Seeing a Man as He is
by Jonathan Gravenor
(Sydney NSW Australia)
It is said that laughter is the best medicine, but I am not sure. I am finding that laughter without joy is just distraction, a way to wash away the overwhelming emotion that sometimes grips me.
What I am discovering is that joy is what moves mountains for me. The joy of seeing acts of random kindness, where suddenly someone so distraught is saved by another person just caring. Not someone fixing, someone guiding, but the simple act of someone sitting next to another so they don’t feel isolated. It is at these moments that tears stream down my face.
Something happened recently that has stayed with me. I was at my semi-annual visit to my oncologist. My Oncologist specialises in Cancers of the Neck and Head. Cancer in the head region can be one of the most intrusive things to see, and worse yet to live with. With many Cancers we can cover up our scars and disfigurement. But Cancer of the face and head cannot be hidden and tumours protrude forth in vile recognition of illness.
My Oncologists waiting room can be like an elevator, we as patients grab magazines to change our focus, and do dances of distraction to avoid each other’s look. It is awkward but it is also dehumanizing for the recipient and giver of blank stares.
Straight across from me that day was a man with a horrific tumour that grown to cover his left eye and down his cheek, to say it was confronting would underscore my first feeling. I peeked and saw how his wife clung to his arm, I think to show him love he desperately needed and to try and shield her from the fear I am sure she felt in thinking she might lose him.
I quickly shuffled pages in a business magazine and tried to avoid eye contact, but something swept over me, I have no idea what but I looked up and looked directly at him. It didn’t take long to catch his attention. I just smiled and then blurted out “be careful in there, he likes to pretend he is a proctologist. If he sneaks up on your blind side he might be up to something”.
You could hear a pin drop, then as I looked he looked back and his one eye softened and a tear was forming, and he started to smile broadly. We laughed together for a few moments and simply exchanged our personal space. I think other than his wife and medical professionals I may have been the first person in a while to actually see him as a human not as a disease.
We talked about each others conditions and treatments, politics, sports and whatever, it didn’t matter we just talked. He was first in the Oncologists office and we nodded as he walked in the door. He came out a few minutes later, and he smiled at me, then made a gesture like the doctor had inspected his rear. He smiled, I smiled and for those moments we were just mates.
The most moving part was as he walked out the office, his wife looked back at me and just mouthed “thank you”. I shrugged my shoulders as if to say “Why”?
After my appointment I went to the parking garage and got in my car, and sat there and cried. It swept over me like a tidal wave of emotion – the moment of joy I had exchanged was the single most powerful thing to happen to me in a long time.
But it wasn’t because I was some sort of hero or went beyond my comfort zone, it was because a brave man let me in and let me see his vulnerability, and in that I discovered we laughed at fate together.
I know one truth because of that day it takes bravery to reach out to someone that is hurting. But it takes an enormous amount of courage to let someone in and be open. That day I was blessed by the most courageous man I have met in a long time.
I connected that day, and even though on the drive home I was by myself, I was not alone.
Namaste my friends may you let someone in and give them a great gift