The handshake was more hand-grab. A claiming. He was not going to let go as soon as I’d anticipated or wanted and his face showed it—victory.
I was captive, so he thought. My reaction to pull away was met with a firmer, doubling of the grip—smooth, unworked and warehoused hands holding unto a new friend. A passerby naive enough to make eye contact and say, “Hello, how are you?”
And so, temporarily at least, I submitted, hovering over his wheelchair-bound frame wondering how many times a day he sets the bait of extended hand and catches nothing.
Christmas can often be a time of guarding “our time,” a season of conflicting, battling schedules. Swirled into our normal day-to-day events, we scamper to and from all things Christmas. We dodge suggestions for our time accepting or declining requests however the almighty schedule directs us. It’s exactly what brought me to our local nursing home this Tuesday afternoon. I had plans to visit my friend Chris, but in the walk to his room, was snared unscheduled by a trapper.
Standing, hand captured in the hall near the nurse’s station, I began conversing with the man, looking into his wide and glassy eyes. They widened more at my talk and the man became enthused responding in a babble I couldn’t decipher. Realizing I could not understand, his plea became louder and indignant. Looking to the nurse behind the counter I was met with a raised eyebrow and closed-lip half smile which I interpreted as, “Don’t look at me kid you took the bait, you’re on your own.” I got it, felt no severe judgement against her. Behind her smile, I saw a tired, jaded nurse. I saw myself if I were an underpaid staffer burned-out and poured dry by the grind of eldercare. Selfishly, I saw time slipping, my schedule encroached upon.
Troubled that I was still subtly pulling from the trapper’s grip, I surrendered my hand a little, then more, then completely. Take it, I thought. I’m not in a hurry anymore. What’s on your mind? What is it you so desperately want me to know? The man began to cry as his explanation continued.
Emanuel is here, I thought. Here is Christ! Right here, is where God with us is born! He comes unexpectedly, unscheduled in the going, challenging us to open eyes and heart. “Here I am,” He proclaims. “Look at me,” he pleads, grabbing our hand passing by. “I’m right here, the lonely, the least of men. Where are you? Where have you been?”
I looked deeper into the trapper’s watery eyes, placing my free hand over his grip. He slowly quieted and the silence closed in on us. Looking back across the counter my human self selfishly wanted the nurse to take notice, to acknowledge the calm. My true self, my child of God self, continued studying this man of heart peeled open with my own heart peeled open.
Lost in that moment, all I could find to answer his pleading look was, “You know, it’s going to be alright. You’re going to be alright.”
He smiled toothless, sprung the trap and uttered clear enough to discern as I said goodbye and walked away, “You a good man, a good man.”
My friend’s room was empty, his brother had sprung him for lunch. I was disappointed not to see him but was hopeful returning to the nurse’s station that I’d see the trapper. But no one. No patients in sight. In the parking lot I sat in the car, effected by and doubting his words. Wanting to be a better man.