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Waiting Room

Among the unexpected pleasures of a full weekend at home alone with the kids, which included the usual worship service preparation, our church’s AGM, as well as basketball games and swimming trials, and hosting a friend for night who was stopping in on his way back to British Columbia, was a 3 am trip to the local Emergency Room to deal with a dislocated toe that my son sustained at an all-nighter at the church. Great. Just what the, ahem, doctor ordered.

Anyone who has spent any time in an ER waiting room on a Friday night/Saturday morning will have little difficulty imagining the scene that my son and I groggily stumbled into. There was a young couple with a colicky infant, and a middle-aged woman who seemed to be struggling with some stomach pains, but other than that it was mostly a sampling of severely intoxicated humanity splayed out around the waiting room dealing with the fruits of their partying labours that evening. Broken bleeding hands, bite wounds, torn shirts, black eyes and swollen faces and an assortment of other relatively minor injuries all being negotiated in the fog of alcohol and fatigue. An interesting scene for an eleven-year-old boy and his weary dad.

One guy in particular was determined to gain an audience with us and eager to provide a blow-by-blow  description (literally) of what the evening’s events had held for him. He had come to the defense of a couple of very drunk young women who were being harassed by a couple of “bald gang bangers.” He had told them to back off, but they wouldn’t listen. He was thus obliged to pummel them both (singlehandedly) whilst being accosted by a handful of other bystanders. “I work out, so I’m pretty tough,” he said. “I don’t like to fight, but man, one of them bit my finger, and then I was like an animal…. I went into survival mode, man. I messed ‘em up real good and the cops just watched and laughed.” I looked down at his bloody finger and smiled uneasily. “Sounds like quite a night,” I said. I wasn’t sure what kind of response he was looking for.

After about an hour of rehearsing different variations of this story, my new friend began to assume a more reflective tone. “Man, I’m too old for this @$^&,” he said, at one point, not long before a restless sleep descended upon him. “I’m a family man… I got a daughter, I got a job… I can’t be doing this anymore.” But no sooner had reason appeared than it beat a hasty retreat. We were back to the glories of battle.

Soon after, we were summoned together to the next stage of our three-hour ER sojourn. Our friend was getting more desperate. He wandered around apparently aimlessly, now asking random people where the doctor was, now stealing miscellaneous medical supplies from the shelves, now settling restlessly back into his chair. I was tired of pretending to listen to his stories by this point, and pretty desperate for some respite from his increasingly unwelcome attentions. Mercifully, he was quiet for a bit. Then I heard him start to speak more softly.  His eyes were closed. “God, get me out of here… God I need help… I need you… God help me…” Then he started snoring.

And so we sat there together, in silence, waiting for help to arrive. Each desperate, in our own way and for our own reasons—I to get my son home to bed and prepare for my upcoming meeting, he to sleep off what I can only assume would be one doozy of a hangover. Each with different challenges looming in the day portended by the approaching daylight. Each praying that the doctor would come soon, to bandage the wound, to reset the bone, and send us back out into this crazy unpredictable world where our lives intersect in the weirdest ways and for the most unpredictable of reasons.

The waiting room is not a bad metaphor for life, I thought, as my son and I drove home early this morning. All of us moving through our days, dealing with the struggles that come our way, whatever role we played in bringing them about, all of us groaning in the waiting room, tired, uncertain, hopeful, expectant, sometimes annoyed, sometimes disappointed, sometimes surprised, but always grateful when our prayers are finally answered, when the doctor finally appears, when help finally arrives.

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