitcases I’m travelling with. I’ve felt lonely, and sad, insecure and miserable.

Graces of graces, God has still used me to bless others. As mysterious as it is…He has used me, in my brokenness to deliver truth and beauty, love and laughter, hope and encouragement to my kids, to my community, to the sisters surrounding me.

Like my suitcase, I’ve often left two parallel lines behind me, as I’ve dug in my heels and dragged my feet, stubbornly resisting where I’m going, or what I’m carrying. God mercifully keeps letting me be involved in what he wants to deliver. He keeps using this middle-aged case… He keeps me together!

I’m a case alright…..But I’m His case.

Amazing Grace in a Hospital Atrium

I stand in the atrium of a large city hospital complex. I am waiting for the woman I am meeting, but I am early, so I put in my ear buds and press the Sufjan Stevens album. Amazing Grace begins to play and suddenly I am acutely aware of the words to the music and my surroundings.

Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound

The woman in labor, walking slightly supported by her husband, clearly early in the process as she is still smiling. They walk to the small café, get some juice, preparing for later in the day when she will not be smiling. Today they will welcome a new baby to the world. I already see a glimpse of the joy that is imminent, joy complete at the cry of a newborn.

On the other side of the atrium is an older woman, limping with a cane, a concerned husband by her side, holding her and zealous for her well-being. They too are waiting. Passing time before an appointment or procedure.

That Saved a Wretch Like Me

I catch sight of myself in a reflective window and shake my head. I belong here. With the limping and hurting, with those who need surgery and help.

I once was lost, but now am found

People mill around, many looking lost and slightly dazed. Time has stopped. We are now on hospital time and hospital time is like no other. Hospital time is measured by procedures and diagnoses, bad news and good news, chemotherapy and x-rays. Minutes and hours don’t matter – what matters is what the doctor will tell you and when.

Was Blind But Now I See

A blind man walks in from the street with a service dog followed by a family. It’s unclear why they are there, but their faces show signs of stress and anxiety. What is their story? How have they come to this place at this time? Is it a relative? A mom or dad; grandma or grandpa, sick and in crisis?

T’was Grace That Taught My Heart to Fear

I see the woman I am to meet coming my way and immediately know there is something wrong.

And Grace My Fears Relieved

She tells me in a broken voice that her mother has died. She is leaving for Taiwan in a few days to go be with the rest of her family. We talk about this and I hug her – knowing there is nothing I can say or do, but in faith believing that maybe, just maybe, being present will help ease the hurt. In this place her tears do not bring even a glance. Many have tears in this place.

How Precious Did That Grace Appear

We get down to business and the meeting goes well. And then it is time for both of us to go, to leave this place of those who know they are broken, and go out in the street, to those who think they are whole.

The Hour I First Believed

Reality Check from the City

The city has a way of reminding me that the world is not as it should be. There is more dirt and grime, the homeless are ever-present, the blind with service dogs walk beside those who, with canes, are limping their way through life, and the general atmosphere is one of chaos. You can’t escape life and all that it encompasses. It’s my daily reality check – for no matter how I’m feeling and what the condition of my life, there is always someone who is having a much harder time

No matter how much frosting you put on the city, through Longchamps totebags and designer suits, the broken are still there. But that’s why I love the city. It reminds me of me. I can “clean up” real well, but even as I clean up, I’m aware of my insecurities and flaws, those things that are broken and can hurt others. My eyes, sometimes blind to needs around me; my feet sometimes limping toward a goal instead of running; and the dirt and grime of some of my thoughts and actions.

This weekend, in the midst of decorating a large open space for the wedding of my niece, I began talking to a friend. We were surveying the overall look of the room, once the linen tablecloths, flowers, and candles were in place. Once that was all in place, the ugly didn’t matter. The ugly was part of the overall picture but not the focus. Someone had told my friend that when you make a quilt, you need a color that is ‘ugly’. While by itself the color is not something you would ever choose, once it’s put into the mosaic of the quilt, it fits together perfectly. At that point no one would call the fabric ugly – it’s a pattern of beauty. The total package of the city is the same – while the separate parts are a reminder that life is not as it should be, the whole is a picture of beauty and opportunity. A beautiful, though broken, space and the opportunity to reflect love and grace in the midst of it.

Here are glimpses of my everyday world in the city. Even as I daily see things that make me cry – a teenage girl sobbing into her cell phone at 7am, unable to stop because she is in pain; a man sleeping, curled up in a doorway with a bottle of Listerine beside him; another angry at all of life shouting at anyone who passes with language that describes his life, I also see glimpses of beauty and redemption around every corner.