Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Lesson in the Waiting Room

"Sometimes the doctor's office waiting room is the loneliest, 
most desolate place in the world," 
suddenly said the stranger, sitting four seats from me.

I had taken Momma to the doctor since she'd been sick for days; she's also been bull-headed for years. Being the daughter that asks for feed help every so often with nothing in return, I didn't hesitate.

I took a book to read, as you never know how long you'll wait in those situations. Lucky for us, the doctor was surprised to see the BSG Operations Manager  sitting in his waiting room  and not in coveralls; he took her right in.  

While Momma was in back I kept reading Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action; the full, silent waiting room seemed like the perfect place to read. Until the stranger, four seats away, broke the silence with his comment. 

"Sometimes the doctor's office waiting room 
is the loneliest, 
most desolate place in the world."

He was older, probably in his mid-70s. He was a strikingly handsome man for his age, with a head full of wavy hair and a handsome smile. He wore brown shoes and black socks, a red flannel shirt with a turtleneck underneath. His jeans were faded but still in working order, and it wasn't until he went back to see the doctor that I noticed just how far he had them pulled up.  

With the exception of one guy, the entire waiting room looked up at the old man after he made his "loneliest, most desolate" comment out of the blue. 

He had our attention, and he continued...

"I've been to a few of these in my lifetime. I'm a cancer survivor. I had several heart stints put in a year ago. I thought I was out of the woods until just the last few months, but something isn't right. That's why I'm sitting here, I suppose," he said with a smile. 

I put my book down. I had this feeling I was about to learn something, and it wasn't about leadership.

He continued, "When I was out in Indianapolis years ago I made some friends out there. The first week was scary. I didn't know what I was in for, or what they - the others in the waiting room - were in for. But I finally got one of the other men talking and we got to be good acquaintances. Others, daily, joined our waiting room conversation."

I couldn't help but notice how well articulated he was. I also noticed that the lady in the corner went back to reading her Ladies' Home Journal. Are you serious, lady? How could you not find this survivor's story so intriguing? I thought to myself. 

Seeing he still had a somewhat captive audience, the man kept talking. 

"The place went from a room of scared, quiet, lonely fighters to a room full of supportive teammates. We were fighting the same battle. All we had to do was ask how the other person was doing that day. That's all it took to start a conversation. And to learn."

He took off his khaki coat and hung it over the chair beside him. I wondered why he hadn't done it sooner; it seemed like a blazing 400-degrees in that tiny room. 

"I truly believe that communication, that putting into words how we were feeling, saved my life. I looked forward to it. Guess I needed it. You never know what kind of battle that other person is facing until you ask," he said. 

The side door flew open, "Mr. Meyer?"

"That's me!" And as though he'd been healthy his whole life, the old man shot out of his seat, grabbed his coat and headed back to see the doctor. 

Just like that, the moment of inspiration had come and gone. But it certainly stuck with me, otherwise I wouldn't be sharing it here. What a simple, yet profound thought - we're never going to know or understand what a person is going through, or what they may need from us, until we simply ask. 

Take the time to ask, even if they wear a smile. 

That old man's inspiring words reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:

Be kind. Every day.

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