Making the choice to embrace our humanity
“Have you ever had the Chai tea here? It’s delicious.” The question came from a young lady sitting at a table about eight feet from my husband and me, in one of our favorite restaurants in Montrose.
We had been chatting back and forth about our information on the recent fires in the Boulder Area that devastated a community. We were strangers, but in this little restaurant that serves Himalayan food, we struck up a conversation that included topics like the recent Colorado disaster, food and eventually employment.
She and her husband were the only other couple in the restaurant beside Keith and me. They shared that they made a three-hour round trip to enjoy the cuisine in this establishment. When she asked about the Chai, I told her that I never drink anything with caffeine in the evening as it keeps me awake.
“Oh, I need to be awake tonight,” she told me. “I have to work a ten-hour shift.”
The natural question flowed from my lips, “And what do you do?”
“I am a nurse,” was her reply. “And I am getting ready to start my night shift in about two hours. It’s my sixth ten-hour shift in a row. I’m just so tired some days that even the caffeine doesn’t chase the fatigue away.”
I nodded and said, “I worked thirty years in the medical field, both clerical and clinical. I was at University of Colorado in the OR for several years. I remember those years and those hours.”
Our eyes held each other’s, connected by recognition and understanding of the sacred work we had been called to do. I waited for her to continue.
She broke the silence by saying, “I sometimes think my exhaustion will overtake me before I can get on top of it. And the things we’ve seen, and are now seeing, aren’t only exhausting to body and brain, but also to…” She trailed off.
I finished her sentence, “To the soul.”
“Yes.” She went on, “I can never remember, in my twenty-five years of nursing, when I felt so weary and even sometimes hopeless. There are days when I should be sleeping but all I can do is cry. And I do cry now.”
“Yes,” I said.
“We were trained to keep our emotions out of our work. But these days I cannot do that. And so, when I need to, I just cry – out loud and for as long as it takes to partially relieve the sadness that we were taught to dismiss,” she said.
“Yes,” I said.
“And I’m not ashamed of my tears now. I don’t try to hide them. I have no need to explain them or ask permission to release them. I cry because it is sad. I cry because I am true to me now.”
“Yes,” I said.
During the conversation her eyes never left mine. Her husband had gone to warm up their car prior to their departure.
“You know, don’t you?” she asked.
“Yes.” I said.
We fell silent again and accepted comfort provided in the knowledge that each one was seeing, acknowledging and honoring the heart of the other. We were two strangers who may never meet again, in a small-town restaurant, with a bond perhaps stronger than two women who’ve been friends for decades. I’ve no idea how long we remained in that posture. But I know it was enough to understand that God sent this younger woman into the company of one who had been and, in many ways, will always be where she is right now.
She got up to leave, but prior to exiting the building, she turned to look at me and offered a small, sad smile laced with determination to never be ashamed of her tears.
“Thank you, God bless you.” she said.
“And you too my friend.” I said.
As she walked out the door, I bowed my head and asked God to protect her and all our healthcare workers today. I thanked Him for opportunity to be a person in her world that for a brief moment, over hot plates of Masala and Saag, could authentically say I felt her pain and understood her tears. Then as my husband attended to paying our bill, I began to cry.
Copyright January 2022, Laura L. Padgett Montrose, CO
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