I had planned to write a very informative post today. One full of websites to visit, products to try, and stores to consider. But then the week took a different turn and I decided that information could wait. Because as I sat down to write it, I realized there was something much heavier weighing on my mind…and my heart…and though that something can’t really be put into words, perhaps parts of it can.
I should start out by saying I LOVE words. I voraciously devour them in books, I enjoy using them (sometimes excessively) in conversation, I enjoy writing them…and those who know me are well aware of my Spelling Bee past. You don’t get that without a deep affinity for words. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past few years, and again in the past few days, it’s that sometimes words fall short of what you need them to be. And then what?
This week started off on a high-note: I was heading back to the hospital where I have spent more hours than I care to count or remember. Only this time I was going back, not as a patient, but as a part-time employee. (That’s right, you spend enough time at a medical complex, you might just get to work there!) As I made the all-too-familiar drive (I’m fairly certain there were moments when my body was fighting with itself that I made that trip solely on autopilot), my spirit was light and my heart was grateful. In fact, I decided to drive in early for my shift so I could make a stop at the hospital chapel. I had spent so much time there over the past few months, praying for answers, strength, and healing that it seemed only fitting I should go back on this day to offer a prayer of thanks. Even the greeters at the front desk (with whom I’ve become well-acquainted) shared in my excitement. I believe the quote was, “It is so wonderful to see you in a name badge and not branded with one of those green bracelets” (the defining characteristic of patients at this particular hospital). I spent some time in the chapel and headed off to my shift.
|The patient becomes the employee…
Now, I guess one thing I didn’t expect about being around people who are deep in the midst of their medical struggles is that I wouldn’t always know what to say. Here I was coming off of my own health journey, and even prior to my own, my family has been no stranger to hospitals to say the least, so I guess some part of me thought I would be able to offer some words of hope and encouragement to these people. And then I showed a man to his room and left him with the words, “And if you need anything at all, just let me know!”…and immediately I went back in time about 3 months. How many times had I heard those words…and known them to be true…but not known what it was that I needed? I remembered sitting on a bench outside the doctor’s office one spring afternoon staring down at my phone. I must have over 100 contacts, any one of whom I knew would pick up right away (or call back at their earliest convenience) and would most likely drop everything to do whatever I asked. The problem was I didn’t know what to ask. I didn’t need a ride this time, I had no news to share, I didn’t need a class covered, or to cancel any plans. I didn’t even need to talk…I just needed something that couldn’t be expressed in words. And now I watched this man struggle with the same. He sat in a chair, glancing back and forth between his phone on the table, the news stories scrolling across the TV, and the birds outside the window. He sat there for quite some time before I went into the same room to make myself a cup of coffee. I noticed him watching me so I smiled and asked him if he wanted one too. He seemed startled at first but then nodded so moments later we were sitting in the great room with our cups of coffee as the news scrolled tidbits of courtroom cases, heat warnings, and of course the latest Royal-baby update (or lack thereof). We didn’t speak, we just sat and sipped. There were so many words I could have said to him, “I’m sorry that you’re dealing with this”, “I’ll keep you in my prayers”, “I know you’ll get through this”, etc. and though all those sentiments were true, in this moment words could never be sufficient. Instead, my love and concern for this man was best expressed through a simple cup of coffee, an understanding smile, and a fresh set of towels.
It was in that moment I again remembered how many moments like this I’d had of my own. Family and friends who came to spend time with me when I resembled more of a lifeless blob than my typically overexcited self (or probably even worse, when I was in somewhat of a medicated fog). There were so many words they could have spoken but instead I felt their love and found comfort in those little moments they spent with me: stopping in with my favorite lemonade, dropping off “safe” (at-least-we-thought-at-the-time) treats, delivering important forms and textbooks, printing out worksheets and sub plans, going for a walk, filing tax returns, watching old TV show reruns, “pinteresting” for more hours than is probably healthy, even cleaning my counters…and so many others. These actions spoke volumes at a time when I was feeling lost but didn’t have a clue what I needed (other than perhaps a real-life House, M.D.). Granted, I’m sure some words were spoken during each of those encounters, but what remained unspoken was decibels louder: I wasn’t alone, life was still going on, and if I ever figured out what I needed, there would be plenty of people to ask.
I came home from that shift only to learn that many people in my life are dealing with these same emotions this week. When tragedy strikes, words suddenly seem inadequate. We don’t know what to ask for, we don’t know what to say. Words of comfort seem trite and we’re left with so many questions we can’t quite formulate…and certainly no one can answer. We live in a world where silence has become rare. When you pick up the phone to call someone, it’s usually expected that there is a purpose for your call. When you make plans to see someone, there is almost always a particular purpose or reason. But what about those moments when you don’t have a particular purpose, topic of conversation, or question to pose? You just want to know that you are not alone. You want to spend time talking to someone about nothing…or everything as the case may be. You just want a genuine “I don’t have any words but this is me caring about you in this moment” bear hug. Or maybe you want nothing at all. Just to sit. And sip coffee. Knowing that even in this moment as you feel frozen in time, watching the obscure news stories of the day scroll by, that you are not alone and that you are loved.
No one can tell us what tomorrow will bring….and none of us are guaranteed that tomorrow. So take some time today. In the words of my favorite St. Joe’s friend, Miss Irene, “Miss Katie, the problem with people today is they’re so busy they forget to love one another. Anyone who is lucky enough to walk out of this place at the end of a day should be out there laughing, and smiling, and just loving people. Goodness knows no one sitting where I am is thinking ‘Hmm…I think I showed too much love in my life. Miss Katie, go out there and love some people for me.”
Now you’ve heard the woman too: Go out there and love some people today. And don’t just tell them. Show them. In fact, you might be better off skipping the words all together. Spend some time with someone. Share iced coffee or lemonade. Sit in silence, go for a walk, give someone a bear hug. Or if you’re one of those people who is feeling a bit lost today: pick up the phone. Call someone on your contact list. It’s OK to say I don’t know what I need but I just want to sit. Or walk. Or watch bad tv reruns. If all else fails, email me…I’m good at any of those options 🙂
I read once that there are about a million words in the dictionary but that doesn’t mean there are enough to articulate what you need. That doesn’t matter… because sometimes words just aren’t enough. But love? Love always is…