I hadn’t been able to put my finger on the word to describe it. The mood, the atmosphere, the camaraderie, the bond that comes with being a patient or family member visiting the University of Michigan Cancer Center on a regular basis. It hadn’t occurred to me before last week, while I sat in the waiting room of the clinic feeling annoyed and just overall frustrated with having to spend the day at the hospital.
I was grouchy to begin with, for no particular reason but after spending most of our morning waiting to spend more time waiting I just couldn’t shake my funk. I ate my free bagel, drank my free coffee, and just kept my nose in my phone, constantly checking my WordPress Reader and Twitter feed. It seemed safer, for all of those involved, that way. Eventually, we saw the doctor. I really enjoy Justin’s clinical trial doctor and his team. They all really make an effort to spend time with us answering questions and explaining how things work, mostly, it seems, to put our anxiety at ease. Once our time with the good doctor was up, we had a four hour gap in our appointment schedule. More waiting. As we sat in the waiting room, appropriately named by the way, I found myself frustrated with…well…myself.
I had no reason to be grumpy, frustrated, annoyed, or even irritated. Waiting is par for the course, we have accepted it as part of the process of fighting and, ultimately, healing from this disease. It’s one big waiting game. I glanced up from my iPhone, looked around the waiting room, Justin was heavily involved in his game of Candy Crush, the lady directly in my line of sight, who had been sitting in the same seat for almost three hours was asleep again, the older couple on our right were having a phone conversation with, what I assume was, their son or daughter, and the receptionist was chatting about brightly colored sneakers with the man in the wheelchair to my left.
We were all waiting.
In that moment it became clear to me, once again, that this day wasn’t about me. Everyone within an eye-shot of me was battling a similar fight, and waiting, in the appropriately named room, to go back to their life. I was being selfish. I was supposed to be spending the week looking for kindness in the world around me and instead I was so self-involved that I didn’t even bother to stop and look around. As if on cue, a doctor walked into my line of sight across the room with her patient and her family member. I couldn’t make out their conversations, but I could tell the patient was having an emotional reaction to what was being said. Suddenly, the doctor wrapped her arms around the woman, pressing her head into her shoulder and she took the hand of the family member – all at the same time. In that single moment I had found the word that I had been looking for to describe the feeling of being in the that space: kindness.
People are just kind to one another in the Cancer Center. There’s a mutual understanding that everyone is there for the same reason. To heal. As a patient you are there to heal your disease, as a caregiver you are there to heal your soul and provide the support for your loved one to heal, as a doctor you’re there to heal your patients. It is a giant web of emotional support and mutual understanding. No one is rude, or yelling, or demanding answers. We are all just waiting, patiently, to heal.
As I watched the doctor comfort the patient from across the room, I pulled out my phone, not to go back to putzing around on the internet, but to document the kindness I witnessed in an unlikely place. As part of the Kindness Challenge, that was my charge for the week. To look for kindness in my world. I’m sure, that if I had been more aware of my surroundings that day, instead of feeling so grumpy about being there, that I would have witnessed more acts of kindness. That, in fact, was the hardest part about the challenge last week, was remembering to look for the kindness in my everyday life instead of quickly reacting to every situation. It is a lot easier to jump to conclusions, to go with your negative thoughts, and just chalk it up to a bad day, but if we actually took the time to look for the good we might be spending less time wallowing in the bad.