It was the day of surgery. After several short weeks of tests and doctor visits, the day had come for Nancy to undergo the procedure that would hopefully remove the rest of a troubling polyp and possible colon cancer.
This was a different day. A day spent filling out forms and waiting in a large hospital, unsure of what lay ahead. There we were, the two of us, after almost 23 years of marriage, together in the waiting area. Together, but also wondering whether we might not be somewhat alone on this ride. Of all days, this was a day upon which it would be nice to know that one is not doing this surgery thing, well, solo.
In a perfect world, on a day like this, it would be nice be surrounded by a group of thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate friends. Those who could say just the right thing at just the right time. Perhaps a trained psychotherapist, and a thoughtful relative, someone who does not spout off platitudes, but knows when to be quiet, and when to offer a word of encouragement. Oh, and having someone with a thorough theological education might be nice as well, for those tough, "where is God?" moments.
That is not who we had with us, and that is not what we got.
As we waited, in the distance we spotted a familiar sight, and a familiar person. For the past 22 years we have lived in the same house on the same block. At the other end of the block was a family with a mentally challenged son, who is close to our age. For many years, he lived at home, and worked on the housekeeping staff at City of Hope. We will call him John.
And on this day, of all days, the man we got was John. And it was, at least for me, a Visitation of sorts.
John came slowly ambling toward us, cleaning towel in hand, his face brightening as he recognized his neighbors from South Pasadena. There is something quite calming about a conversation with John, he tends to put one at ease quite quickly, as was the case with us on this morning. John does not engage in complex conversation, but the style in which he speaks and listens is something we could all use as a lesson in active listening.
"How are you today", John asks.
"Fine, John, and you?" is our reply.
"Fine. What are you doing here today?", John wants to know.
"Well, we are here for Nancy's surgery; she is scheduled to go into the operating room soon", we say.
"Who is her doctor?", John asks, smiling. (We find out later, that almost everyone at City of Hope knows John)
We tell John the name of our doctor, and he asks, "Is he a good doctor?"
(I should interrupt here and add that this question is not one that I am sure is published in any therapy manual for hospital or social workers anywhere. But for us, this seemed a perfectly logical and good question, asked by a good man with absolutely none of the grown-up filters we place on ourselves in our modern society.)
And so, we answered, "Yes, John, he is a very good doctor, and we like him a lot". By the way, he is, and we do. Saying that "yes" felt very good indeed.
"That is good", smiles John. "How long are you staying here?", he asks.
"Just one night", is our reply.
"That is good", responds John. "Then, you can go home and recuperate", he adds.
The conversation lasted a bit longer, but I don't recall the details. They don't really matter. But I can tell you that I had the sense, in just that short conversation, on that very important morning, that we didn't need any experts, or wise people, or good counsel.
Instead, we got what we needed. A few moments with John.