Two Truths and A Lie
My mother wore a hoodie over her nightgown and a blanket around her waist as she shuffled her gym shoe- clad feet through the doors of the ER and plopped gracelessly into the chair next to the admitting nurse’s desk. I got in line behind the two girls who stood in front of me, chatting like it was study hall. We waited for a minute until the clerk got back to her desk – a very long minute as I stood there, watching my mother shiver and bounce in her seat.
“Who’s next?” The clerk asked.
“We were here first. I have a toothache,” said the girl on the right.
“O- are you? – are you all together?” The nurse gestured her hand towards all of us, eyeing my mother.
“No,” I said. As uncomfortable as a toothache can be, my mother needed help more quickly.
“What is she having trouble with?” She asked me.
“She’s diabetic and her blood sugar is tanking. She’s freezing and is having trouble breathing.” I said.
“I have a headache, too,” piped the girl with the toothache.
Are you kidding me? Please tell me you’re kidding. Are you seriously trying to insinuate that your toothache is more pressing than my mother’s present condition? If you are going to try to make my mother wait for treatment, let me talk to you outside. I’ll bust out your damned tooth, and it won’t hurt for too much longer…. I am not very kind when someone messes with my family.
The nurse motioned for me to come over by my mother and she ignored the girls at the counter. She took her blood sugar, got her name and birthday, and got her another nurse to get her right back into the room. The girls went back to chatting like nothing was wrong.
Once we were in the room, I messaged my bff, told her where I was, and about the girl with the toothache.
“Clearly she doesn’t understand how the ER works,” she said.*
Tonight ended up being another example in a very long list of examples this week of people who don’t seem to understand how a society should work. People who oppose gun regulations that would save lives because they feel it impinges on their personal rights. People who are in a stable financial situation who oppose liveable wages for others because it would make them feel less successful. A clerk who refuses to do her job because the legal, equal right to marry supposedly threatens her individual right to exercise her faith…. A young woman who begrudges the few minutes spent waiting while a retired grandmother is rushed into the hospital room first.
People have always been selfish, rotten, and egocentric. That’s certainly nothing new; this week just seem to be a spectacular display of that truth. People are so very concerned with themselves that they can’t see what is happening outside of their own heads.
It’s quite hard, in this moment, to remember the other, equally true statement: people are good, kind, and selfless. Friends of mine who prayed for my mom, the nurse who patiently rubbed my mom’s foot when it cramped up on her, the cashier who was sincere in his well wishes for her night.
People are rotten.
People are good.
Both of these are equally true.
I like to think that I am better at being good than being rotten. Sometimes, my good actions happen directly in opposition to my own heart and brain. I could be mad and mean and ornery at someone on the inside, but on the outside, I force myself to be kind and gracious. The actions feel like a lie. It’s not like it’s all the time or anything. But after days like this, weeks like these, I confess that I feel just as selfish and mean as others seem to be acting. I tell myself that not acting it out is better, that it is at least a step in a better direction. Is it? I’m not so sure. My faith tells me that it’s my heart that matters, and I’m not sure I understand my heart very much today.
Is it enough that my desire to show love, despite my own feelings, wins out (usually)? Or am I cutting myself too much slack?
*My mother is OK, by the way. It was a stress-induced drop in her blood sugar, which is now back where it should be and she is home, sleeping.