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The Waiting Room
It was one of the hottest days of summer when i first got to visit my sister in the hospital. Hopping out of the old blue minivan that belonged to my grandfather, I found myself wishing that my sister could have been born during one of the winter months. That way I wouldn’t have had to leave the nice cool confines of my living room only to find myself standing in the middle of an old hospital parking lot, with the hot afternoon sun beating down against my skin. I turned to look at my grandfather and was unsurprised to see that he was still seated in the old blue van, taking his time getting out.
I always though of my grandfather as a funny looking man. He had a thin body, a bald head, short legs, and these very large hands. His hands were so out of proportion with the rest of his body that I often wondered whether or not they even belonged to him. It had almost seemed like he had taken someone else’s hands, albeit someone much bigger than him, and just sewn them onto the ends of his arms as his own. I knew this couldn’t be true, of course, but you can never keep a kid from wondering.
His face was stern and hard looking. It was easy to be intimidated by his seemingly serious demeanor at first. He had a way of smiling though, this full gown crinkle eyed smile, which would quickly soften anyone’s heart and tear down any sort of defensive wall they had thrown up before.
Once my grandfather was out of the car, we made our way across the crowded parking lot, swerving and zigzagging around the many parked cars. As we got closer to the building I grabbed hold of one of my grandfathers large hands. There were many people bustling about and I didn’t want to lose him in the crowd.
The hospital doors opened as we walked near,and,to my relief, welcomed us in with a gust of cool air. The first thing I noticed about the hospital was the smell. It smelt very clean and sterile. It reminded me of the way a brand new toy would smell just after taking it out of the packaging. It was cold in the hospital too. I almost began to walk back outside, seeking that warm afternoon sun i had felt before, but my grandfather still had hold of my hand and had begun tugging me towards one of the long grey desks that stood in the back of the room.
We were instructed by the young woman behind the desk to have a seat in one of the any red chairs they had placed around the room. My grandfather chose a seat closest to the wall. I climbed up into the seat next to him and let out a sigh. Hearing no response from my grandfather, I looked over to him and saw that he had already closed his eyes and had his head slumped against his chest. He would probably take a nap.
People of all sorts lined the waiting room walls. All of them looked either tired or impatient. An older lady with frizzy hair and dark circles under her eyes sat directly across from me. She had on an old worn out green sweater and was nervously twiddling with the ends of the sleeves. As I stared she looked up and caught my eyes in her own. I gave her my best smile and a slight wave, but all i received in return was a shaky head nod before she looked away. Feeling rejected I turned to my grandfather and gently shook him awake.
“Grandpa,” I whispered, “whats wrong with that lady?” I pointed to the frazzled woman seated across from us. “ Don’t point!” My grandfather said curtly and snatched my hand out of the air. I yanked my hand from his and asked again, “but whats wrong with her?” My grandfather let out a long and exasperated sigh. “She’s probably just worried and tired.” He whispered in a tone of voice that suggested I stop asking questions. Feeling brave I asked one anyway. “Why is she worried?” My grandfather let out yet another sigh. He looked to me and I could see in his face the way he was searching for an answer to give me without leaving me room for another question. “Look around you.” He gestured around the room to the different people. Confused, I did as I was told.
I saw the frazzled looking woman in the green sweater. To her right a few seats down sat a hefty man and a woman who I assumed to be his wife. They both wore somber looks on their faces, and the woman had wrinkles across her forehead from frowning for too long. Across from them a thin lonely looking man with floppy hair sat hunched over with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. To his left, near the window, stood a tall thin man with dark curly hair. He stood with his shoulders tense, and would frequently look down to check his watch before looking back toward one of the black and white clocks hanging around the room.
I looked back to my grandfather and waited. “Do you see?” he asked, “This is a hospital. They’re all worried. All the people here are wayting to hear about their loved one who are sick or hurt.” I looked around again before asking,” But we’re not worried, are we grandpa?” It wouldn’t make sense for us to be worried, I thought. We just came to see my new baby sister. We didn’t know anyone who was sick. He smiled that crinkle eyed smile of his and answered, “No. We’re not.” I sat back in my chair and looked across at the women in the green sweater again. She was still twiddling with the ends of her sleeves. The man and his wife still wore somber faces. The thin man with the floppy hair still looked lonely. And the tall man was still checking his watch.
I silently wished for them all to stop. It didn’t seem fair for them to be so worried. It also didn’t seem fair that they all had to wait for people who were sick while I had to wait for someone who wasn’t. “Are you sure they’re not waiting to meet new babies too?” I mumbled to my grandfather hopefully. “I’m pretty sure,’ he answered before closing his eyes again. That wasn’t fair. That meant that there were more sick people in the hospital than there were new healthy babies. That there were more worried people and barely any excited people.
I wondered what that said about the rest of the world and the people not in the hospital. My grandfather said there was no way to tell if there was more sad and lonely people or more happy people. I told him that I hoped there were more happy people. He grinned at that and said, “ Or just enough happy people to cheer the sad people up.” My grandfather always gave out clever phrases like that.
I had never thought too much about the lives of other people before that day with my grandfather. I had always gone through life just passing people by and had never taken the time to think about how others might be doing. I guess in a way I hadn’t fully come to understand the fact that other people around me had a history, or a family, or troubles of their own. It was hard to think about the size of it all. Billions and billions of people living billions and billions of different lives. Everyone was doing something all at once. What really amazed me was the fact that some people could be in the same place at the same time, like the hospital, but feel so very different about being there.
Sitting in that waiting room with my grandfather I had wanted the whole world to be happy. But now I realize that even though the entirety of the population can’t all be happy at once, it doesn’t hurt to pass along a smile every once in a while.