I was waiting at a doctor’s office for Laurin who was in back for a procedure. I came prepared for a long visit, a couple of books, one a work of fiction, the other something about the whole God debate thing going on, something I love to read about. As I was sitting, I heard the door slowly open accompanied by soft moaning and labored breathing. The door was opened by a tall young man in his twenties, for a large woman, perhaps over six feet tall if she was not bent over her walker. She was also overweight, which I am sure added to her suffering.

She was wearing purple, a dress that was dark purple, a blouse of a lighter shade, and a scarf over her shoulders that was held just a tint of the same color. She walked ever so slowly over to a seat and slowly lowered herself down. After which she gave off a sigh of relief that could be heard all over the room, which was small, so she did not have to be two loud to be heard. She leaned over and just looked at the floor. I could tell that she was having a very bad day and really needed to see the doctor. Her grandson (?) told the woman that he would be back in an hour and left.

So I tried to get back to my reading but felt a pull towards the woman. I am always getting these pulls, as I am sure many do. So I pretended to read and prayed for her, asking that she be given the patience to tolerate whatever it is she is bearing. Then I just sat in silence embracing her, wordlessly lifting her up to the Lord. I don’t know when I started doing this; it seems to go back to my childhood, perhaps just a personality thing. I have deep faith, so this is my way of expressing it I guess. I probably do it more for me than the one I am praying for. It forestalls the feeling of drowning, being overwhelmed by the suffering around me.

I had to get up to get a drink from the water fountain and as I passed I smiled and said ‘good morning’. She returned the smile but pain was still in her eyes. So we sat in silence, for what could I say to her, this child of God, a unique one of a kind human being was suffering, something not unique. So I just sat, unable to read.

Another woman entered a little later, small, face drawn tight, for she also was in pain. Her back very stiff as if she could not bend over and so pale that I thought she was about to faint. She also went to a seat and gingerly sat herself down. I try not to feel pity, for I believe that is a form of condescension, which no one deserves. They needed help and were getting it, and for that I was thankful. So Laurin came out and we prepared to leave. As I left, I said to the woman in purple, for we already had a small exchange, that I hope she would start to feel better soon.

So much suffering, I wonder how much it would weigh if it were all gathered together? I think it would probably weigh more than the earth itself. Yet Christianity being an incarnational faith leads me to believe that it is indeed all gathered, for Christ bears all things. For me that is central. God is love, a love that is vulnerable and partakes of the suffering of all mankind, from the beginning until the end. Immanent and transcendent go together, one without the other seems an absurdity to me.

This is not an answer, I am not sure one is possible that perhaps would be understandable, yet knowing that we are accompanied, that no one is ever alone does shed some light on the ever deepening mystery of existence.

Mark Dohle

Mark Dohle

I am 62 years old and have lived in the Atlanta area since 1971.  I am Catholic and my faith is important to me, yet as I age the mystery continues to deepen, so I read broadly and try to keep things somewhat open ended. I work with the aged and the dying. I was in the Navy for four years and I guess I am life of center when it comes to politics, but not too far left. Actually, I am kind of a political moron.

I am the third of  11 children; ten still alive, one died in in 1958, three days after birth.

  1. Praying is great, but it would have been easy to ask if she minded company and, if she did not, to sit beside her. After which it would be polite to ask whether she needed help. A word on her behalf to the receptionist? A drink of water? A magazine? Or perhaps a display of interest in her: where she’s from, whether that handsome young man is indeed her grandson. Not an interrogation, but conversation to distract her from whatever hurt.

    Try it the next time. Actions speak, as prayers do.

  2. I agree that any kind action on the part of the writer might have done something to alleviate the pain of the woman in purple.
    I also believe that any act of human kindness far exceeds the unlikely intervention of a supernatural superstition to which useless words of prayer are offered.
    Odds are and statistics prove that the man or woman on the other side of that door practicing medicine does not believe as the writer does, offering practical help in the place of impractical prayer. Codger

  3. Mark Dohle

    Good reflection on my experience, thank you both. There are times that I do things that are pratical, at others, well I guess I don’t always live up to what I know what I should do. I work with the dying and the elderly, have done so for many years, yet there are times when I think I am simply shy, silly as that may sound.


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