The person who sits quietly, reading a handheld electronic device.
The busy person, working away on a laptop.
The person who sits quietly, reading an actual paper book.
The ancient person, looking rumpled.
The young person, wearing neon shoes.
The middle-aged person who actually thumbs through the magazines.
The person who works sudoku puzzles, muttering.
The person who seems far too sick to be the one in the waiting room.
The person who comes dressed for jogging.
The couple who exchange few words.
The couple who chat amiably.
The couple who say nothing at all.
The person here for the first time, who can’t help looking around.
The person who has been here before, disinterested.
The person here for what they hope to be the last time, radiating suppressed excitement and relief.
The person who is amazed at how quickly it goes.
The person who is bored and thinks it is taking forever.
The person who slouches in the chair, struggling to stay awake.
The person who sits prim and erect, eyes forward, like a statue.
The person dressed in a ripped and stained tee and sweatpants.
The person who is dressed as if they were in church.
The person who is dressed for work.
The family discussing things.
The family just making conversation.
The family keeping an eye on the young ones.
The friend who drove someone here.
The friend who came along in the Redi-Wheels van.
The friend who came to give support.
The black person.
The yellow person.
The red person.
The white person.
The gay person.
The straight person.
The bi person.
The asexual person.
The Russian speaker.
These are the people like me.
These are the people of the waiting room.
These are the people who are the spectators, the supporters, the cheerleaders. Not the people with Lump, but the people who love someone with Lump.
We’re all different.
We’re all the same.
Whatever our age, however we dress, no matter what we do to pass the time, we keep one eye – always – on the doorway through which our loved ones pass on their way to get treatment. Waiting for their return to us from the mysterious world into which they disappear to get treatment for the silent and terrifying illness for which we can do nothing but be there.
We watch each other as well. Even those who fiddle with their hand held devices and read their books and try to seem disinterested watch one another. We catch one another’s eye from time to time and we smile at one another and we communicate with our eyes and our body language and sometimes occasionally by speaking “Yes, I am there too. No, there’s nothing wrong with you. I feel sad like you feel sad and I feel worried like you feel worried and I’m here to be supportive like you are here to be supportive. And I’m scared too and there is nothing wrong with you and I hope your person is all right.” We nod. We smile. We note one another’s cancer pins and we feel less alone.
And then the door opens and eyes flick in that direction to see who it is coming out and we all start our internal checklist: face set in a positive smile? Check. No sign of worry? Check. Eyes dry? Check. Because this is our moment. This is what we are here for. Our someone will be coming through that door and it is our job, our ONLY job at that moment, to make them feel loved and special and wanted in the aftermath of being stripped, stuffed into a machine, and having radiation shot into their boob or prostate or brain. And because we only have a second – less than a second – to make sure we do it right, we develop that little checklist to make sure we give the first impression that we are there to give, the reassurance that is our purpose, we have the checklist. And after the first few times in the waiting room, the checklist becomes instinct when the door opens. We want to radiate that same sense of support, or serenity, of positive regard, for everyone who comes out that door. It’s partially Pavlovian – the sound of the door triggering an automatic response. But mostly I think it’s solidarity. The people coming out through that door are all dealing with Lump. We want to give them every chance, every support, no matter who they are.
And so the heads swivel, each of us put on that supportive look, just for an instant, and then go back to waiting for our someone to come through the door.