A popular fable describes hell as a room in which a bunch of angry, emaciated people sit around a banquet table. On the table is piled a wonderful feast, with many platters of the most delicious-smelling foods that one can imagine. Strapped to the forearms of the famished people sitting around this table in hell are four-foot-long forks and spoons, so no matter how they try, they cannot get any food into their mouths.
Heaven, on the other hand, is a room in which jovial, well-fed people sit around a banquet table that is piled high with a wonderful feast, with many platters of the most delicious-smelling foods that one can imagine. Strapped to the forearms of the happy people sitting around this table in heaven are four-foot-long forks and spoons … and the people are feeding one another across the table.
When I’m in a room with other folks, I have a choice: make contact or don’t. Right now, I’m sitting in an Emergency waiting room with my friend Neal who is having pain under his ribs. He’s trying to read a magazine. Around us are a few men and women, and some appear to be suffering. Should I say something, trying to make people smile? Any comment of the “Do you come here often?” variety isn’t likely to have a positive effect. Would my words invade the other person’s privacy? Should I say them anyway, and be willing to be misinterpreted, out of my commitment to contribute?
I decide that I’ll use what’s in front of me – anything that’s happening now – to connect with one of my fellow sitters. The current waiting room issue is getting access to the washroom. Staff have coached us about the proper technique. Pull the handle down while you also turn the thumb lock that (strangely) is on the outside of the door. I look in the direction of a woman who’s just commented on the task, and I say “Maybe hospitals create challenges like this so we can solve them and feel good about succeeding.” And in return … a smile. Good. I guess I could have received a big frown instead, but I figure it’s worth the gamble. We need to help each other emerge from loneliness.
A few minutes later, as news was coming through on the TV about this morning’s earthquake in the San Francisco area, I ventured another comment. No one near me was saying anything, so I directed my words to Neal. “Have you ever experienced an earthquake?” “Yes, in Washington State.” “I never have. I’ve seen videos about the ground shaking, cans falling off shelves, etc., but it still doesn’t seem real.”
A second woman looked at me and started talking about a mild earthquake that happened in London a few years ago. We had a good conversation.
Little moments of contact. Perhaps the second woman heard me mention washroom doors and decided that I’d be an okay person to talk to. I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ll keep taking chances. Who knows what impact I’ll make with someone? Maybe they’ll forget about me an hour later, but I still might linger inside them.
May we always see each other
May we always hear each other
May we always nourish each other