Like many Canadians this year I am unable to travel to my beloved family in Nova Scotia for Christmas. I am searching for a communications position so I must be frugal. The deep sadness associated with this separation began a short while ago. In fact, I’ve been feeling pretty sorry for myself. It’s not in my nature to be self pitying, but this year my family is in my heart as we lost a young family member in the spring. I yearn to hug, Maritimer style. The Harpers are excellent huggers. My urge to be with them is visceral.
This morning I was running an errand at the Elizabeth Bruyere Centre downtown. We know that if you smoke around public buildings you must remain a required distance from the entrance. As I aproached the front door I see an elderly man in a wheelchair and a mature woman on the bench beside him. They are having their morning smoke but are right at the entrance. A woman stops and informs them of the legal distance required.
The seated woman says “It’s okay, we’re dying so we won’t be bothering you for long.”
This stopped me in my tracks. It was like time stopped as I watched this play out. I hoped to see compassion on the face of the woman correcting their smoking etiquette. I hoped the woman would see the pain and loneliness and fear that generated the statement that is still ringing in my ears. She did not. She haughtily reiterated the smoking by-law and went indoors. And yes I was still standing there like a stunned bunny.
I could see the pain and hopelessness on the faces of the two patients. I could see the anger and frustration as they lashed back at the visitor. I found myself walking toward them with brimming tears in my eyes. I joined them on the bench and asked them if there was anything I could do for them. They began to go on about rude people who don’t give a darn. I listened intently because I felt that it cost me nothing to care. It cost me nothing to take a moment to connect with these overlooked citizens. I felt compelled to ease the moment.
I asked them if they had family visiting them regularly. One of them did. The other had no one at all. I wondered aloud at what had brought that woman to the facility that morning. Was she visiting an ailing family member? Was she herself receiving treatment for something terrible? Was she visiting a lung cancer patient and took her own anger out on these smokers? While offering them understanding for their plight I was also compelled to demonstrate compassion for the sad woman who had hurt them. She must be suffering this holiday season as well, to be that harsh.
We discussed the social disconnect that is so prevalent in our society toward the elderly or dying. We discussed openly how the holidays can magnify loneliness. I wanted to leave them on a more positive note so I acknowledged the fact that they had each other, as co-patients, to support one another. I acknowledged the fact that they have caring staff in their lives. I offered the fact that we can find blessings in the small things, even when we are suffering, if we look. It might just be someone to have a smoke with.
And so, today, I will be grateful for my surrogate family of friends this holiday season. I will be grateful that there are piles of people down east who wish I was with them. I will be grateful for my health. I will be grateful that I find compassion for others daily. I will be grateful for my ability to look for work and be hopeful for the future while others cannot. I will be grateful. Period.
Well look at that, I have shoes after all.