There are four chairs, like four points on the compass, one in each corner of the room. An old man reclines in one, his thick glasses magnifying his closed eyes. I’ll be honest – he doesn’t look like he’s alive, but when his machine beeps, he stirs, and the nurse goes over and changes his bag.
In the chair in the opposite corner, a young man is told he can’t receive his treatment for one reason or another. He takes it in stride, runs his hands through his hair, and shrugs.
In the third chair, a middle-aged man falls asleep watching the news. He doesn’t have a port like most of the patients do: a long needle hangs awkwardly from his arm, a massive mosquito, not sucking blood but injecting poison. Some strange kind of poison that will hopefully save his life.
And in the chair beside me, my aunt. Her bald head somehow proud and distinguished. Her kind eyes flit from person to person, willing them not to give up. From a clear bag her own brand of medicine drips. In previous weeks it stood out, ruby red, and nurses injected it slowly through her port – they wore rubber gloves so as not to expose themselves to the chemo. But this week it’s a clear bag. It could be vodka. Or water.
* * * * *
It defies all odds, the quiet hope clinging to that room. It is like a soap bubble that just keeps rising. You wait and you wait and you wait for it to pop, but higher it goes.
* * * * *
We talk for hours. Hers is a unique regimen that takes half a day to leak into her body. We talk about life and cancer, friends and future plans. 4:30 comes quickly. Nearly finished, she has one last request, so I walk down to the guest shop and come back with Heath bars and Snickers, Rolos and Twix. She savors her Heath bar slowly. I devour my Snickers in an instant.
Then a young man enters the room. He looks lost, disoriented by grief, wavering like a wine glass that’s just had the table cloth yanked out from under it. He walks towards the nurse and she greets him warmly. In the quiet room I cannot help but hear snippets of their conversation.
How is she?
…turn for the worse yesterday…
…she seemed fine during chemo!
…kidney failure…stroke…intensive care…
Tears leak slowly from the man’s eyes, a saline drip. Suddenly my aunt whispers tersely.
“This isn’t right. Put the chocolate away. Please. Here. Put it away.”
It didn’t feel right, our celebrating the end of another treatment with chocolate, at least not in the presence of such eroded hope. I pushed the candy bars into obscurity, then sat quietly, our own eyes stinging.
After he left, my aunt turned to me and said quietly.
“Every time I leave this place, it is with a grateful heart.”
* * * * *
And this is it, I suppose: the things most necessary for life, things like hope and courage and thankfulness, spring up from the most unlikely places. I leave the hospital with a certain appreciation for life, and it spreads from me to others, slightly diluted but moving outward nonetheless. Then I wonder, if I traced back all the thankfulness in the world to its original source, would I find that it comes from these places we label as dire? Could hardship and struggle and even death somehow be the catalyst for good? The launching place for healing and redemption, hope and gratefulness?
Do our responses to situations such as these determine how high the tide of hope will rise in the world?