December 11, 2014
What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us?
Just a stranger on the bus
Tryin’ to make his way home?
â€” Ed Mann, b . 1954
American percussionist and songwriter
We woke to several inches (as measured on the rail of the deck) of slushy snow. By first light it had already been slushed away on Bradley Drive by traffic from neighbors who had to get to work. Nevertheless, it triggered a two-hour delay for the school district and the cancellation of my Thursday morning women’s spiritual study group. I wish I could say I put the time to good use, but I didn’t. I just made lists of things I needed to do, and thought about when and how to do them.
I blamed the morning’s stagnation on anxiety about the afternoon. Ron was scheduled for his followup EGD (upper endoscopy), a procedure to check healing and other conditions in the esophagus after last week’s emergency EGD. This would be a “brief procedure” (they said with confidence), done under light anesthetic at an outpatient facility. We were to report at 1:30 for a 2:00 start. That meant that Ron, who has been subsisting on mashed potatoes, applesauce, and tapioca pudding for a week, would have to be fasting (no coffee!) all day.
Because I didn’t have my group, I didn’t get dressed, didn’t fix my hair, just threw a sweatshirt over the turtleneck I wore to bed and jammed my feet in their bed socks into my shearling-lined slippers. At about 11:30 I thought about having something to eat. I heard the phone ring. Ron yelled up the stairs â€” there had been cancellations and the doctor was ahead of schedule and Ron could come over right away.
We were in the car in about six minutes. It took that long because I stopped to put on real shoes. The slippers have a thin hard sole, but they’re not waterproof. I had the presence of mind to consider that. When we got to the facility, I saw myself coming toward myself in the polished glass doors. The bed socks slouched down over the snazzy red Nike sneakers, under the worn red parka that makes me look like a spaceman. I thought about a story I recently revised. It concerns a woman keeping vigil at her husband’s ICU bedside. I gave special attention to describing her elegant clothes, and her insistence that she be taken home to change into a fresher outfit as his condition took a turn for the worse.
The waiting area had a television broadcasting CNN, as well as Christmas carols streaming from the desk and the procedure area, behind a glass wall but nevertheless audible. The constant drone of a TV in a waiting room, no matter what show it is, makes me irritable. Add another audio stream, and I get downright twitchy. I let Ron be taken back to the operating area and went out for a sandwich.
There’s an Arby’s just down the road from the medical complex. On the way I saw an inflatable Santa taller than the low boxy nondescript house it was decorating. At the restaurant I parked near a red pickup with a “Jamberry Nails” decal on the side. Because of the truck, an image of the kind of nails used to hold boards together appeared in my mind, but as I walked nearer I could see that the design surrounding the company name showed the kind of nails on one’s hand, these nails in many different colorful designs.
I’ve been to this Arby’s before. The manager is a man in his late thirties who walks with a limp. He calls all the women customers “dear” or “honey” or some other endearment. “What can I get for you, sweetie?” This irritates me more than two audio streams at once. I wind up at this Arby’s maybe once every two months or so. One time I did ask him not to call me “dear.” He looked abashed and I felt ashamed of my haughtiness.
When I sat down I looked up Jamberry Nails on my tablet. It’s a method of applying fancy wrap designs to one’s nails at home instead of at an expensive salon. It’s sold through party plans, like Tupperware. Everything about the site seemed sad â€” the too-breathless marketing phrases, the difficult navigation, some unfortunate wandering apostrophes. The manager came by. “Everything OK here darling?” This was right after an employee had asked me the same thing, without the “darling.” I decided it must be some sort of corporate directive â€” keep asking people how everything is, even if you interrupt their miserable, indigestible, lonely fast food lunch to do so. I didn’t say anything about the intrusive endearments.
The red pickup was still in the parking lot when I left. A woman was sitting in the driver’s seat, talking on her phone. I thought about what it might be like to be selling fashion nail designs out of a red pickup truck on a gray winter’s day. I passed the inflatable Santa again on the way back. He looked weary of turning his foolish air-puffed grin to the busy highway.
Several people, including two women and a preschool child, were in the waiting room when I returned. I was taken back almost immediately to where Ron was waiting, a little disoriented. He told me three times that the procedure had taken only five minutes and that he can’t drive today. I read a brochure about Barret’s Esophagus. Everyone in the drawings of patients looked quite elderly. We know a one-year-old named Barret. I imagined his esophagus â€” short, pink, healthy. Very likely he enjoys a diet primarily composed of mashed potatoes, applesauce, and pudding.
The doctor came in and told us that healing is progressing, and Ron is discharged to normal activities, with a caveat to chew more thoroughly and take Prilosec. And not to drive or make business decisions until tomorrow.
We left then. It was nearly 3:00. Another day shot. It’s been a haphazard Advent so far. Our crÃ¨che is in place, and the Advent wreath, but I think we’re going to skip the tree this year, and candles in the windows, and the Lynn’s history with Santa picture display. I just don’t feel like it.
On the way home we passed the inflatable Santa again. The Jamberry Nails truck was gone, but I could see the store manager making his difficult way through his dining room full of customers.
What if God was one of us? Just a slob like one of us? Just a stranger on the bus, or in a red pickup, or a fast food joint, or a humble house on a major highway, tryin’ to make his way home?
But he is. That’s the True Meaning, and amid the gray skies and the too much to do and the medical uncertainties and the disappointments in myself, I grasped it once more, less than half way through the season.
Merry Christmas, Arby’s guy, Jamberry Nails woman, homeowner with the oversized, overblown sense of holiday cheer. May we all be joyful on our way home, together.