A hospital waiting room. My wife sits to my right, waiting on a routine visit. Nothing major. Run-of-the-mill stuff. Welcome to the land of medical care. There will be a co-pay.
And at the moment my wife is hypnotized by the corner television—which is tuned to a home improvement show.
The TV host, a hip guy in a tool-belt, is about to create vaulted ceilings in an average residential bathroom using only his ingenuity, a sledgehammer, and an off-camera 260-man contractor crew. My wife asks if I think our bathroom needs vaulted ceilings.
I do not.
To my left I see a couple, mid-30s. He looks like he works hard for a living—scuffed jeans and boots, weathered skin. The woman beside him, a strawberry blonde, bites her fingernails.
“It’s cold in here,” she’s saying.
“Yep,” he answers with a blank face.
She pets his hand then holds it. And while he stares straight ahead, she measures her tiny hand against his big one. One of Monet’s water lilies hangs behind them.
“Are you scared?” she asks.
He shrugs, eyes on the television.
On TV they’re now using subway tiles for a kitchen backsplash instead of, I don’t know, non-subway tiles. The TV host is quite excited about this. These subway tiles are apparently a big deal to TV Guy. I get the feeling TV Guy wakes up in the morning and showers with his tool belt on.
My wife taps my shoulder. “I want one of those backsplashes.”
The woman in the waiting room leans her head on the man’s shoulder. He’s gazing at the television, deep in thought. Maybe he wants a subway-tile backsplash, too.
The woman says, “I’ve been praying that the doctor can cut it all out while he’s in there, I mean, every last bit.”
“Yeah,” says the unblinking man, letting out a sigh. He’s in no mood to chat about whatever cutting he is about to undergo. He is unemotional. I’ve worked alongside men like him my whole life. To show fear before the gentler sex is a grievous sin.
So the young woman tucks herself under his arm and watches the blaring television.
The TV host is now discussing the utmost importance of color schemes for attaining true spiritual happiness and existential enlightenment.
The host is talking a lot about the psychology of wall color. TV Guy claims that red makes people feel empowered, purple imparts ambition, and yellow is for complete idiots. My favorite color is yellow.
Then the nurse calls the young man’s name.
He stands, removes his ballcap. His hair is a mess. He hands the hat to the woman beside him and takes a deep breath. His hands are trembling. “Gotta go, baby.”
She nods. “Okay.”
When they embrace she doesn’t see how tight he is closing his eyes, but I do. He looks like a boy when he holds her. His features become softer.
As an observer, I can tell that she is his best girl. She is his whole life. Every man has a reason for the things he does in this world, a motivating purpose behind each hammer swing. She is his.
He removes a silver band from his finger and a wristwatch, then hands them to her.
Then he walks through the double doors. When he’s gone, she collapses in her chair, presses his filthy hat against her face, and smells it.
“Area rugs,” says the clinically insane, loud-voiced TV host. “The most important thing when defining any space is using area rugs, I’m obsessed with my area rugs…”
The young woman has had all she can take. She stands and turns off the television.
Everyone in the room looks at each other awkwardly. Is she allowed to do that? Suddenly the waiting room is quiet and it takes everything within me not to applaud the woman.
The woman paces nervously. She is now placing the ratty cap over her head, pulling it tightly over her eyes. Then she walks outside, face in her hands.
I can see her shoulders heave up and down. She wipes her face with her sleeve so many times that her face must be chaffed pink.
I bow my head. My words don’t mean much. But I use them just the same.
God. Let that doctor cut it all out while he’s in there. Every last bit of it.
Jan - May 11, 2021 6:44 am
Deborah Blount - May 11, 2021 7:24 am
Barry Surratt - May 11, 2021 8:05 am
Sean, as a health care chaplain, you described what I walked into many times… words are of little use to her, presence is felt and prayers matter if only someone by one… thx for your column today.
Lander - May 11, 2021 8:08 am
Amen and amen.
Lander - May 11, 2021 8:05 am
Thank you for your good eye of observation and for your words. They’re more than good enough.
Sandi. - May 11, 2021 8:16 am
I wish we knew the outcome of that man’s hospital visit.
Barb Edwards - May 11, 2021 10:46 am
Suzi - May 11, 2021 8:22 am
You make me more aware of the humanity around me, make a tiny connection, share my heart. Thank you.
Barb - May 11, 2021 10:47 am
Thank you for these posts that deal with everyday life written in an everyday way. They are incredibly impactful.
Kathy Browning - May 11, 2021 10:52 am
“Every time we pray, something happens”. A quote from our pastor that I try to remember.
Lisa Holland - May 11, 2021 10:54 am
Tina C Anderson - May 11, 2021 10:59 am
Beautiful. Thank you, Sean.
Barbara - May 11, 2021 11:58 am
There’s much sadness in this life. There’s also much joy. So glad there is a God who will go thru it all with us if we let Him. I’ve sat where that woman sat and my husband has been where that woman’s husband went. It turned out good! We were so joyful! It doesn’t always turn out good. I’m sorry for those when it doesn’t and pray for them. Prayer is the best we can give! Thanks, Sean, for sharing your inspirations!
Pam King - May 11, 2021 12:12 pm
Maggie Priestaf - May 11, 2021 12:13 pm
Thank you for sharing the depth of life of others that you see around you…
Dana Blackwood - May 11, 2021 12:18 pm
I wonder if Ms. Sunshine from yesterday got through that “column” without totally breaking down. I sure didn’t. I’m using my words to remember that couple this morning.
Lori Jahn - May 11, 2021 12:28 pm
My husband and I enjoy your writings so much. Even with the bad grammar which we never notice because we enjoy the content so much. We love that you’re an observer. One of our favorite pastimes as well.
Cathy Moss - May 11, 2021 12:35 pm
You are an astute observer and therefore had the privilege of bowing your head for the man in the waiting room. God hears every prayer. Thank you for noticing that one was needed that day
Phil (Brown Marlin) - May 11, 2021 12:43 pm
Good for you, Sean, and, contrarily, I believe your words mean a whole lot. I have just said some for the young man and his sweetheart, too.
Karen Holderman - May 11, 2021 12:50 pm
In your observation of every day life the words you write are so powerful and meaningful. Thank you.
Patricia Harris - May 11, 2021 12:51 pm
This is one of your best, Sean. Going through similar but different circumstances. This time with a friend losing his wife to Alzheimer’s. I lost my husband if 56+ years to Alzheimer’s. I’m in love with my friend but he can’t find space yet to love me back. But I’m his world and he is mine. Love between couples is everything.
Nancy - May 11, 2021 1:14 pm
I should have gotten this in yesterday, but we were on the road. I’m a retired tech writer/editor and grammar nut. Your grammar is your style. It works.
Keep up the good work!
Al Cato - May 11, 2021 1:15 pm
“Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them.” I know that your day didn’t start with this in mind but opportunities to pray sometime come upon us when we least expect it. God’s always listening. Thank you for being there, willing and taking a moment to pray for this young couple.
CW - May 11, 2021 1:37 pm
Thank you for the juxtaposition between the inane and what really matters in life. God bless that sweet couple.
joan moore - May 11, 2021 1:52 pm
Oh Sean, yes we were right there with the couple and I am going to keep them in my prayers.Thank you so much for writing what is in your heart so we can share in the joys and sorrows you see.If it makes you feel any better, I am crying so hard, I can barely see the Subway tiles in the kitchen!
Judith Lane - May 11, 2021 1:54 pm
Your compassion and ability to connect spiritually with others is beautiful. Thank you for softly pointing out the true values in life.
Patricia Estep O’Neal - May 11, 2021 2:00 pm
That is a tear-jerker for sure. At some time in our lives we have had, or will suffer, that same torment.. It’s one of the toughest things one can ever experience. All of my siblings, and there were seven of them, have experienced the cancer monster, including my mom and dad. I remember sitting by my dad’s bed all night long, holding his hand, shifting him from side to side for just a little bit of comfort.
He had been orphaned as a child, work was all he knew. He had never known much about affection and love, so he never learned to show it. One more time, I tugged at him, trying to shift his body to a new position in order to relieve the pain, and then he threw his arms around my neck. I couldn’t pull loose. I was so shocked I could only think to say, “Why did you do that?” He replied, “Because I wanted to!” I was a grown woman with children of my own. That was the only time my Daddy ever hugged me. So far, I have dodged the cancer monster.
Sean, you write beautiful uplifting stories. That is obvious by the responses you get from your readers.
You might say I am the idiot who has had yellow walls since the early 1960s. The painter came and said, “What color do you want your walls this time?” I answered, “I guess I’ll go with ‘yellow’ again.” I love yellow! And as I write, I am staring at my yellow painted walls.
Liz Watkins - May 11, 2021 2:19 pm
I love yellow too!
God Bless that sweet couple! May God hold and keep them!
God Bless you, Sean🙏🏻
Margaret E Odell - May 11, 2021 2:32 pm
Lulu - May 11, 2021 2:38 pm
Sean, I pray for that sweet couple…I pray the doctors got all of it…every little bit of it. Your attitude towards others is right up at the top…when people look at you they must see YES on your open face. Thank you for your smarts! Hugs ‘n Love (Love Changes Everything).
David P B Feder - May 11, 2021 4:16 pm
Sean, you darn well better get us an update on this story later on.
Linda Moon - May 11, 2021 5:26 pm
Good medical care is welcome for me. I’ve been scared more than a few times and still have a few bits that can’t be cut out. So you’re welcome to say words for me any time, Sean. I’m very glad your wife’s visit was routine with nothing needed but a co-pay! But I DO think you need vaulted ceilings. My home improvement guy and I have created a couple of those….maybe we were clinically insane at the time!
DiAn - May 11, 2021 5:55 pm
Sean – Thank you for this great column. We all need to remember that life is about more than subway tiles, and loud T Vs in waiting rooms. And yes, we Do need to be grateful for the treatments we all receive – and the Grace we are showered with, including the remarks of an observant and blessed columnist.
Sue Cronkite - May 11, 2021 6:32 pm
Awesome examination of raw human nature.
Kate - May 11, 2021 7:10 pm
Sean, thank you for everything you write. I am so glad she turned the TV off. I HATE television on in doctor’s offices. And … I love yellow, I have always had yellow walls in my homes – somewhere – and maybe vaulted ceilings are nice – but it seems everyone is always selling us something else to do – to improve, to spend money on – so thank you as always for focusing in on what is important, love, prayers, hope, Saying prayers for that couple too. I have missed the cancer bullet twice. Now we will see if I can miss it a third time. You are amazing Sean.
Christina - May 11, 2021 7:33 pm
Sending a whole bunch of vibrant yellow light from Southern California to this beautiful couple. May they be graced with healing and life.
christina - May 11, 2021 7:38 pm
Sending a whole bunch of vibrant yellow light to this beautiful couple from Southern California. May they find healing and life!
molly - May 11, 2021 7:41 pm
you are wrong about one thing. your words of prayer do count. God hears them all.
Frances Montgomery - May 11, 2021 8:39 pm
You have left me a crying mess. Getting on my knees to start praying.
MAM - May 11, 2021 9:27 pm
AMEN! seems to be the appropriate reply. Prayers work!
Susan Kennedy - May 11, 2021 11:12 pm
dizzy50dianne - May 12, 2021 4:15 pm
Sean, I KNOW you’re a brother from another mother … ’cause we have SO much in common. Simple life. Simple people. Simple prayers. Love this.
Sandra Wolfe - May 13, 2021 9:13 pm
A sweet story. I hope the dr was able to cut it ALL out too