Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lessons from a Waiting Room

video

     I’m sitting in the waiting room of the Center for Health and Wellness near the Portland waterfront by the spot where the OHSU tram starts.  Our youngest, Malia, is here for an MRI on her jaw to determine what the next step is for treating her TMJ trouble.  Though it’s a big deal for a sixteen year old, it’s an easy thing compared to most of what is happening for people in this room today.
     The sun is beaming in the window and it’s a beautiful morning outside.  Here in the waiting room, things aren't so beautiful, at least for many of those who wait.  There’s a man they just brought in on a stretcher, accompanied by paramedics.  He’s guided quickly into the back rooms.  Others linger in comfortable chairs, watching a large-screen TV that displays pictures of raindrops and butterflies while soothing piano music streams over speakers.  Some are here for blood tests, others for bone scans or MRIs.  A few people come in alone.  Many arrive with a husband or wife who waits while their spouse disappears into the back.  An attractive young woman with long brown hair pouring out from under a beige knit cap has come to the window by me to take a picture of the river with her cell phone camera.  Her tall husband with jet black hair has already been called in for his scan.  When he returns I see that he’s thinner than I first noticed, and his skin is a jaundiced, dark yellow color.   He moves slowly like an old man, though I doubt he’s past 30.  Nurses or techs come to check on people who have to drink foul liquids before their tests.  A grumpy woman tells a nurse that she fears she might vomit if they don't see her soon.  Wheelchairs and walkers are pushed by seniors who wear hats to keep their hairless, chemo-ridden heads warm and covered.
 Names are called.
“Nancy Kinnamon?” 
“Yes.”
“How are you this morning?”
“Fine” says Nancy, though she doesn’t look fine as she maneuvers her wheelchair through the door.
Another door opens.   “Charlie Olney?”  


The flow of people is constant but thins as lunch nears.
Life seems more urgent, more treasured here.  And much more fragile.  Smiles and eye contact come easier.  Snippets of stories and diagnoses are heard.
These are people who think about their lives just now.  
Most aren’t primarily concerned with what other people think; they don’t have time for that.  Their actions and interactions are measured, concise.  There is a different economy of relationships and energy in this place. 
Suddenly a small woman, perhaps in her early 60’s, plops down next to me as I’m typing away on my laptop, and speaks as if we’re old friends.
“Now tell me.  How do you type on that thing?  How does it work?”
“Well, it works just fine.” I reply, playing along in this different world.
“Can you get Facebook on that?”
“Yes.” Inside I chuckle, wondering what her Facebook page looks like.  I turn the screen towards her and show her the Shane Claiborne Facebook page I’ve been reading.
“Is that you?”
“No, he’s got a lot more hair and a much nicer face than mine.” 
She touches my arm and laughs.
“Can you watch TV on that?”
“No, but you can watch movies.”  
“That's what I want to do.  You’re so sweet to show me this.” 
We chat about computers for awhile.  She pulls out her dated cell phone and proclaims, "This is all I have right now."  Her finger hits a button and the battered phone makes a loud chime as she turns it on and shows me the screen.  "See, I still have 999 minutes!"  She laughs.   "Aren't you impressed?"
The door opens and she’s called in for blood work.
A few moments later she bounces out the door again, picking up our conversation as if only a sneeze had interrupted us.
“You see, I can’t afford much, but I want something simple enough for me to learn.  I had brain surgery and my short term memory is shit.”
I laugh.
“How are you now?”  
“Oh, I’m okay.  I come in to get checked every few months to see if everything is fine.  I had the surgery because of the seizures.  I have epilepsy.  They took part of my brain to stop the seizures and I haven’t had one since.  But my memory is shit.” 
I ask her her name as she gets up to go, and she smiles.
“Alison.”
“I'm Curt.  Nice to meet you Alison.  I will pray for you.” 
“Okay.  Thank you so much for talking with me.” 
And then she’s gone.

Bill Hybel's Easter sermon comes to mind as I look at the clouds and river flowing by.  "We live our lives in the dash” he said.  The dash between birth and death.  My “dash” started on November 13, 1960 when I was born.  The ending date hasn’t come yet for me, but it will. And when it does, what’s left in the middle is the dash of this life.
Curtis Buthe
November 13, 1960 - (Date of Death)
What do we do with the “ - ” in the middle that makes up life?  Do we flitter it away with cheap pursuits and distractions?  Do we spend our days like a foolish lottery winner who thinks his winnings can never run out?  Or do we invest what we’ve been given?  Hybels reminded his people that so much of life is determined by what takes place “in an instant.”  The instant when a nurse proclaims, "It's a girl!"  Or a doctor says, “Cancer.”  The instant an employer says, “The job is yours” or a spouse utters, "There's someone else."   All of these instants, and what we do with them, make up our lives.  They comprise our “dash.”
Thinking of these truths today and sitting here with people who know how to treasure each instant causes me to stop and thank God who gives these gifts.  It motivates me to do more with my dash, to make every instant as meaningful as possible.
 Teach us to number our days, 
   that we may gain a heart of wisdom. 
Psalm 90:12
What are you doing with your dash?
- Curtis