There is this lady. This lady that I see every day at a point in my day. Pretty much at the same time. Like, if I walk the direction I need to walk to get where I need to get, I will see her. See her in the path of where I am going. That is, if I take the way that is fastest to get where I need to go. Which is mostly what I do.
So every day, there she is. Doing what she does while I go where I go. But then, whenever I get closer she eases in my direction. Comes nearby and says a cheerful hello, like always. Includes some open ended questions that call for me to open it into a conversation. And then, if I don't run any form of interference, she will pause to chat. A little bit about this. A little bit about that. And a little bit about the other, too.
All of it takes no more than 2 minutes, really. And sometimes less than that if all she wants his a hello and a hug. She is a hugger. One who puts her whole body into those hugs, too. Both arms, torso to torso, and pressing into you. Complete with the "mmmmm-mmmm!" sound effects. Yes, she does that.
But. There are some days. Like, some days where I feel like I'm super busy and feeling harried. Or where I'm late. Like, where I really just want to get to where I am trying to get without stopping to chit or chat or hey or hug. Even for a moment. Telling myself that I am just "focused" today and want to just stay on my task. Whatever that task may be.
And so. On those days, my walk is more brisk. My body language is fast and deliberately standoffish. I typed and deleted that last sentence twice. That word "standoffish" made me cringe. Especially when connected to me. I had to add it back because it is true of what happens. That is what I do. Like, on those days, I do this thing to demonstrate that I don't want to be interrupted. Not even for a hug.
So on those days, she will call to me in her singsongy voice as I whisk past going wherever I need to go. She simply calls out a "hello" that floats out into the vacuous hallway then swirls down to the ground like some kind of lonely feather. My salutation in return shoots out and hits it like a fast ball. Quick, pressured. Making it clear that it would be this one pitch. And that's it.
Doing that always feels bad. I mean, because it's not nice really. I'm old enough to know that. So on a lot of days, I just take this really circuitous route to the place I need to go that doesn't take me past the place where I would pass her. But fickle fate somehow always reroutes her path to overlie my own at some point. It does. So then, I'm back to where I was. Either cooling my jets or deciding to turn them on high.
I am not proud of this. I'm writing about this because I am just thinking this morning. I'm thinking about those two minutes (or less) that I so stingily clasp in my hand. My decision to withhold some piece of me, albeit a fleeting piece, because I just sort of don't feel like being bothered. And you know? I am really not sure why I don't want to be bothered by this very sweet individual on some days.
There is this melancholia about her. Like this piece of her that I can tell needs a human interaction as much as she can get it. And I think it's even worse that I am not always forthcoming with it since I know that. Like some sort of middle school mean girl who has decided not to be your friend. On certain days.
Maybe the sadness in her eyes overwhelms me. Makes me feel like what I give needs to be all or none. And like the all isn't necessarily my job since I work a job where I have to give that kind of all all the time.
I don't know.
I know about pieces of her world. Even though I don't have a lot of contact with her, there is the stuff she has told me. And, no, I don't know what her full world is like away from the place where I pass her each day. But what I am processing this morning is this realization that I am a tiny sliver of her world.
There's probably some complicated piece of my psyche that this underscores. And I don't know what that is since I'm not a psychiatrist. But what I do know is that I love people. And I want to be a good person.
So today, I've made up my mind. To be bothered. And interrupted. By her.
And before you say that, from what you read on this here blog, I seem very good about being bothered, I will say that on some accounts I am. Like, I am very, very good about say, a stranger, in the Grady hallway hitting my pause button because they are lost. Or that wayward medical student who wants to pick my brain. But this? This is different. This interruption is like that movie Groundhog Day. I know what's going to happen. Yet I find myself using some energy to redefine the outcome and order of events.
I'm not really even sure why.
Withholding kindness isn't cool. Even if on other days you give an extra heaping helping of it, it's not. And so. I am going to work on that. With her. With me. Because two minutes is nothing. Except for when it's something.
Honestly? I write this blog to share the human aspects of medicine + teaching + work/life balance with others and myself -- and to honor the public hospital and her patients--but never at the expense of patient privacy or dignity.
Thanks for stopping by! :)
"One writes out of one thing only--one's own experience. Everything depends of how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give."
~ James Baldwin (1924 - 1987)
"Do it for the story." ~ Antoinette Nguyen, MD, MPH
Details, names, time frames, etc. are always changed to protect anonymity. This may or may not be an amalgamation of true,quasi-true, or completely fictional events. But the lessons? They are always real and never, ever fictional. Got that?