Imagine a doctor’s office waiting room full of patients. They are not comfortable. They sit, they stand, they shuffle around trying to get comfortable. It’s a Neurosurgeon’s office. We’re talking neck, spine and brain issues, here. Add to that a 2 hour wait because your doctor is the top in his field and takes time with each patient. (Because he’s not a jerk.) Good. Uncomfortably bored yet? Me too.First we play a few rounds of “Musical Waiting Room Chairs” (Fun game. Gather a group of neurologically challenged patients in a small room and have them fight for the 4 most uncomfortable chairs on earth while accompanied by Muzak versions of 80’s music. Those with wheelchairs and fancy walkers with seats? Watch them. They cheat.) Ok. Knit for a while. Now read. Check your email.
Bored yet? Me too. So, once we’ve worn out the musical chair game- it’s time to work the crowd.Last week- I didn’t work the crowd alone. I had a wing-mom. My mom. Let’s just say, my mom could get a stump to talk, and you’d find the story it told, charming. Trust me. She has people skills. And this was room full of people. Score. In the middle of the room sat a dapper, elderly gentleman in a wheelchair. (A musical chair cheater but, I digress.)Somehow he managed to make that chair look like a throne. He was regal. From his Scala hat to his blinged out watch- this he had style. And he liked to talk. Which is good. Because we had time, and we’d already won 2 musical chairs… we weren’t going anywhere.
So we talked. We were enchanted by his accent and his story for being there. (Everyone at the neuro-surgeon has a story. His involved a car accident. And a woman driver and a lot of hand gestures. It was: Not his fault. Trust me- he wants you to know this.) His crinkled olive skin, bald head and quirky hat were topped off with a wonderful, thick, but not quite placeable accent. Which I wanted to place. (I was still bored. A little.)
Italian? Maybe. Greek? Not quite. He reminded us of family…. so I asked… “Where are you from? Italy? Greece?” I was pretty sure it was Mediterranean. I got.. but exactly where? I had no clue.
“Oh … between Italy and Greece.” He said- then launched into a soliloquy about Italian food that left me drooling….(Not a side effect of my Spinal fusion… just hungry.)
I brought up the very incomplete “google-map” of the area in my mind…..Which pretty much looks like an instagrammed picture of a soccer ball and a high heeled boot…. I couldn’t think of anything between the two.
“You sound like my Grandpa.” I said hoping he’d tell me….he didn’t.
“Malta?” My mom prompted.
“No, No…” He said- but not offering any clarification and continuing on about his recovery in the rehab center.
I started to feel like I was on a new game show.. One where you guess the speaker’s homeland by his accent and win a discount on your next surgical procedure. Or a trip. That sounds better. Let’s go with the trip. Either way-I was losing.
So was my mom. We kept guessing.
He kept deflecting.
Finally- his wife piped in. “Lebanese. He’s Lebanese.”
“Oh….” My mom and I responded.
“I’m not afraid to tell people.” He announced.
Which told us: he was exactly that.
He then told a story of visiting a casino and standing outside to enjoy a smoke… and being harassed by a police officer. “They don’t like us there.” He said.. slowly shaking his nattily-hatted head.
“They don’t like us there.”
We made sure he knew we like him here, just fine.
We listened. We commiserated. We talked food. We told him the wait for this doctor was worth it. I might have picked up a little contagious- accentus while I sat there.
Then, I went in to see the doctor. He was gone when we left. But, his words have haunted me all week:”They don’t like us there.”
How heartbreaking that such an amazing, charming man who could be my grandpa— or yours- would ever feel like he’d have to “fudge” his country of origin because he’s been rejected for it before…….The truth is we’re all (well- almost all.) immigrants here.
I wish I could have changed how he felt.
I wish I would have given him a big hug. (Between the hat, the wheelchair and the few boundaries I do have.. that would have been awkward.)
I’ve been thinking about him all week. It wasn’t a fluke that we were there at the same time.
I hope he felt accepted. He was.
I hope he felt heard. He was.
Racism ( pretty much all “ism’s” ) hurts. It makes us hide who we are- to protect ourselves.
It’s time to make the world a safer place.
It’s time to: Smile. Talk. Listen. it’s time to love the different around you.
We can change this.. one appointment at a time.
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility,gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. Col 3:11-15