Tonight I stopped in to the Kaiser 24 Hour Pharmacy to quickly pick up a couple of prescriptions and though I thought it would be a quick errand, I ended up in a line of about 25 others with similar intentions, crammed against the back wall of a packed waiting room. As we proceeded at a Zen pace, one step at a time, towards the front of the line, I was struck by the loud, antagonistic conversation of an elderly couple sitting together in the front row, he in a chair, and she beside him in a hospital wheel chair.
“Look, your name is up there. Do you see it?” the husband inquired of his wife.
She sat, with eyes as red as her jacket, hunched over, hands trembling, slowly nodding “no.”
“Why can’t you see it? It keeps showing up in the corner up there on the screen. You just won’t try! Why won’t you even try to learn anything new?”
Her sadness at disappointing her long-time husband was evident even to me, a bystander in the line.
Suddenly, a small woman ran up to them, “Don’t worry, I am in the line. I have to stay in the line. You just sit here.” The Filipino caretaker provided short-lived comfort to the agitated gentleman. He nodded, as if understanding, but then, two minutes later, he was at it again.
“Nancy, why won’t you even try? Look, there’s your name again.”
Nancy shook her head, confused, not understanding what she was missing, what she was doing wrong.
The caregiver ran out of line again to gently pat their shoulders, to assure them that she was in line and my heart went out to all of them. It was not that long ago that I was the comforter, depending on the kindness of others to help me take care of my elderly mother. I asked the others in line if they would mind if I let the caregiver get in front of me in line and all agreed. I went to get her at the end of the line and she smiled softly, “Are you sure it’s ok?”
“Yes. You need to be at the front of the line.”
“I brought her into Emergency at 1:00 this afternoon.”
It was now 8:00 at night.
How much suffering had they all endured that day? It broke my heart and tears welled in my eyes. A gentleman in a yarmulke was up ahead of me in the line and I motioned to him. He motioned for the caregiver to get in front of him. I went to reassure the couple that their caregiver had shifted positions and was further ahead in the line. The gentleman nodded understanding.
Even as she was finally called to the counter to get the prescriptions her head rotated between the counter and the couple, continually checking, allowing them to make eye contact and assuring her presence. It was then that I felt the tears slipping out of my eyes.
Their vulnerability, her compassion, it was too much to bear as my mother’s presence swirled around me as comfortable as a memory foam pillow holding her permanent impression. I felt my heart softly pounding and the familiar lump in my throat, but at the same time, the hint of warm happiness at having made a small difference to someone, settled in too.
As the caretaker assured the gentleman that Nancy did not have to stand up and walk out of the pharmacy, that it was ok for her to be wheeled out, they made their way to the door. The caregiver sending me a smile and delivering one to the man in the yarmulke as she passed him gathering his medication for his sick, blanket wrapped daughter.
I was at the front of the line. I paid for my prescription and inquired about a suggestion form. Shouldn’t there be a line for the elderly and critically sick? Why should they have to wait in line so long, when it only ups the magnitude of their suffering?
We can’t all make big differences daily, move mountains, or make millions and donate them to charity. We can’t all invent the next new technology or travel on peacekeeping missions in foreign countries, but we can all show at least one act of kindness a day.