My Dear Friends and Readers,
I sit in the lobby of a Catholic Hospital in a little city in the South. 50 years ago, I would probably not be allowed to sit where I currently sit. I am not sick, I am waiting patiently for a friend. My friend has the job of caring for the very poor and I imagine the very sick. The facility has seen better days but remains a haven for the poor. Historically, the Catholic church in the South has served to educate and provide services first to enslaved black people and now to serve the under served and forgotten poor black and white people. Despite, my thoughts on Catholicism in this community the church is serving the neediest.
From my seat in the lobby I see my friend exit the elevator. Her white lab coat is stained simply from being used and washed many times. Her loafers are made of some synthetic material. I would guess “plether.” She is wearing a long black skirt and a grey cotton turtle neck. Her whole outfit including timex watch couldn’t have cost more than a hundred dollars. She sees me and walks over to greet me. Her unmade up face is serene and filled with light.
It’s three in the afternoon and I have been waiting over an hour to have lunch. I hope to whirl her out for a meal that doesn’t look like it came from the hospital cafeteria.
She doesn’t apologize for her lateness. I don’t need her to. “You must be starving!” I say to her.
“You get used to eating on the run.” She replies.
“Let’s get out of here, if you can.” I offer.
“The hospital has Christmas lunch.” She answers. She sees the look on my face.
“It will be great.” She offers and leads me to an auditorium where three women in Santa hats dish out pasta from large aluminum trays.
The food is from an Italian fast food chain. She grabs a Styrofoam container and fills it with luke warm stuff that wreaks of heart disease.
I hope my face does not betray how disappointed I am. My desire for organic and gluten free is not going to happen at this meal.
While I carefully look at congealing pasta,
she stuffs a couple of desserts into her lab coat. She sees that I have seen her do this.
“For the residents.” she explains. “The hospital cut their cafeteria card benefits by 50 cents.” she explains. “They used to get $7.50. Now they get $7.00.”
I follow her down a hallway carpeted in the ugliest brown that I have ever seen. She pushes a code and we are in the residents area.
There is a small table where two young male doctors are eating burgers that make Mac. Donald’s look like gourmet food. We sit and from my shared part of the table I see two rooms, each big enough to hold a twin bed. Behind me is another small room, but I am too embarrassed to look at the small shabby room. I stare at my Styrofoam plate and try to avoid looking at the opened door of a shared bathroom less than 5 feet away.
The two men finish their food and eye our gooey cheesy lunch and return to two computers where they are monitoring sick patients. I eat as much of my food as I can. In a few minutes lunch is over. Styrofoam boxes are tossed. There’s been little conversation.
She gets up and uses the bathroom. Comes out and orders one of the young men to get the hospital maintenance to unplug the bathroom sink. She sees my look of disbelief. “The last time I had to call them to mop the floor.”
She’s about to leave, remembers the desserts in her pockets. She takes them out of her pocket and offers it to the young men. They are genuinely grateful.
I can see that she is already thinking about her next sick patient.
“I will find my way out.” I offer.
“Ok.” She says. “Hey thanks for stopping by.”
“My pleasure.” I smile. I follow the ugly brown carpet down to the elevator. Before the elevator arrives I see her quickly turn the corner, one of the young men walking as quickly as she is. She has already forgotten me. The elevator arrives and I lower my eyes to avoid the fearful eyes of those there to visit.
I head to my car envious that she loves what she does. I hurry to get outside where it is raining softly. I breathe deeply and then I remember the sparkling gift I have purchased for her Christmas present. I realize that my gift is an attempt to give her something that she would never buy for herself. I will mail it to her. She doesn’t need my expensive charity or my elegant gift. She needs nothing. Her life is service and she gives every day, but her giving is her gift to herself every day.
I shake my head and I am happy that she is my friend.
Brianna S Clark
The Addict Writes