A beloved friend was recently going through a health challenge with his heart rhythm. His cardiologist recommended a surgical procedure to bring the rhythm under control. We promised his wife that we would come to the hospital to give her support while he underwent the 45-minute procedure.
It was a Wednesday morning, and we were certain that the surgical waiting area would be quiet and nearly empty. It was, after all, only 7:30 a.m.
Similarity In The Dissimilar
There must be a rule that every surgical waiting room in every hospital in America must follow because they are nearly identical with their woodgrain veneer furniture, Naugahyde covered chairs and racks of “century-old magazines.” In this room, as in most waiting rooms, there was television programming devoted to some aspect of health that no one watched, let alone cared about. There were a few vending machines dispensing snacks that no one would typically consume and a coffee and tea area that promised, but did not deliver, a “great cup of coffee.”
As we made our reassuring talk and silly little comments, I looked around at the mostly occupied room. It is a rather large regional hospital with multiple surgical suites. In the same room, there were friends and relatives of patients undergoing all sorts of procedures, from the simple to the complex.
It was not possible to tell the kind of surgery a patient was about to undergo by those in wait. They were young and old, of all races and of all religions. For one of the first things I noticed is that some wore necklaces displaying different religious symbols that were proudly proclaiming their faith. They were neither arrogant nor haughty, but merely saying “God is with me.”
There was an elderly man slowly turning the pages of a well-worn bible seated near an Orthodox Jewish man wearing a Yarmulke. There were others whose eyes were closed in prayer, and off to the side, a man whispering in prayer to his upturned palms.
Those assembled, were alone – waiting for the surgeons to give them the outcome of a devoted loved one. I saw every color of the human rainbow and incredible and gentle kindness. A man kindly offered to get a cup of coffee for an elderly woman, whose husband was having a biopsy; another man, quite nervous about his wife’s liver and gallbladder operation, was flipping the pages of a sports magazine, sharing sports commentary with two teenagers. The teens seemed to sense that the man needed human contact.
Nearly everyone assembled by chance that morning shared why they were there. They didn’t exchange first names or where they worked or how much money they made. No one cared who drove what, no one wanted to know the other’s politics, but the procedure was shared. When it was mentioned that the friend or relative was having a serious operation, you could observe others quietly nodding and gently smiling, as if their prayers and regards could be added to help ease the worries.
Love is Infectious
My friend is just fine, within 40 minutes the surgical nurse came out smiling that everything went very well; very well. However, that is not the lesson of that day. The lesson was, “My, how good we can be when we see the human-ness in one another.”
Then there is the follow-up lesson that is much more difficult to answer. Why can’t we, why can’t all of us, live at least part of the time as though we are all together in a surgical waiting room?
The more I have thought about it, the more I have concluded that it’s not that we are afraid to live (my goodness, everyone in that room hoped and prayed for life), it is that many of us are afraid to love. We are comfortable loving our families and our friends, but when we encounter the stranger in our midst, we freeze up and often fear the outcome of our vulnerability toward someone else.
I am not suggesting we all hang out at the local surgical waiting room. I am also not suggesting we must go on a six-month spiritual retreat. It might be as simple as acknowledging that the stranger next to us is us, and that we are all more alike than different, and more loving than filled with contempt. Hate grows where love is afraid to bloom. If you want to feel love, trust, and bliss, then leave your comfort zone. Stop walking past people you don’t know without saying hello. Beneath the skin, beyond the differing features and into the true heart of being, fundamentally, we are more alike, my friend, than we are unalike.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “People fail to get along because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they have not communicated with each other.” Communication leads to community, and community leads to understanding, closeness, and mutual valuing. There is unity in diversity!