Pay It Forward
On a cold, blustery winter day early in the New Year, my husband and I arrived at the hospital as instructed a bit before 5:30 AM for his scheduled biopsy. We were checked in at the bare reception desk and told to sit in the large open waiting room and wait to be called. We had been up long before dawn at a nearby hotel where we had stayed the night before so that we would have only a short drive to the hospital, and we were filled with apprehension. Our nerves frayed and edgy from lack of sleep, we sat close together on the couch, our shoulders touching, my husband’s hands sheltered in mine. Yet despite our
anxiety about what might soon be discovered, we waited as patiently and bravely as we could. Only I knew or could sense the trembling in my body and the depth of my unspoken fear.
Then his name was called. The nurse stepped forward and led my husband away assuring me as I tried to follow that I could join him as soon he was prepped for surgery. “Just watch for his name on the big board”, she said, and they disappeared through the double doors. The minutes ticked into a fidgety hour until the call finally came for me to accompany the nurse to the surgical unit where my husband lay dressed in one of those uncomfortable looking hospital gowns and a gauzy “shower cap”. Another prolonged period of waiting followed until the surgeon finally came to confirm the procedure and “sign off” on what was to be done and on which side of his body. As we were saying our “goodbyes”, the orderly and the nurse whisked my husband away on the gurney, and I was ushered back to the impersonal waiting room to sit with strangers who were as anxious as I for news of their relatives, friends, and loved ones. In the midst of this shared unease, muted conversations, and people coming and going, I have never felt so alone.
There was a chill in the air, so I sat near a window, longing for warmth from an early cloud-covered sun. I had brought a book to read and keep me company during that anticipated long day, although it was difficult to concentrate on what I was reading. My thoughts were constantly being tugged through those double doors. After what seemed like hours, though actually only two, I was called to meet the surgeon for an update. He
reported the good news that the surgery had gone well and they had found no tumors or lesions! My husband would remain in recovery for another hour or so, and then they would allow me to visit with him briefly.
I took this time to make joyful calls on my cell phone to family members eager for news and continued to wait. At long last I was called to the registration desk where a nurse waited to escort me to my husband. As I approached the desk a young woman wearing one of the loveliest shawls I had ever seen appeared in the hallway coming toward me . From a distance it appeared to be black lace crocheted with red medallions, but up close I could see that it was fine wool and absolutely alluring. I wanted to compliment the woman on her good taste and tell her I thought her shawl was exquisitely beautiful. So when the nurse invited me to follow her to the recovery room, I replied, “I’ll go with you, but only if this young woman will ‘will’ me her beautiful shawl.” Realizing I was speaking about her, the young woman asked me what I had just said. So I repeated my statement prefacing it with, “But I am only joking, even though that is a gorgeous shawl.”
Without another word, the young woman whirled the shawl from her own shoulders and
covered mine with it. I was stunned almost speechless, and uttered a weak resistance, “You can’t just give me your shawl. I don’t even know your name or how to compensate you for your generosity.” She turned and walked away and without breaking step said simply, “Pay it forward.”
As I stood there mesmerized by what had just taken place, euphoric that my husband was not in any serious danger with this fabulous shawl warming my shoulders, I realized that I had just met an angel. The young woman had disappeared from view, but the woman at the registration desk offered me a notepad on which to express my gratitude and stated she would make certain that my benefactor received my note. For the rest of the day I
was physically and spiritually warmed by this incredibly generous gesture from a stranger who in one fleeting moment became a friend.
I had believed that there are angels here among us, often unrecognized or unacknowledged, expecting nothing in return for their gifts of kindness. Now I know it. I was touched by one. With a tear in my eye and joy in my heart, I turned and strode down the hall to embrace my husband.