Jan 17, 2018

Opening and Closing

The other day I visited a doctor's office for a routine check. The office is located in the hospital. As I turn the car into the hospital grounds, I quickly come to a halt. A long line of cars is clogging the entrance. After a few minutes, I make it up to the door of the building that also happens to be the spot for valet parking. Normally I would continue on to the parking garage, but it was bitter cold and gray, and I was running late, so I decide to splurge and let the valet park the car.

When I'm done with my appointment, I wrap my scarf around my head, go outside to the valet station and pay, and rush back inside to wait for the valet to bring my car. The waiting area has two sets of sliding doors, with a space of about 10 feet separating the sets of sliding doors. I assume that it was designed that way to limit the amount of cold or hot air that would blast into the waiting area. However, on this day, both sets of doors are opening and closing every few seconds. I am really cold, but I need to stand near the doors in order to see my car when it pulls up.

A dark-haired man, who appears to be in his 30s, is standing in the space between the doors, slouched up against the wall in one of the corners. He's wearing jeans and a jacket and looks like he wants to be anywhere else. Two little kids, a boy and a girl about 3 or 4, run back and forth in that same space, laughing and banging into the walls. Every time they run, they cause both sets of doors to open and close.

These kids are making me cold. I hate cold. I get cold in October and stay cold until April. Every October Mike and I plot moving to warm weather and every April we decide to stay in the DC area. I'm wearing gloves, a warm fuzzy scarf big enough to wrap around my head and neck, and a down coat. Even decked out in all those warm clothes, I'm cold. Plus I hate wearing the scarf over my head. I get bed head when I do. Whatever pouf I can get out of a blow dryer in the morning is immediately ruined by wearing a scarf. Oh to have thick curly hair!

I step back away from the glass doors, but then I can't see the driveway, so I have no choice but to stand closer to the doors. I feel the wind sweep in, and every time a door opens I get a little more annoyed. I want these kids to stop. I want their father to use his common sense and common courtesy and bring his kids inside. How can he just stand there, barely paying attention, while his kids run around letting all the cold air into the building? Doesn't he feel the cold?

I wonder if he and the kids visited the hospital to see his wife and new baby. Maybe that's why the kids are so wild -- a new baby can do that. But he doesn't look excited. He's not looking at his phone. He's looking down at nothing.

Finally, I see the young man look up as his car arrives and he calls to his kids. Thank goodness they are leaving.

Just then I see a thin, worn, frail, young woman wearing a dark green coat that hangs off her body, get up from the seats and slowly make her way past me and through the doors. I hadn't noticed her sitting behind me. She has a silk scarf wrapped around her head and dark skin around her eyes. I can tell that there is no hair under that scarf. I think she has cancer.

The woman joins the man and their kids and walks slowly to the car that is waiting by the curb. I watch as the valet rushes to open the door for her. The father puts the kids in carseats in the backseat, while the valet puts on the seatbelt for the woman. He seems to recognize the woman. After a minute, the father gets in the car and they drive away.

The sliding glass doors stay closed and I am warm again, but my heart isn't. The man wasn't visiting the hospital to see his new baby. He was there with his wife for something not good. Was the treatment just too hard or did they get devastating news? Or maybe both.

Eventually I get home and take off my coat and gloves and scarf. Sure enough, my hair looks wacky,  full of dry winter static. I go upstairs and run a wet comb though it just to settle it down and then blow it dry. I stop and look in the mirror and my mind wanders back. My heart is doing well and she may be dying. My life is opening and hers is closing.

I want to go back to that waiting room and smile at the man and his kids. I want to replace all my petty annoyances with respect and patience. I want her to have my hair and not a turban. I want to be grateful for thin static hair and not wish for thick curly hair. Just for a moment, I want to go back and trade places with her.

I can't do that, but simply being grateful for my good fortune doesn't seem enough. And, it's not enough to wail at the injustice. I'm not sure what is enough, or if there is an enough. But, I hope I have more patience the next time I see a man lost in thought as his kids bang against the wall, causing the doors to open and close, letting in all the cold air.


Andrew and Bertha Pilgrim said...

You write so beautifully. I could feel tears welling up as that frail young woman waled to her car.... Your story holds a lesson for all of us, for me for sure. Be more respectful and patient. Thank you.

Kimberly E. said...

Always love your stories Joan. May you be blessed in 2018 with a “boring” year!!

JanetB said...

And, you write your thoughts and feelings better than anyone. Thank you for this beautiful lesson on patience. Here's to a great boring year!

scootingranny said...

Beautifully said...sharing on my FB page

Starla said...

Wow. Thank you for sharing. A good reminder that we never know what others are going through so we always need to treat them with patience and kindness.

bluejeannes said...

Great message. And a reminder to be grateful for what we have—or have not.

Unknown said...

I love your writing Joan - and this story really hit home. My young daughter was recently diagnosed with lymphoma and my husband and I were in Virginia going through the same scenario last week at VCU Hospital - the lines, the valets, the cold waiting room. I could see many others there - some apparently were going through cancer treatment, others not so obvious. It was a very hard week but today my daughter sent me photos of the newly fallen snow in Richmond. She is feeling better today. Second round of chemo starts Monday. We are grateful for every day’s gifts of health, hope and life. Now that I’m back home in warmer Arizona - I find I wish I were there again in the snow because that’s where my heart is. Thank you for always helping me remember the very human things and also life’s most important things.

Joan B said...

Cathy, I hope you see this. I am so sorry that your daughter is going through this. It must be so hard for her and also for you, particularly since you are so far away. I hope her treatment goes well.

Unknown said...

Thank you Joan - your comments lifted my spirits! I will be back in Richmond soon but yes it’s hard to be far away. It’s one day at a time - which I know you understand. And thank you for always sharing a candid piece of you which I admire.

Jeanne H said...

Sending a big YAY for you.

Leslie Miller said...

You never know what's going on in a person's life. All those years working in a medical lab... our sweetest patients were the ones with the saddest stories.