SGLY: The mist of spring
I chose the latest available appointment in the day to not interfere with work. The last several weeks at the office have felt more like a continuous day, and I knew that if I did not get in for a follow-up appointment today, it probably would not happen.
The physician’s assistant looked like she and I were keeping the same calendar — her face was pale, makeup flaky, and her hair dulled by day-old product. But I did notice something different between us: her nails.
“You’ve dipped your fingertips in spring,” I said as she Velcroed the blood pressure cuff on my arm. “They look beautiful!”
I remained quiet as the cuff slowly inflated. The assistant smiled. In her smile, she looked five years younger.
“You are the first person who noticed all day. I watched a YouTube video on how to make Easter egg nails. It took me forever,” she said with a laughed.
Her laugh made me laugh, and for a moment, I felt as young as she looked. She removed the cuff and turned to record my numbers and review my electronic chart.
“Not even my fiancé noticed,” she said, scrolling through her laptop. “Been here all day too. Not one person.”
I squirmed, trying to adjust my position on the table and my place in a conversation she was obviously having with herself.
“Maybe they noticed, but they just didn’t say anything?” I asked. I was trying to be hopeful, and this thought alone distracted me. Lately, I have felt more like a morning mist evaporating in the sun. I am spent before the day begins.
“You know what I mean?” she asked, now staring at me.
Her eyes bore into mine.
“Sorry, I must have missed what you said,” I stammered. I was about to give an excuse for not paying attention, but she cut me short.
Her smile turned into a tight, thin line. “Right. Story of my life,” she said coldly.
She grew more tired looking with every word that followed. “I was saying, they noticed,” she said with a sigh. “How could you not notice?” She flashed her hands in front of my face and wiggled her fingers. “They just didn’t say anything because they really don’t see me… they just barely notice me. There’s a difference.”
That evening as I squirmed to adjust my position on neck pillows and side wedges, the assistant kept returning to my mind. My thoughts were as uncomfortable as my body, so I got up to shake myself right. I put on my robe and went into the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea. I reused a mug that I had left in the sink from my morning cup of coffee. The mug was brightly decorated
with a painting of a woman who looked as if she were set in stained glass. This image made me think of the assistant and her Easter egg nails, as well as the woman who gifted me the mug many years ago.
I thought first about the tired assistant, her bright nails, and the difference between noticing and seeing. By way of her thinking, noticing is giving something a brief mental nod, usually in passing subconsciousness or preoccupied processing.
To actually see someone is more deliberate – an engagement that reveals you have noticed – that you have taken inventory of someone and recorded their presence in your present moment. You know they are more than just there – they are living where they stand. And at times, you may also observe evidence of their doubts, defeats, and disappointments just beneath the tilt of their quiet, polite nod.
The woman who gifted me the mug passed away almost 15 years ago. I specifically remember a conversation she and I had soon after she was diagnosed with stage IV cancer. We were at a small, crowded café trying to have a private conversation. Our efforts were met with competing voices and hissing sounds of espresso machines. We decided to leave and take our drinks outside. On the way out, I commented on a small display of coffee mugs, stating that I loved the one of the woman who looks like she is made of stained glass.
Sitting on the curb, I recall the sun burning the back of my neck. The woman beside me was more of a recurrent acquaintance than a friend, yet I could tell today she needed me to be more of a friend.
“I have lived a full life even though I feel I’m too young to die,” she started. “But most of my life I’ve felt I have lived alone… even around my husband and kids.”
I watched her take slow sips of her coffee between sentences. She looked straight ahead as she continued. “Don’t get me wrong. My family is great. You don’t really know them, but if you did, you would love them. I love them. I really do. They are my world.”
“I’m sure they are,” I said.
“But let’s face it, kids grow up, and we become pocketbooks and crisis intervention specialists,” she said with a laugh.
It was in this moment that I went from noticing her to really seeing her. Pain emanated just underneath the veil of her laugh and caught itself somewhere between acceptance and disappointment. I felt as if I were reading her thoughts, and I wanted to close the book. Instead, I stayed.
“And your husband?” I asked. I could have guessed her answer even though I did not know her well.
“My husband?” she repeated, now staring at me. “My husband hasn’t seen me for years.” She said this with something beyond emotion: resigned numbness.
“What? I thought you just said you have a great family?”
She smiled. “I do. I have a great family. I love them very much, and they love me.”
“Sorry, I must have missed—,” I began.
“No, you heard right.” She stopped looking at me and put her head down as she tapped the lid of her disposable cup. “He loves me. He just stopped knowing me. I know I’m not dead yet, but it feels like I left a long time ago.”
Weeks later, a small gift bag with bright pink tissue paper was left on my front doormat. Inside was the mug with the stained-glass woman and a short, handwritten card thanking me for our visit that day. That was our only visit.
“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).
I do not wish to feel spent before the day has even begun. I do not want to be so distracted and weighed down by life that I fail to live or to see – really see – those living around me. I want to live fully where I stand and see as well as I hope to love. And I never, ever want to be short on hope.
This life is brief. May we see one another and be there for one another.
Tiffany Kaye Chartier is a Christian author and opinion columnist. Submit feedback and connect for more soul lifts on Facebook: Tiffany Kaye Chartier; Instagram:@tiffanysgly; and Twitter: @tiffanychartier. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Texoma Marketing and Media Group.