It’s not that I’m an unkind person. I guess I just never saw the “up-side” to being… overtly friendly.
We have covered the vagaries of my personality before so I won’t bore you with them again, but let’s just say that if you sit next to me on an airplane, I will help you with your bag, pass your trash to the Flight Attendant, even let you read my magazine if you ask, but there is a 99% chance that I will never speak to you until spoken to.
Maybe that makes me a jerk, or a misanthrope, or maybe just a guy who listened way too closely when his momma told him not to talk to strangers, but it is just the way I am wired. Which is why, I am, at various times, awed, inspired or horrified at people who are wired differently.
Margaret walked into the crowded “blood room” mid-sentence.
Commenting on the weather, the new furniture and that cute doctor “what’s his name” the woman would not stop talking. I did what I normally do when faced with an obviously crazy person… avoid eye contact at all costs and get very busy thumbing imaginary text messages on my Blackberry.
You see the “blood room” is Blood Draw, which is the one common ground all the cancer patients at USC share. All doctors lean on blood work for their clues, their guides, their road maps to navigate the twists and turns of treatment and this is where we all come to get stuck.
Breast cancer patients, head and neck, prostate, leukemia… we all sit side by side here. Some are ten years into their battle with cancer, other’s ten minutes. So it can be a tense room. You never know where people are in their journey; just that you can damn well be sure they wish it had never led them here.
Margaret elected herself “Blood Draw Den Mother” and started to work the room. Many joined right in, sharing basic info about themselves… lymphoma-three years. Breast cancer, double mastectomy. Another woman had endured two bone marrow transplants and to quote her… “And I ain’t got no kids, so I did that shit myself.”
I sat, listening, but not looking, head down, figuring she was working her way over to me. When suddenly… after fifteen minutes of straight chatter, Margaret clammed up. Shocked at this surprising turn of events, I looked up and saw she was leaning over, her hand on the knee of a small frail looking woman I had barely noticed on the way in. She was sick, maybe 100 pounds, wearing a really obvious jet black wig.
Suddenly, Margaret sat back down, whipped off her own, short, sassy blonde wig, rubbed her hand across her stubbly bald head and yelled out – “It itches like heck don’t it.”
A woman across the room, laughed and pulled off her hat, showcasing her own bald head and finally the frail little woman slide her black wig off and smiled like someone had just given her a huge gift. The other women cheered, the men clapped politely and suddenly it wasn’t a room full of strangers anymore.
Maybe being overtly friendly does have an “up-side.” You just have to be willing to look up from your Blackberry to see it.