I’ve spent two long weeks taking my Dad to the doctor’s every day for radiation treatments. Today was the last day, and following the treatment we celebrated by going to see his cardiologist. This man knows how to party.
We had a rather long wait in the waiting room, and while we sat patiently, a made-for-TV scene unfolded around us. An older Italian couple sitting to our right were clearly the actors on the Candid Camera payroll, but Allen Funt never made an appearance.
He was clearly hard of hearing, and she was clearly used to compensating by speaking at a volume I’m pretty sure OSHA should have required ear protection for. As they were recounting their respective ailments and medications in preparation for their appointment, a rather large African-American woman came in the room and sat across from them. Her smile lit up the room, and probably a few of the adjacent offices. She was followed shortly by a woman pushing her 90+ year old somewhat frail looking mother in her customized rad-looking plaid wheelchair. They set up camp across from us.
Following standard waiting room protocol, three of the four groups promptly buried their noses in magazines or cell phones. Even Plaid-Grandma was intently studying an old issue of Family Circle. The remaining room occupants did not get the memo.
I quickly learned that the loud couple’s granddaughter had a new boyfriend. There was a certain oddness to the description of him though. They seemed to be making a big deal about the kid being a perfect gentleman, holding down a job, and being good in school. At that point I was assuming that maybe their granddaughter had a history of dating deadbeats and miscreants… but no. He was… wait for it… “so nice for a black boy.”
But it didn’t stop there. They went on to self-justify their open-mindedness by recounting other black people they had known throughout their lives who had apparently made extraordinary impressions on them by being perfectly normal and acceptable human beings. I smiled weakly toward the lady on my left. Her beam was unabated as she shook her head so slightly. It seemed like I was more offended than she was.
Gratefully, they finally ran out of black people they knew. Unfortunately, this didn’t exhaust their will to speak. The woman looked over toward Plaid Grandma’s daughter and asked how old the woman was. “96”, the daughter replied politely as she went back to her magazine.
“She looks like she was quite a pip back in her day. I’ll just bet she was,” came the unnecessarily loud response from the woman who apparently assumed everyone was deaf. The daughter feigned a polite smile in response, as Plaid Grandma looked toward her child. Her expression clearly asking, “Why the hell are they talking about me like I’m already dead?”
Loud and Louder returned their attention to each other, and the conversation switched to airplanes. The whole room seemed to relax a bit. What could possibly go wrong with that topic? Which is just about when Hubby launched into a rant about how fat people should have to buy two tickets. He didn’t get far before his wife, now using her indoor voice which was still clearly audible in the next room, hushed him saying this was not the right place for a topic like that.
He was undeterred. This was a man on a mission to reform the airline industry, one seat belt extender at a time. And his wife had no choice but to talk over him. She explained to him in no uncertain terms that there was a large woman sitting across from them, and that it was not appropriate for him to talk about this now. She then pointed across the room to make her case clear.
The flagrant finger hung in the air while the now bickering couple inadvertently made their case for why they should be sacrificed in the spirit of social Darwinism. On the other side of the room (and the finger) the smiling woman was now shaking her head in disbelief… but still smiling. It was a genuine, pleasant, happy-to-be-alive and nobody’s-gonna-ruin-my-day smile.
This woman has mastered a level of serenity I find hard to glimpse, much less to hold. She taught me that people may suck, but they don’t have to suck the life out of you… But let’s be clear. They still suck.