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Friday, April 18, 2014

The Hospital Parking Garage Attendant

Late last night, as I pulled out of the hospital parking garage and handed the attendant my ticket, along with the orange slip of paper that meant that my son had been admitted and I didn't have to pay, I thought for a fleeting moment about how sad and tired I must have looked.  I almost asked the man in the booth about it, about how I looked, but then decided against it.  I wanted to know if I looked worse than the other people he had seen come through that shift, and I wanted to ask about how much sadness he must see drive away from that building every day.

But then I continued driving home so I could be with my daughter in the morning as she got ready for school, and I thought about my experiences over the past 24 hours.  I was probably not the weariest person to drive through that pay booth that day.  I was there to be with my son, who is strapped to a machine that measures his brain waves, but who was otherwise fine.  Yes, telling him that he has to stay in a bed and not jump around for 24 hours for monitoring is like telling the wind not to blow or the sun not to shine, and this period of not knowing what is wrong with him is maddening, but there are so many who have it worse off than me.

As my mind continued down dark paths, hoping the best for my child but fearing the worst (the middle of the night will do that to you sometimes), I considered all of the people who actually find out the results of their tests, and discover their lives and faiths shattered.  People drive through the parking booth who have just received a terminal diagnosis.  People leave the hospital having just lost a loved one.  I am certainly not the most wretched soul to ever hand the parking garage attendant an orange slip of paper.  What misery that man must see day in and day out.  Are people rude to him?  Do they even notice him as they pay their ticket and drive away?  And does he wonder about them and their stories?  Or is this just a job to him, something to pay the bills as he counts down the minutes to the end of his shift?

So I was not in my happy place last night.  But then, as Maundy Thursday clicked over into Good Friday, somehow my mindset fast-forwarded to Easter, and I realized that the hospital is not only home to depression and despair, but also to hope, resurrection, and new life.  How many people drive through those parking lanes having just witnessed the birth of their child?  How many people have just been given the all clear?  How many people have been told that they are in remission?  How many people went in expecting the worst, and then heard the best?  What joy and relief must be present in that place!

Hospitals are funny places.  The full scale of human experience is on display in a heightened state.  The highs and lows are all there, but the intensity is ramped up due to the stakes.  What a job that parking garage attendant has!  The emotions that he sees go past his window on a daily basis!  I'm glad now that I didn't ask him if I looked tired.  To me, at this moment, I'm feeling worried and low, but on the full scale of human experience, I think I'm doing pretty well after all.