I love to watch people.
It began when I was in high school and living in Minnesota. In the winter there wasn't a whole lot of things to do on a little amount of money, so my friends and I would go to the mall to simply window shop. Soon we would end up with a cold drink and a comfortable bench and we would watch the people as they would make their way through the mall. Busy shoppers, some hustling and bustling, some meandering their way along ... each one with a purpose, each one with a story.
My friends and I would amuse ourselves making up stories and dialogue to fit the people that we would see, weaving fantasies and spy mysteries around the individuals, couples and groups of our unknowing cast of characters. In the span of minutes, my imagination could take an individual on a quest for the perfect outfit for a romantic interlude, place them in an alternate reality, or have them be spied upon by the agents from a foreign government. Watching people became a habit to indulge in whenever I find myself alone in a crowd.
Over the years I have watched people in company meetings, restaurants, theater lobbies, airports. Being single, there are many times that I find myself in situations alone and, although I usually have a trusty book to keep me occupied, I still tend to keep an eye on my surroundings and the people who move around where I am sitting. Occasionally I still make up the stories and dialogue in my mind to amuse myself, however I mostly just watch.
Last week I found myself in a hospital surgical waiting room. I knew that I would be spending a long amount of time simply sitting and so I had prepared my little bag with a couple of different books, my notebook to do some writing of my own, snacks and other little odds and ends. Yet, after a time of reading, I found myself falling back to my little habit. I watched.
Surgical waiting rooms don't gather people like malls or restaurants or airports or theaters. There isn't a hustle or bustle. While there is a steady flow of people, the air that surrounds is differently charged. There isn't the excitement of a deal found, a trip to be taken, a show to be seen. As good as I am at weaving stories out of the individuals I see, I found that fantasies and dialogues just don't work when watching someone in a surgical waiting room.
This particular hospital's waiting was very large and was sectioned nicely for large and small groups to be able to gather. In the center, positioned in front of the main entry was a large information desk staffed by a couple of volunteers who were quiet, friendly and quick to respond to any question. Over to the side was an area for people who had children, stocked with books and television and toys to amuse.
It was a noisy room, and yet it wasn't. It was a room filled with strangers, and yet everyone there had something in common - concern for a friend or loved one that was currently undergoing surgery.
Waiting ... hoping ... wondering ... praying ... anticipating ...
Husbands ... wives ... children ... parents ... brothers ... sisters ... family ... friends ...
Clusters of people chattering about nothing consequential, simply filling the time with words to chase away the anxieties of waiting until the name was called by one of the volunteers and the time came to meet with the physician in the surgical scrubs. In the hours I watched I found myself smiling for those who were met by the doctor at the information desk. Hands would be shaken, heads would nod, words would be exchanged quietly as the doctor gave the information that brought smiles to the waiting faces. I found myself offering silent prayers for strangers when they were directed to meet with the surgeon in one of the private little rooms off to the side of the main waiting room. Door closed, voices muted, faces emerging grave, some silent, some with tears and tissues, my heart would go out to those individuals and the patient for whom they were waiting.
I found that, unlike the mall or the theater or the airport, I wasn't able to "watch", I was only able to glance from time to time as people came and went - alone or in groups of two or more. Hospital surgical waiting rooms are not places of fantasy and spy mysteries, of intrigue and romance. They are places of reality where strangers come together for an hour or a day with a common goal of passing the limbo time waiting ... and wondering ... and praying ... and hoping.
Oh ... and in case you might be wondering, when my wait was over, when my name was called, I met the surgeon at the information desk with a handshake ... and a smile.