Thinking that I was suffering from a lack of meditation time, I decided recently to eschew reading material and use my time in the Oncology waiting room in quiet reflection. Bad idea. Not doing that again. Even People magazine would be better . . . well, maybe not.
It was very quiet, and at any given time, there would only be three to five people in the room, most of them staying ten minutes or less. The receptionist and I were the only ones there for the whole 70 minutes. (The receptionist, incidentally, is a goddess. Mature, womanly, all-knowing, awe-inspiring, a source of comfort and fear.)
After an undetermined time of focused breathing, I became hyper-aware of the people passing through and they nearly broke my heart.
A couple of young men came alone, but everyone else had company. All ages and genders. Some were jauntily whistling in the dark, while others stared morosely into the abyss. An old guy with his Latina caretaker sidled his wheelchair up to the receptionist's desk and cracked jokes. A young Asian woman (bald, wearing a body brace like Sachiko's) walked in slowly and then gingerly lowered herself into a chair, as if her body was made of the thinnest blown glass. Her husband sprawled across three seats on the opposite side of the room and talked on his cell phone while folding and unfolding his arms and legs.
A forty-something woman, with her teenage daughter, sat on my deaf side. They were having an urgent conversation but the mother was trying to be discreet and when she opened her mouth all I could hear was the sound of dry leaves on the wind. The daughter was more audible:
"How much more aggressive can I be? I went to Physical Therapy six times, to Urgent Care three times, to the Emergency Room . . . I'm not a nurse or a doctor - if they say I should get this treatment first, what can I say? ... They say they won't pay for it unless it's an emergency. Isn't this an emergency? My life is at stake. I don't know . . . I don't know how it works."
And so on, like sitting near the ocean, while waves of emotion crash up and then recede. And knowing that I was a wave, too.
(Some of us like just watch the waves, some of us get wet. Photo of a skimboarder was taken at Ocean Beach in SF, on a warm day in January '07, © Anna L. Conti)