Have you ever read a book you loved so much it still forms tears in your eyes thinking about it? You know, you know, the ones you clutch so tight and hold each page as close as the next? I can recognize mine because they’re beaten at the spine, coffee splatters on the front and the pages creased over because it’s been loved on so much. I own many of these. Most of which, recycle in and out of laying on my bookshelf to being held in my hands. The one that recently had me gripped was Tuesdays With Morrie (Albom, 1997). Here’s the scene: I’m sitting in urgent care head pressed against the wall, all 6 feet of me curled in a chair that wasn’t built to hold half my limbs in the first place. But, I didn’t care. I had Morrie. Morrie made time pass as if it was nothing. A flicker, a blink, a snap of a finger. Page, after page, after page. In actuality my appointment was at 5:20 P.M. and it was nearing closing time at 7:00 P.M. Being curled up tight in that chair made me think less about my achiness and pain on the right side of my body. I couldn’t feel my groin throbbing and the headache pounding as I turn my head. Morries’ truths made me forget about how I kept circling back to if I “should” be at urgent care. Was I really in that much pain? Should I just wait it out? Is this what people classify as “urgent?” Am I just being a little dramatic? No time to sit with that uncertainty! Morrie was talking. Avoid, avoid, avoid! Surprisingly enough, this post isn’t about books or a shameless plug to go read Tuesdays With Morrie! I know, I hear all of your “what a lack of a topic sentence.” Give a girl a chance and keep reading. I was just painting a picture for you!
Morrie came to an abrupt stop when Jess came in the room. Well, Dr. Jessica to be formal, but, she wasn’t a formal kind of person. She pulled her chair up close and leaned in so naturally and just like that; that flicker, that blink and snap of a finger, she was all here. I was all hers, I had every ounce of her attention. Have you ever met someone like that? Who makes you feel like you are the most important person to them in that moment and nothing else matters? Jess is that kind of person and I took note. I began explaining my symptoms hesitantly, observing her reaction meticulously because remember, I wasn’t sure if my needs were urgent enough to be there. Half way through, she stopped me and touched my arm with gentleness saying “don’t worry, I’m going to take care of you. What do you need from me?” I exhaled the breath anxiety was holding and restarted the conversation with “I have no energy.” Now, if you know me even a little bit, you know how unnatural this is for me. “Every task wipes me out and when I turn my head I get an instant, shooting head ache. I still have a lump in my throat that is painful at fingers touch and my groin area aches most of the time.” Jess examined all the areas I was having sensitivity and discomfort to, then looked at me and said “we’re going to figure this out. I’m going to run all of the tests and check on them myself. I’ve got you.” I’ve got you. Three words that stormed my heart with a hurricane of emotions. When was the last time I heard that? I couldn’t remember. Don’t be fooled, I have great friends. Both in Nashville and other areas of the world. Who love me so deeply. But, recently I’ve had my hands messy from being in a little bit of everything you could possibly label as “busy” and so have they. The sincerity of Jess’s words and the tenderness of how she spoke them let me know, she meant it. This wasn’t a “I got your back fam” nonchalant confirmation, this was a I care for you “I’ve got you.” I know the difference between the two, do you?
I felt stripped in vulnerability. Jess saw, she knew. I didn’t feel as fine as I had just so eloquently summarized to her like I was the back of a latest novel. This not-as-awesome-as-Jess doctor came in (still good) to collect all the blood work. He asked me all the necessary questions, but, stone cold. Warmth was vacant. What the heck! I want Jess back. Where’s my girl? I felt a sudden yearning to have the comfort Jess gave. There was a word for that. A sensation that I longed for, but, I couldn’t place my finger on it…yet.
There I sat in my too-small-for-me chair, back to Morrie while the blood work was happening. I didn’t realize how much blood work was actually happening and I started feeling a little woozy. My arms felt like they had anchors tied to them and I felt I didn’t quite have my feet grounded. Soon, Jess was back (all the praise hands and hallelujahs), and she sat down close to me. The identical way she did when she originally came in. Then… I just started crying. Out of nowhere, all the tears came falling from my eyes. I don’t know about you, but, do you have a signature mannerism right before you’re about to cry? I do, and it’s a dead giveaway! I purse my lips to the right side of my mouth and that is the cue of my unraveling. In this moment, my lips were pressed so tight, the slightest alleviation of them transformed my eyes into a running faucet . I just crumbled. Yes, I physically was hot and cold with chills and I felt faint. Mostly though, I was just lonely and missing the comfort of the way someone cares for you when you’re sick.
Jess closed the door. That southern hospitality was alive and practicing in this doctors’ heart! The tears were followed by so many “bless your hearts,” and not the kind that you know….insinuates to be quiet. The “bless your heart” you tell that co-worker when they’re complaining about how it’s so hard the sky is blue today? Not that kind. The kind that let me know that hey, there, there. You’re seen, I’ve got you. She let me lay down, got me a blanket, a wash cloth, sat next to me and let me cry. Pause. Lets go back to the beginning of this story when I briefly shed light on the fact that it was almost closing time before I was even seen. By this point, it was well over an hour later and I was very much the last patient in the building. However, Jess didn’t seem to be concerned with any of that. She was fixated with what was right in front of her, not what was waiting for her on the other side of me leaving. She was present as I was allowing myself and body to be.
I’ve been struggling with that a lot lately. Living in the future and not the present. It seems recently that everyone else is too- living in my future. Yes, my future. So, I should be living there to then?.… With what I’m doing, how I’m going to lead in my job, with what I’m doing with my time at 3:30 next Wednesday afternoon because I “should” be doing x, y, and z. With who I’m dating, or not dating, where I should be in the depths of my faith, with what I should study as I got back to school and with what I am “doing all day long” because that means I “should” think about doing “blah, blah, blah, blah.” It seems people have been formulating their own concoctions of how I “should” be living in my future just by looking at me in the present. People are looking at me and the ways I’m not living up to the vision they’ve curated for me in the flesh. But, they don’t see me… they’re just looking at me. Jess was seeing me. She saw I physically didn’t feel well, I was overwhelmed, I needed to cry and I needed to feel cared for. Ah, there it is. That word and sensation I couldn’t put my finger on earlier-cared for. My heart in that moment was associating being seen with being cared for. The more I lean into that idea, the more I wonder and pose that maybe, they aren’t so different.
While Jess sat with me, she asked me about my life, who I dreamed to be, what I did to earn money, about my dog, what were the significance behind the rings I wore, where I live, what my roommate is like, all the things. When I felt better, she helped me to my feet and walked me out to my car (like what doctor do you know does that)? Just when I thought she headed back inside I lost my grounded feet for a moment and she yells back“ hey! don’t think I don’t see you, I’ve got you.” “I’ve got you” translated to “I care for you.” It translated that way because it was that way.
If Jess just looked at me after her long 12 hour shift, she would have saw that I looked very much content and enamored with reading Tuesdays With Morrie. She would have looked and heard that I was very confident in my classic symptoms of a cold or virus and wondered what I was doing there. Good thing she didn’t look at me. She sat close to see the heaviness my body was feeling. She was seeing how I kept avoiding eye contact when explaining my symptoms. She was engaged enough in me and not busy writing on a clip board to hear that I did have some hesitancy in my voice. I needed someone to stop looking at me.
As I sat on this experience and notion for the week, I reflected back on the times I was also just looking at people. I look at my dancers, I look at my roommate, I look at my friends, at the grocery store clerk and at the barista. I look at sunsets, traffic and Instagram. I could be looking at the sunset without seeing that it’s so beautiful. I can look at Instagram without seeing the filter, VSCO came edits and the fakeness. Y’ALL. Instagram isn’t real, but, that’s a different writing session for a different time. I can look at my dancers without seeing that school is hard and they had a long day already. I can look at myself without seeing that, I too had a long day. I look at so many people all day long and I wonder if I stopped looking and SAW what I would see. I wonder if they want people to stop looking at them as much as I want people to stop looking at me. I wonder if they need to feel cared for too. I’m sure they do. We all do. I think back to Tuesdays With Morrie and wonder what is drawing the main character and author, Mitch Albom, back to his old professor? Maybe, it was because Morrie saw Mitch when the rest of the world just gave him a look. What was drawing me to Jess as my doctor and not blood work doctor? Being seen and not looked at.
Jess and Morrie aren’t so different. There’s that tying back to the topic sentence! I told y’all, just give this girl a moment.
What would people see if they stopped looking at you?
If people stopped looking at me, they would have seen I needed rest and restoration. I needed to be spared the gossip and belittlement and exchanged encouragement and a prayer. If people saw me they would have seen that maybe, today is not the best day to mention how they feel I should be living my future.
What would you see if you stopped looking at you?
If I stopped looking at me and actually saw me before Urgent Care, I would have seen how I’ve been yearning to feel well cared for. I would have stopped looking at future me and started seeing present me. I would have saw how present me needed some good, rich, Jesus time and a lot less screen time. I would have seen present me needed more community within my friends and my church and not just within work (even thoughI love work). I would have seen that I probably should have went into Urgent Care three weeks ago when I thought symptoms were allergies and the adjustment of new, more physical routine. I would have seen a lot. I’m very thankful for Jess who saw all the things I didn’t, while I was too busy looking.
I’ll tell you what, I’m going to stop looking at you and I’m going to see you instead. I want to see you in your PRESENT. Not in your future. I want to see your heart, not look at your plans. I want to see what God’s doing through you, today. Right now. Not what the people vision you doing in the future. I don’t want to look at their blue print of you days, weeks, months or years from now.
Because right now I’m here with you, seeing you.
Stop looking at me.