For the last 2 weeks, “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle,” repeats in my ear in surround sound.
These same words echoed as I stepped on the extended sidewalk near our local hospital. In the periphery, I saw a mother and her young adult son sitting on a brown bench. A headband swept the mom’s thick black hair away from her forehead and her lipstick smeared outside the lines of her mouth. Her son sat in a wheelchair next to her; his bald head revealed his battle. I paused for a second, bracing myself for the tunnels inside the hospital. They are visible walkaways, but so much of what they harbor is buried underground.
The sliding doors opened. My relationship with these metal gateways pulsed with ambivalence. In the lobby, a polished black grand piano greeted me. I heard the keys play a soothing tune and smelled the hot coffee brewing in the air. My senses did a double take. I asked under my breath, “Am I in a hospital?” Hospitals always try to create an aura of normalcy with the conveniences that the outside world enjoys: a Starbucks nestled in the hallway as you find your way to the elevator, a gift shop that sells flowers and cute keychains and in a small corner a postal center to send out your mail.
There is an inclination to sink into the facade because it is safe and familiar. If you pay attention, you realize that truth bellows in the underbelly of a hospital. As I walked through the corridor, various smells and sights become my companion. A putrid smell of disinfectant and latex gloves lingered in the air. In two minutes, I saw a young woman with the various tubes in and out of her body rushed to the elevator, another young girl, with red frizzy curls standing outside a room and a group of doctors smiling and laughing, betraying the real reason why they sauntered the hallways.
As I walked from room to room, I saw patient’s rooms filled with emptiness. I dismissed this wave of loneliness by making excuses by thinking a friend or family member probably visited earlier. In waiting rooms, groups of people clustered in various places, anticipating and hoping, while the electric current of anxiety registered in their restless shuffling. A pulse of uncertainty felt palpable.
That feeling lingered hours after I visited a friend in a room at the corner of the corridor in the hospital. It is hard to reconcile the uncertainty with the blanket of cheer that exists everywhere. Christmas trees with bright lights, red and green ribbons accessorizing light poles and smiling elf decor hanging outside of a department stores. I try to push back and smash the rise of sadness that creeps into those moments that I am not staring at the carefully placed splatters of joy.
In the last week, I’ve struggled with trying to balance the heavy grip of uncertainty that threads through my ordinary days. In the last week, I learned of a healthy friend’s sudden stroke and an acquaintance’s untimely death. Simultaneously, I witnessed exuberant celebrations of twin boys who turned one and of an adorable little girl who also marked the same milestone. It all happens at once, these waves of uncertainty, speckled with goodness that comes in certain bursts that can be unexpected or expected.
How do you reconcile the two conflicting extremes that you witness everyday? I don’t know. I do realize that the walk through that corridor is long and uncertain and we continue to reach for sparkles of goodness that propel us to move forward. For me it means trying to carry a small pocket of kindness, not knowing what a person’s battle may be, but realizing that there is one. For me. For you. For all of us.
Image: LS Corridor by zeng lebron via Flickr
Oh, this is so lovely. I love the image of the corridor. It makes me think of the Infinite Corridor at MIT, a place I’ve watched my children run up and down gleefully and know holds deep memories and ghosts for all of my family members who have gone to school there. I don’t know the answers you ask at the end, either. I just know that it’s all a mix, the heavy and the sparkle, and that I can’t imagine life without both. That doesn’t make the difficulty, the head-spinning and breath-taking losses and fears, any easier, though. xox
Of all the years of visiting people in hospitals, I’d never given it much thought until we spent days there after my son was involved in an accident and when my terminally ill father had surgery. After those incidents, I’ve never viewed the other visitors in the same light. For yes, we are all battling something. While we were waiting my husband befriended an elderly lady who was there alone waiting for friends to arrive as her husband of nearly seventy years had been rushed to the hospital…he comforted her and kept her company until her friends arrived. So we never know what others or going through and there are times we are able to offer solace. Now when I go to the hospital I have a quiet center of respect for all those around me rather than a nonchalant attitude.
All I want to say is “thank you” for sharing your thoughts with me. We are all brothers and sisters on this journey through the corridors. Your reminder touched my heart this morning.
Yes, yes, yes. So much goodness and so much hardship. So much beauty and so much pain too. I try to remember this when faced with all the uncertainty and dichotomy:
“There is no karmic insurance policy to protect against that brutal side of life… Sometimes things don’t turn out as we would like. Sometimes really horrible, painful, makes-no-sense things happen. All we can do is cling to each other, pray a little, and string together the cords of misery and despair to any threads of hope and renewal that we can find. Sometimes really wonderful, happy, makes-no-sense things happen. And then, too, we cling to each other, pray a little, and string together the knotted threads. We rejoice and we celebrate. “
Wow. You really illuminated something that’s been on my mind these past few weeks. It is the two extremes you talked about that struck me the most. There are strange days when I get on the main elevator and a happy gift-laden family crowds on with me. I know they’re going to get off on the second floor too. And they do. They go down the hallway to the right, on their way to visit the newest baby in the nursery. I go left toward the surgery center and recovery rooms to find my husband. It seems impossible that we are all in the same building.
I always love your point of view on the world, my friend 🙂
I love how you captured what it is like to be in a hospital (and nursing home). It’s fraught with all kinds of emotions and anxieties, but also, sometimes, moments that are “speckled with goodness”. Really lovely, Rudri.
Yet again your beautiful words bring to mind the duality of feelings I experienced when my grandpa passed away on Thanksgiving Day. So sad to no longer have this wonderful man in my life, glad that he was no longer suffering, confused — do we all sit down for Thanksgiving dinner just a few hours after he passed? Happy to see my family all together for a holiday meal, although not under the best of circumstances.
A lovely and poignant read. A friend of mine lost her husband the day after Thanksgiving; he was only 52. Sometimes the fragility of things breaks me in two.
This is all true – with every death there’s a birth somewhere.. Where there’s life, there’s death. It’s one of those cycles that can’t be separated and hardly understood. Sorry to hear about your friends stroke and the passing of another.. It’s hard to see these things, let along not being able to do much but I’m sure your presence was helpful enough. I hope your friend recovers well and keep your spirits high during these hard times Rudri! Take Care! -Iva
I love those small pockets of kindness to carry.
My father-in-law is getting surgery right now and I’m thinking about visiting him in the hospital this week. I’m nervous.. because anxiety has gotten me good lately, and the uncertainty and sadness of the hospital setting might be a lot for me.
I still have to carry on.
I think maybe the joyful bits are for sprinkling over the top of uncertainty.
This is beautiful, Rudri.
What beautiful words! Thank you for sharing them with us.
So beautiful Rudri <3
So, so much of this resonates with me, especially today, as my mother goes in for a follow-up and I woke up this morning with a pounding heart and vivid images of the very scenes you describe.
I am so sorry to hear of your friend and acquaintance. Sometimes the grief and unfairness feel relentless. Since my father-in-law passed away a few weeks ago, two friends of mine also lost their fathers, and another received news that her mother has advanced stage cancer. I kept thinking how these losses and life changes are weaving in and out of the holidays, the times of year when we are used to celebrating with loved ones. But we carry on. I plan to be festive this holiday, and live with all the emotions at once.
I’m so sorry about your friend’s stroke and acquaintance’s passing. I too have learned of some losses this year, as well as a violent physical attack on an old friend. It’s been a hard year for this sort of thing. xo
I love this sentiment…you always give me great perspective.
A good and powerful and difficult question: “How do you reconcile the two conflicting extremes that you witness everyday? ” I feel that, too, especially on social media with so much darkness going on. It feel ridiculous to post about the silliness of life. And yet it also is too horrible to only read and write about the awful.