Inanity is a particular hazard of suburbia. Sometimes, especially at kid events, I end up in these frivolous conversations. I look at this other person and know that there are more meaningful things we could discuss if we could just figure out how to get there. The problem isn't the other person. I'm solidly holding up my end of this silly conversation. We need little Tish from Momastery who proclaimed in the middle of a birthday party full of grown-ups her mother barely knew...
"MY DADDY MADE SOME BAAAAD CHOICES. THEN HE WENT AWAY TO SOMEPLACE THAT’S TEACHING HIM TO MAKE SOME BETTER CHOICES. THEN WE ALMOST GOT DIVORCED. THEN MY MOMMY WENT TO VISIT HIM FOR A WHOLE WEEK AND SHE LEARNED SOME STUFF AND FORGIVED HIM. NOW DADDY’S COMING HOME TO LIVE WITH US AGAIN."
The adults were horribly uncomfortable but the children were just happy for her.
Maybe I should start blurting out
My husband has cancer and it's so hard to watch him suffer and I'm afraid he's going to die and then I would miss him so much it would feel like someone had vacuumed out my insides and my children might grow up with this gaping hole in their lives and I'm scared they won't know what he's really like because they're just so young - that he puts frozen pizza in the microwave for 3:33 because that's more efficient than 3:30, his eyes light up when he reads an article about something science-y that he's never heard before and that when he knew I was angst-y about having left him alone to run a few errands, he texted me
Can't talk.bRffing all over the place. It's the swings coming. I think zombies are real.*And plus, without him who will check the mail or return Redbox movies on time?
The closest I've come so far is bursting into tears in a crowded elevator.
We've spent a lot of time at the cancer hospital. While the drive and all the waiting are annoying or excruciating depending on my mood, it's actually a refreshing place. Even when engaged in surfacy conversation, every non-employee is wearing their truth like a billboard. They might as well write "I HAVE CANCER" (obvious physical signs or the white hospital bracelet they cuff you with practically as you walk in the door) or "SOMEONE I LOVE HAS CANCER" (standing next to the person with the bracelet) on their foreheads with a black Sharpie. That little piece of enormous truth "weaves tragic graces" around scenes I would normally misunderstand or miss entirely.**
That sullen tattooed and pierced teenager I passed in the hall is now sitting beside his unconscious grandfather, holding his hand.
A very well dressed pair of middle aged women is on their way out for some shopping while one of them waits for her appointment with the oncologist.
The woman who freaks out at the receptionist over the wait time is the sleep-deprived wife of someone who just started chemo in the last week or two.*** Most of her anger really has nothing to do with the situation she's fighting right now.
The fairly ordinary looking group of twelve or so sitting around a table in the cafeteria on a Saturday is spending part of their weekend paying a lot for parking and eating crappy hospital food in a show of love and support for a very frail, elderly man sitting at the head of the table.
The two older men having a loud and braggy conversation in the waiting room are lonely. They're both patients at the hospital, and they're bravely fighting a terrible and exhausting battle and they're doing it alone. And when one of them made a comment comparing the young lady (I'm pushing 40, but that's a relative term) typing with her thumbs to slide rules back in the day, I probably should have accepted the implied invitation and asked a few questions about how things used to be.
The guy who's watching a movie on his computer and not using headphones is waiting for a loved one to finish up their chemo treatment. He probably really needs the distraction and the fact that the noise is annoying is really not that important.
And one of my favorite scenes I see again and again. It's an elderly patient helped along by a young, healthy grandchild who could be out doing something much more exciting and less depressing but has chosen this holy work instead.
Those same people are beside me at Starbucks and the grocery store and the pool - it's just that I don't recognize them.
"Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." ****
Even that obnoxious guy who just cut you off in traffic.
* Chris thinks this is unclear, so I'll spell it out. While this text was somewhat drug-assisted, it was mostly pure, unfiltered Chris, say 5% phenergan, 95% Chris.
** That's right. I quoted Herman Melville. You should be impressed.
*** I'm extrapolating a lot here, but my logic is sound. You only fight the waiting time situation for the first week. After that, you either surrender, are committed to an institution or lose it in such a spectacular way that they bar you from the hospital grounds.
**** Thank you to my small group leader Taylor for introducing me to this quote. It's often attributed to Plato, but according to a guy with a believable sounding blog, that would be anachronistic by about 2500 years, and these are most likely the words of a Scottish minister, Reverend John Watson (pen name Ian MacLaren).