It’s curious how humans gravitate toward one another in a time of uncertainty. The whole room held about 60 empty chairs. A tall, slender woman entered the room dressed in a professional-looking suit pulling a luggage dolly and sat in a seat directly in front of me. She was about 55 years old, had a deep tan, short hair and appeared to be the athletic type. She immediately pulled out her cell phone and without any emotion in her voice called her daughter saying she was in Reno and her husband had to undergo emergency surgery.
As the conversation continued, I started to dislike her. She said she would have to cancel her last two weeks at Lake Tahoe, she didn’t think they could spend the following month in Hawaii and the family’s summer cruise might have to be canceled. There was no mention of her husband’s prognosis, the severity of the surgery or the possible conditions of his recovery. My judging brain cells kicked in and I jumped to the conclusion that she was a cold, wealthy snob with no real concern for her husband. His illness appeared to be more of an inconvenience for her rather than a life-threatening experience for him. But as we know, things are not always what they appear.
After the phone call, she fidgeted in her seat, stared into space, scanned the wall, searched for a magazine and finally made eye contact with me. I smiled and for no reason said, “Everything will be fine.” She totally ignored me and started to read the outdated Time magazine.
About 30 minutes went by and I wheeled myself into the hallway to get a drink of water. When I returned she asked me what it was like having to use a wheelchair. I gave her my classic response and said, “It’s better than lying in bed feeling sorry for yourself and besides, everyone I know uses a wheelchair — even you. They are called Chevrolets, Fords and Toyotas. We all have limitations. You need your wheelchair to go to work, I use my chair to get to the bathroom. When you’re handicapped and accepted by others, regardless of your disability you know who your real friends are and sometimes that makes it all worthwhile. There are no users or phony people in my life, only friends.” Out of nowhere her eyes watered, a smile broke into a laugh and she asked if we could talk. And we did.
Her husband is a professional golfer on the European circuit. They saved their money for years planning a one-year vacation visiting family around the world. He injured his leg last year and ignored the infection that set in. The ER doctors in Lake Tahoe sent him here where they decided to amputate the leg. She said, “His professional golfing days are over and I just don’t know how we’re going to survive.”
This woman wasn’t a snob at all, far from it. As the air of financial success and halo of the super rich evaporated in my perception of reality, she looked and acted like a different person. Humbled by grief and tragedy of illness, she realized her privileged lifestyle in Europe was over. She talked about getting a job as a teacher, committing her life to helping her husband and finding a way to survive as a family. Her life would change but the family would survive. She managed a smile and said, “Everything will be just fine.”
The room was gradually filled with a standing-room-only crowd, all either worried, grieving, crying, deep in thought or praying. All of them were facing tragedy’s common bond of life’s uncertainty, and all were hoping for the best.
When my friend’s elbow surgery was finished and I headed for the recovery cubicle, I wondered if life itself isn’t just an eternal waiting room of grief, tears, despair, shattered dreams and broken hearts.
David Farside is a Sparks resident and political activist. The polemics of his articles can be discussed at email@example.com. His website is www.thefarsidechronicles.com.