An Outbreak of Joy

Going to a doctor’s office is not on my hit-parade of things to do.

Old magazines in the waiting room; after a long wait, being poked and prodded, stuck; feeling tolerated by staff; cups to fill…..none of these things fill me with a sense of joy and wonder in God’s Creation. Rather, I tolerate them. Reluctantly.

Back in Tyler, Texas, I could just walk in to the office of my friend and golf partner, Dr. Dan Toney. He would take a quick look, give me what I need, send me on my way, perhaps with a Cuban cigar, and laugh at my defense mechanism jokes. My kind of Doc.

But that was in the Nice Nineties. Today, not so much.

This Monday, I had to go for a check up here in my new island home. I was not looking forward to it with anticipation. Not so much anxious, but just a pain in the ass, an interruption in my busy day.

I love it when God surprises me.

First off, the waiting room. Normally, a quiet, somber place where people are conjoined in a common anxiety and impatience. We sit through the wait quietly, rarely looking at the others, in the old days looking in magazines, now honed into our phone screens. Add to that, social distancing and masks, and you have the waiting room from Hell.

That’s what I expected.

What happened was far different. Two older men (“older” is a relative term) were sitting across the room from one another. I could tell immediately that they were of the extravert persuasion, who had been suffering at home in isolation. This was a chance for them to engage in the fine art of communication which they wanted to claim. One was more talkative than the other, wearing a Hawaiian shirt that I would only wear if I had been drinking heavily, the other man in more muted tones.

They began to talk about the new development going on in the region, how it’s making their island unrecognizable. There was some politics in the mix, mostly about local politics. And of course, they talked about traffic. Now, these dudes had never been in LA freeway traffic, Houston mess, or the I-285 Atlanta International Raceway traffic, but “traffic” is a relative term, much like the aforementioned aging. They’re clearly “agin” it.

A funny turn in the flow of the river happened. The Hawaiian shirt dude began his lament regarding church. Not about how it was losing its way, or meddling in politics. Rather, both men began to express their pain of missing the gathering of the people of faith. They took time to recognize the creative efforts of their pastors, but asserted the lack of the personal. Zoom or Facebook can only convey so much. They both longed for the “good old days” of touching, of gathering, of being.

They simultaneously began to talk of communion. Subdued dude offered that his church was distributing “crackers and juice” in plastic bags which could be picked up at the church, and then shared during the communal cyber moment. He noted that he picked up several bags and took them to the shut-ins who could not get to the church. He said this with a spirit of service that seemed grateful for the opportunity to be helpful to his fellow human beings. I think I would be right in both guessing he was from South of God kind, and was a person who knew of the Servant’s heart.

Hawaiian guy dropped some hints that he was of my Episcopal tribe. He talked of two small parishes in his community, Darien, I believe. They were taking the Blessed Sacrament, his words, to the members in their homes. The clergy and lay members shared that responsibility.. He noted with some mix of surprise and admiration that one church had resorted to a “drive by” communion, with people getting their sanitized sacrament as they drove past in cars. “These are strange days…..can’t wait till we get back to normal!” he said.

It occurred to me that we were having Church in that waiting room, safe distance, masks, and all. Communion was breaking out in the context of this strange day because it is what we long for, what we need. Connection.

I almost hated to be called away from this waiting area for my appointment, but yield to the call, I did, said Yoda.

I was meeting with another doctor, as my doctor of three weeks was on vacation on the Florida panhandle. This new doc reminded me of my friend, Dr. Toney, as he entered the exam room, flooding the space with human warmth. I felt like I was in good hands, a nice place to be. After he examined me, talking about his days at the University of Georgia, our common Sigma Chi bonds, and his pride in his son who went to Georgia Tech who graduated with a 3.9 GPA (he did NOT join a fraternity), he looked me in the eye and pronounced, “You’re good” as he carefully touched my knee. It was a verbal and physical blessing, as pastoral as that of any bishop I have known. You can’t teach that kind of presence, Actually, you can. It called Emotional Intelligence, and I teach it to docs, executives, and priests all the time, but it was good to be on the natural receiving end of a human touch of caring.

Leaving the professional building, I had one more surprise in store for my holy morning.

An older couple, the kind of couple I see, or notice, more and more these days, were walking together from the parking lot, across a busy lane where cars move quickly, anxious to escape the gravity pull of doctor’s offices. The couple was entering the “danger zone” as they were crossing. I noticed a red car moving down the lane toward the couple. The driver could have rushed through without endangering the slow-moving two. Instead, the car stopped, and allowed the two to shuffle across with no fear. The driver slowly advanced after the couple was past, and as she did, the older man turned and waved at the car, bellowing a grateful, “Thank you for stopping, ma’am!”

No big deal, right? Except the driver was a young black girl, and the couple were old white folks.

The moment moved me. Common courtesy, you say? Perhaps, but what I saw and celebrated all the way back, across the causeway to my home on the island, was a profound moment of community. A person taking it upon herself to slow down to make another’s passage safe. And a person who paused, took the time and energy to say thanks. No big deal, you say? In today’s world, in a climate that is decidingly warming in polarization and selfishness, it was a huge deal. A sacrament of caring, of giving a damn.

A conversation/communion in a waiting room. A touch/blessing by a doctor. A pause and a thanks on asphalt. The way it is supposed to be.

For me, a morning of grace, which I celebrate and share. And, dare hope.

3 thoughts on “An Outbreak of Joy

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