Bob Lockwood is retired from publishing and is a former president of Our Sunday Visitor, Inc. in Huntington.
It was a place where nobody wanted to be. There was no eager anticipation. Just a mix of restlessness, anxiety and get me out of here as soon as possible. It was a waiting room in an imaging office at a Lutheran-related medical facility where tests are done –tests to keep a watchful eye on the serious stuff.
I sat there, sulking. Nothing interrupts a good morning's reading like a serious medical appointment. As if any aren't serious. I didn't bring a book. I didn't even reach for the months-old issue of “People” in a pile of dog-eared magazines on an end table. I confess that I didn't even pray. No focus.
The waiting room was half-filled with the usual suspects. It was a weekday and there was a mix of men, a few women and nobody young.
The men were all 55 plus. One or two 80 plus.
Most of them look retired, but the working guys had the added stress. Something's gone wrong and they needed a test. Before their time. They also needed to get to work and their faces showed impatience. And more than a touch of fear.
We were all holding papers from the sign-in ladies who sat behind a glassed-in divider. They slid screens open when you walked up, like a priest in a Catholic confessional. We were told to give the papers to the technicians when our names were called.
Then it happened. The door swung open and a fellow strolled in like he was visiting his neighborhood tavern in a Hoosier town where everybody knew his name.
“Morning, boys and girls!” he announced himself. Then turning to the receptionist, he said, “You ladies must be the Guardians of the Gate they warned me about!” And he laughed. Loudly.
Most of the waiting room looked down, over, under, anywhere but at him. But I gave him the once-over. He was as Hoosier as Johnny Appleseed. Tall, broad, unruly hair and wearing the classic male Indiana attire for a medical appointment – flannel shirt, sneakers older than your average high school freshman, and jeans with a back pocket torn off. It wasn't anywhere near Christmas, but he had a belly that “shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly.”
He started talking to the lady in the secular confessional and in no more than a few seconds he was laughing at something he had said, and she was giggling. She was trying to swallow it – this wasn't the place – but she couldn't help herself. And then the guy said something else and repeated his guffaws and she laughed. The receptionist the next screen over covered her mouth.
I couldn't make out what he was saying as he was too choked up in his own laughter that was bouncing off the walls of the waiting room. And even when he stopped for a quick breath, he was on to something else funnier than the last.
Then I noticed. Looking around the room, I saw that the lady thumbing through the morning newspaper was chuckling quietly. The old guy sitting in the corner who had been staring at his shoes since I came in was grinning despite himself. Even that intense guy clutching his papers in a never-give-up grip had loosened his hold and was enjoying the moment. And I smiled.
A techie came in and called a name, then looked at all the happy faces and doubtless wondered whether she had opened the wrong door. A guy stood up, still smiling, and our friend bellowed, “Good luck, buddy!” and gave him a wave.
It dawned on me right then and there that our friend had been given a mission, even if he didn't know it. He was a gift. A gift to ease the burden of a few souls on a rough day.
Somebody in there had been praying after all. And God answered.