Two hours into a day of endless commotion, charts a small mountain behind me, mug still full of untouched coffee, phone lines cacophonous without pause — John Craig, our Clinical Support Manager, stops by for a joke. “Have you heard the one about the bus driver?” he slyly asks, eyes alight with joy, puns ready to spring into action. I smile, “Not yet. How does it go?”
We chat, we laugh, then off we go. The phone rings, a patient knocks on the window, the to-do list on the computer comes back into focus; the day resumes.
Late one evening, at the end of a day made of mistakes and gut-wrenching dead ends, Mari Lowe, our Nurse Practitioner, stops by to hand out decaf lattes in a little glass container. We joke we are fancy. We feel fancy. We feel loved.
So, this is how it goes. This is how my days pass:
A man dies, and at the memorial service, Sister Marcella tells a story about cornbread. The patients, Kairos Members, and staff let grins escape behind their masks.
One patient, Mr. York, stops by to tell me a joke about a car and being young and free, and I put the line on hold because I am laughing, really laughing, and so is he.
Another patient, Señor Signo teases Mari about her little plant – plantita –– and we all know he makes a good point. It really is so small sitting in her tiny office. He is in on the joke.
Theresa holds up a Rice Krispies Treat, and, in what can only be described as muscle memory, I shrug off my mask, and take the biggest bite I can. Sweetness fills my mouth, with an aftertaste of staleness that feels trusty and right.
I tell our patient Mr. Smith his sister has called and that it’s urgent, and his huge eyes fill with humor. We both laugh — it’s always “urgent” with Susan, and isn’t that exactly what love looks like? “Well I guess I’ll give her a call then,” he says through chuckles, and wanders off to rustle up spare quarters. I imagine their conversation, and smile into the space his laughter leaves behind.
John loses his glasses for the third time that day, and in unison, we all blame the leprechauns. They’re at it again!
We cry because we have hit another dead-end with a patient’s insurance and the medications are not coming and why no really why is this the system?
The coffee pot is empty, and then it is full.
Christ House contains boundless stories, most of which are not my own to tell, and many of which I have yet to make meaning of, whose nuance and depth will move through me for years to come. When asked to retrieve a story from this larger quilt of meaning, the moments that continued to arise in my mind are the moments of tender (and sometimes whip-smart) joy, passed from person to person through our fluorescent-lit halls. Few would say the lives lived within these halls are humorous, and yet, somehow, joy seems to find its way in — laughter seems to echo through my days. It is the sound that escapes our masked faces, the warmth at the end of conversations full of doubt, the presence that makes the days less dire, less alone.
I do not believe that laughter heals all hardship, nor that it is the universal bind, nor even that it changes the reality of life. Instead, I simply mean that on the days when I am low, when we are tired, when the paces of our day have left us unsure and hopeless, sometimes, often, John stops by for a joke. We fill each other’s coffee. We mutter silly tidbits into passing ears, yell goofy goodbyes as we walk out the front door. We play Wii sports and celebrate the winning team by passing out Tootsie Pops like gold. We let laughter ring true and bountiful and pure, full of all the care and courage we collectively contain.
Long after the coffee has been drank, the silly tidbits and jokes passed from memory, may this quiet joy not be forgotten. May the halls of Christ House — walls that have known so much, and known so many — never know a day without a sly joke, a sideways knowing glance, a comedy of errors, the sound of laughter bouncing down the walls.
This reflection was written by Norah, our 2021-2022 Clinical Unit Assistant. Patient names have been changed.
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