Wednesday, November 16, 2011

I won't complain.

The original Grady Hospital (now Human Resources)


Working at Grady is like working in another little special country sometimes. There are things that are part of our normal here that in other places would seem odd or unusual. These are the things that make me love working at Grady so much.

On Monday the clinic was pretty busy. We finally wrapped up the last patient for that session, and at about 12:40, I sprinted down the stairwell and trucked through the hall on my way to get some food. I had only twenty minutes before being expected back so my brisk walk turned into a jog.  I waved to passersby and chuckled when a gentleman said in that very Grady way "Don't run nobody over, Doc!"

Purse on my shoulder, white coat on and heels clicking on the linoleum. . . .in quest of the Monday special at Subway and hoping the line wouldn't be horrible when I got there.  Just as I reached the E elevator area which is just before my turn to get out of the door, I heard something that made me slow down.

What is that?

I furrowed my brow, stood still and listened for a moment. That's when I figured it out. It was the voice of an aged male. . . singing at the TOP of his lungs. And weirdly it wasn't at the TOP of his lungs in a mentally ill or obnoxious way, either. It was in this way that seemed reminiscent of what it must have been like for folks picking cotton out in fields or scrubbing their floors on Saturdays. Not a performance type voice either. Just this loud and proud and unashamed voice bellowing out a Negro spiritual. . . .


"I HAD SOME GOOD DAYS 
I HAD SOME HILLS TO CLIMB 
I HAD SOME WEARY DAYS
AND SOME SLEEPLESS NIGHTS...."


I eased toward where the voice was coming from and laid eyes on the singer--an elderly African-American man appearing to be nearing his ninth decade. He was holding a cane and coat over his arm, and had simply decided to close his eyes, throw his head back and break out in song while waiting for the Grady elevator.

There were easily twenty people waiting in the vestibule with him. And you know what? None of them seemed the least bit fazed by this occurrence. Not the least bit.  In fact, several of them offered shouts of praise -- not to him per se, but those shouts that you hear in black churches after the first few stanzas of any gospel song-- meant not for the singer but technically for God.

He kept going in his wobbly voice:

BUT WHEN I LOOK AROUND
A-A-AND I THANK THANGS OVER. . . . .
ALL OF MY GOOD DAYS. . . .
OUTWEIGH MY BAD DAYS. . .
I WON'T COMPLAIN!!!"


I smiled as I watched,  taking it all in.  Then something even GRADY-er happened.  A woman that appeared to be no more than five years older or younger than this man JOINS IN with him. Yes! Joins in singing the same song equally as loud has he!  And they didn't even appear to know each other! She just came up beside him, lifting one hand to the heavens and not even really looking at him. But she was on his page most definitely. . . .her gravelly voice belting out through the corridor in that same unabashed tone. . .still punctuated by shouts of affirmation from others nearby.

And so in unison they continued:

"SOMETIIIIMES THE CLOUDS HANG LOW
I CAN HARDLY SEE THE ROAD
I ASK THE QUESTION LORD,
'LOOOORRRD. . . WHY??? SO MUCH PAIN???'
BUT HE KNOW WHAT'S BEST FOR ME
ALTHOUGH MY WEARY EYES THEY CAN'T SEE
SO I'LL JUST SAY, 'THANK YOU, LORD.'
I WON'T COMPLAIN!!!"

It was absolutely beautiful.  Beautiful on so many levels, I tell you. Beautiful for me because, yes, I'm a believer, but beautiful beyond that, too. Here were two strangers -- both African-American elders -- who had surely lived through being spit at, called "boy" or "gal" and "nigger" or "nigra" and referred to collectively as "coloreds."  Who, if they were Georgians, had lived through a gubernatorial campaign with the motto "NO! NOT ONE!" for the leading candidate who promised to never let one--NO!Not one!--black child integrate a school in Georgia. (That candidate won by a landslide.)

They knew of a "White Grady" and a "Colored Grady" . . . a world with air conditioning on one side and open windows with flies and sweltering temperatures on the other.  Told that one of them equaled 2/3 a man and for this reason stood in protest with signs pleading with the world what should have been evident -- "I AM A MAN." They sat in the backs of buses and entered through back entrances. Withstood teenage boys with pink twisted snarls speaking to them like they were children just because of some false superiority in their skin color. Forced to say yes'm or no'suh to these same KIDS, despite the fact that they were young enough to be put over a knee. Or worse withstood poisonous words from the mouths of young adults that they themselves had raised.


And yet. Despite all of that, here they stood.  Strangers. Singing. . .still singing from the depths of their guts these simple words:

"I won't complain."

I didn't cry then. At the time it hadn't fully sunk in so I just smiled and then went on my way. But later on as I was driving home I thought about what they were singing and the sincerity in it. I let it sink in. . . the entire scene. . . . .and I did cry. Man, every time I imagined them and what they must have seen in their lifetimes more tears came. I felt so indebted to them.

Then I cried some more, feeling ashamed for the things I'd complained about that very day.






Yeah.

This? This is Grady.

***
Happy Wednesday.


Now playing on my mental iPod. . . the EXACT version of the song they were singing that day. . .

18 comments:

  1. You know what, Sister Doctor? I, the non-religious woman, WOULD have cried too. Because the one thing I do believe in is the HUMAN SPIRIT!
    Amen.
    How gorgeous. I have that image in my head and it thrills me.

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  2. Hi,
    Recently, I stumbled across your blog. This post was absolutely beautiful! Thanks for sharing.

    Ang

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  3. Wow, is that picture of the original Grady? I can't even recognize the area.

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  4. I love this. And the video, too.

    Thank you.

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  5. Your tale gave me goosebumps, a huge smile, and wet eyes. Thank you!

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  6. I read your posts almost daily and I catch myself all the time thinking "THIS is my favourite post." Then I read another one and think, "No, but THIS is my favourite post"! So far, today's is my favourite post. But I reserve the right to change my mind later.... :)

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  7. I am about as "white girl" as a white girl can get, but I love people and most of all God. I enjoy all of your posts, but this one made me ugly cry...snot and all. Thank you for your insight and glorious words.

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  8. I had a rough day...it's been a rough week, but this post really did put things in perspective for me in big way. That song always touches me. I needed this today.

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  9. THAT is what i'm talking about! man- i miss the grady- man i miss you.
    xoxox
    k

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  10. Thank You! I will not complain!

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  11. Awww! Y'all I'm glad I'm not the only nerd that was feeling that! Thanks you guys! :)

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  12. Those are special moments...so glad we have blog world so we can share. :)

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  13. From the deck of the poop,

    With love and admiration for my third born, you are truly a gifted writer.. I can brag if I want to because I am a 68 year old, grown-A man.. smile
    Having been around for all these years, I have of course had all sorts of days BUT,
    I won't Complain...

    Love Ya

    PoopDeck

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"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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