I’d finished a bone density test at the local clinic, and was scheduled to have a mammogram next. The nice lab technician led me to an inner waiting room, where a much older woman sat in the requisite gown. She looked tired and rather unhappy, so I just nodded and as is my habit, took the seat furthest away, especially since she wasn’t wearing her mask, despite signs requiring everyone to do so. I’ve become used to this sort of behavior here and remain vigilant and as distant as possible at all times, carrying sanitizer in every pocketbook, lest I change bags and leave without one.
But contrary to the way she looked, the old lady spoke to me in a pleasant tone and asked if I was “five years clear, too.” Confused, I said, “I’m sorry, excuse me, what did you say?”
She spoke more clearly and asked “Are you also five years cancer free? Are you here for that?” Astonished, but hoping to keep a straight face as my heart lurched in compassion I answered, “No m’am, I’ve never had cancer.” She in turn seemed surprised but said, “Oh that’s good- you’re lucky.”And I agreed. Noting the pain and complete lack of happiness in her voice I quickly added, “But you’re five years out and free? That’s great!”
She agreed, perking up a smidgen, but said, “Yes, I’m here for my yearly. I was fine until I got here, and now I’m nervous.” I nodded sympathetically and agreed that waiting was nerve wracking. Hoping to distract her, I asked if she had any grandkids or children, and she had several of each, listing the boys and girls, then asking about mine. We chatted for a bit and I told her I’d moved here a few months ago, after my husband died last year. After expressing her condolences, she told me that her husband had died at 38, of pancreatic cancer. Given my shock and sadness, I knew that if we weren’t in a pandemic, I would have moved closer and maybe even held her hand. She went on to say that he’d died eight days after diagnosis, and we agreed that it was one of the worst forms of that dreaded disease, though I secretly thought that a quick death would be preferable to the nightmare of prolonged sickness and the diminishing quality of life I’ve seen with so many patients. And in my mind, a list of questions I couldn’t ask were whirling: environmental, workplace, family history, etc.
Curbing my training and bringing my focus back to her, I was amused to hear her saying that she’d “tried marriage a few times, but they didn’t take.” I said “He was the one, huh?” And she nodded, repeating his age, we both agreeing that it was too young.
We chatted for a few minutes longer when a woman came over, asking if she was ready to go, teasing us and saying “Y’all are having a party out here, but you can’t have any alcohol!” I wasn’t sure if this was a relative till I saw her ID badge, and I quipped “Well, it’s Christmas- y’all need to rethink that policy, ASAP!” and we all chuckled a bit.
The nurse turned back to my new acquaintance and said “I have your results, Mrs. ——“ and I could see her body and face tense up as she nodded “Yes?”
“It’s good news! You’re all clear, and next year you’ll just have a regular scan, no more of these! We couldn’t give you any bad news at Christmas, now could we.” My comrade’s confusion turned to joy as she said “This is the best Christmas present you could have given me” and I stood up, cheered and clapped like she was my own aunty, and said “That is wonderful news; I’m so happy for you!”
And I was, and am, because yes, that lady needed to be free of that awful burden, and in those few minutes, my heart had been touched by her story. I knew I was fortunate to have been with the man I loved for thirty seven years, and hopefully, in two weeks when I get my results, I won‘t be starting down the terrible road she’s no longer traveling, and that swallowed up my Mom and my sister, and other people dear to me. I cheered because that’s something no one should suffer for five minutes, let alone five years, grateful as most are to have the time, even with the suffering involved.
But mostly, I was happy because we all need those small “miracles,” those moments when we win, and when trouble takes a walk: when a nice person catches a break. We need that, and I honestly appreciated being part of her moment.
I am not a prayerful or religious person. My husband did all the praying and I did all the worrying- that’s how the labor was divided in our household, and it worked. I figured out the practical plans A-Z and he seemed to have had a hotline to the divine. With his death, any beliefs I once held were murdered- smited by hurt and anger at the unfairness of his sudden and unexpected death. It’s been his interventions and words and the loving actions of family and friends that pulled me back from complete bitterness and hatred in these past months. Only his love has made me take back my complete repudiation of any and every possible deity, including even my previously always beloved, trusted Ancestors.
So when I tell you now that I will be doing something akin to praying for that elderly woman whose name I don’t know, you can call it a “Festivus Miracle“ or whatever you like, but if there’s one thing this life has taught me, it’s that you should celebrate every single win, big or small. And when you get to witness a win for a stranger, embrace it as your own and magnify the joy, because sometimes it seems like there’s not enough joy to go around, and we have to share whatever bits are here, with loved ones or with strangers. We’re reminded that we are all related, and that their joy is also our joy: that we’re all the underdog sometimes and we know within us what that feels like. That it’s unhealthy and unhelpful to wrap ourselves in the fear of relating to, or being “infected” by another person’s troubles or sorrows, and that if you actually have good boundaries, they allow you to safely cross them now and again. To understand that it’s unnecessary to try to build an impenetrable wall that can only ever fail, ultimately and completely.
So Happy Holidays, good people. There’s an entire month of them, so take your pick. Go out and spread joy, or at least enjoy it for the sake of others and your own well being. Remember: Scrooge was a frightened schmuck trying to control the variables, and Tiny Tim- the most vulnerable of all- was heroic in his joy and love and compassion. L’chaim/Salute/Shanti-Om/Bendiciones ❤️