elevator grace

elevator button

 

I confess when I am alone in an elevator, I push the button to close the doors

as quickly as possible.

Elevators can be awkward.

Usually when I need an elevator, I seem to be in a hurry.

I definitely do not want to linger before arriving at my destination.

Last Thursday, I had an appointment with a specialist

as I have some blood levels which are being quite rebellious.

The consultation I thought would last 30 minutes spanned close

to 2 hours leaving me a bit sore from all the poking and prodding

and offering up more blood.

I raced to the elevator and was the only one waiting for that

familiar ding and lit up arrow to draw me closer to my car

in the parking garage below.

Of the four door options, I found the one with the gaping hole

and stepped inside.

I pressed the number button and perhaps assuming I was “safe”,

I didn’t push the close door arrows.

The doors were closing and I was exhaling as

a man straddled the threshold and stumbled inside,

joining me.

He was white-haired and quite striking.

I quickly determined

if his floor choice needed to be pushed.

With a grin he told me we were going

the same direction and asked how I was.

I told him I was doing alright.

I reciprocated by asking him the identical question.

Without his smile leaving his face, he paused.

He glanced his eyes to the heavens which in this case,

was a cold metal ceiling and didn’t utter a word.

His pause was long enough that even

without our elevator encasing it would have felt awkward.

Silence reigned and I wanted to reach out

to touch his arm or even give him a hug.

But we were in an elevator and surely this gesture

would have broken protocol or etiquette.

It was a pause saturated with meaning.

When what felt like the final grain of sand had joined a

heaping mountain in the bottom of an hourglass,

he volunteered,

“You know, just sitting in those rooms makes

my blood pressure go up.”

As the doors begin to slide apart and

this dear man strides to exit,

I nod and say,

“Yeah, they don’t give us lollipops or stickers

when we have been brave anymore.”

He turns and faces me as we are now

among the cars in the cool, dark dampness

of the underground garage.

He says,

“Oh yeah.”

“Man, that’s a good line.”

He is still wearing the smile.

The smile we have learned to assign ourselves

in our public lives.

The smile meant to shield the world from the inner

life residing in the dark, damp underground

place we park our fears and concerns.

I could see behind his smile and he knew I was not

just feeding him a line.

We parted as people in cars visually pleaded with us

to vacate our parking spots.

We separated by telling one another to take care.

I sat in my car and prayed for a man I will most

likely never see again.

I prayed he has people in his life who will wait with him

in the pause, even when it feels awkward and long.

I prayed they would remain after the words are uttered.

I prayed that he has comforting places where he can

wear whatever face he deems appropriate.

I prayed that he would be steadied when his pulse races.

An elevator,

a check-out line,

a cross walk,

a classroom,

a bus

or any other everyday place can be an opportunity

to gaze into someone’s eyes and offer them grace.

Each day we have the privilege to give others  stickers

and lollipops of our affection and concern as they bravely

walk through a life filled with landmines.

Perhaps we all need to pause before we push

the doors closed.

 

 

knocking on the door of a work of heart

DSCN0243

The final day of April dumped 12 inches of snow leading up to

graduation from physical therapy school.

The end of July found us scurrying for cover against golf ball-sized

hailstones.

Carl and I were not sad to leave behind the rigors of graduate school

or extreme weather seasons, but we dreaded saying goodbye

to two of my classmates who had met and married during our 2 years

in Rochester.

Brennan and Ellen, had become “our” couple and it seemed

implausible that we would ever find this type of connection again.

Carl gently pressed the accelerator and I found it impossible to

end my backward gaze and face the road before us.

Shards of my heart would always inhabit the land of 10,000 Lakes.

We inked a star on our paper map and headed to Portland, Oregon

as neither of us could find work in our original destination of Seattle.

I began work at a center for medically fragile children and Carl searched

for a job in medical technology.

Pediatrics comprised the first 5 years of my practice

and was my sweet spot.

Over the next 15 years, two daughters were born and hundreds

of patients were treated.

As varied as the settings and schedule I worked, my caseload

was just as diverse.

I worked in orthopedics, oncology, burn units, spinal cord

and brain injury rehabilitation.

I felt the fragility and intensity of life working Level 1 trauma

and the pulsing joy of cardiac patients with patched up tickers.

Sometime around year 10, I began to struggle getting patients out of bed,

not physically but emotionally.

I couldn’t bear being the one who would make them hurt to hasten their healing.

I wanted to lean in close and chat with the bed ridden.

I wanted to comfort the families and perhaps drop off a casserole.

I never possessed the hard-core personality of most physical therapists

and I couldn’t fake it any longer.

Even though I wanted to hand in my gait belt,

I knew there was a reason I became a physical therapist.

God had given me the necessary aptitude, it wasn’t a fluke.

During bouts of discouragement, I would reflect on the

days prior to graduate school.

I witnessed unimaginable mercy and favor

by the hands of the Mayo board.

I had failed the second term of college physics

(a graduate school requirement), hoped to

never let Mayo be the wiser by

attempting to “fix-it” during the

summer but I belly-flopped again.

I thought about how often God whispered the same sentiment

as the generous people at Mayo said,

“We know who we picked.
We picked you and we still want you.”

Weighty words of grace reached into the depths of my failure

and chose me.

2003 opened with the revelation of adding another child to our family.

Oh he was a feisty one and it was a challenging pregnancy.

Barely through the first trimester, I developed painful sciatica and could not

lift more than ten pounds.

The sciatic nerve originates in the lower back and runs the

full extent of the leg.

When it is irritated or compressed, it becomes angry.

The nerve fires back by signalling pain, numbness and even

disruption of movement.

Sciatica is the painful loss of control.

My manager was polar opposite to those before her or my Mayo

angels, she informed me over the phone that I “was of no use to her

if I couldn’t lift patients.”

The response stung in the moment  but faded to relief.

I allowed my wee boy full range of my body until he arrived

with great joy in late September.

The next 5-6 years were a compressed period of losses and heartache.

This would be the second stripping away period in my life related less to my

identity but exposed the  faulty substance of my faith.

I had sciatica of the heart.

I felt mismatched in my career and had no tangible

control over the unending and crushing

circumstances of my life.

I frequently tidy our home when I am stressed.

If I can’t order my world, I can at least bring peace

to my surroundings.

On such a day, I uncovered old work files and casually

shuffled  through a decade worth of performance evaluations.

Without exception whether comments from colleagues or bosses,

the highest marks were not in my abilities as a clinician but

as a writer.

I could no longer ignore the words.

It was time to pay attention.

I had dropped my bookmark  and perhaps it had landed

safe and securely anchored in a life boat of words.

**********

To be continued…

This is the third post in a series titled A Work of Heart History.

You can read the other posts here and here.