I can’t imagine it’s the way anyone wants to start their week, getting stuck with a needle in the sterile offices of a diagnostics lab. And since I have a fear of needles, the 30-minute wait that preceded my routine blood work was wracked with a nauseating anxiety.
This explained why I’d already delayed the procedure for as long as possible. Three months before, my physician had recommended the usual battery of tests as part of a check-up, and with my follow-up appointment looming, I figured I’d procrastinated long enough.
Thank goodness for the congenial lab tech, the one who kept reassuring me he’d be with me soon as I thumbed distractedly through a magazine, legs crossed with my right foot swinging at the ankle — a sure and long-familiar sign of nervousness. When he finally ushered me back to the room where a swift and relatively painless prick seemed to mock my parched throat and cage-rattling heartbeat, I was surprised by how much I began to enjoy his banter.
He did it effortlessly, diverting my attention with an easy warmth and bent for conversation that had us chatting about everything from the weather to our jobs to his childhood fear of blood — “And now this is what I do. Go figure,” he said with a laugh — and my own wild refusal, as a girl, to sit still anytime a needle approached.
Suddenly, we were both laughing and before I knew it, he was applying a cotton ball and tape to the inside of my elbow and sending me cheerfully on my way.
It was a small moment, two strangers pressed into the kind of ephemeral exchange that happens all the time. But it set the tone for my day. Though I’d dreaded the appointment since my alarm went off, I walked away from it with a sense of gratitude for one more bead on a string of such simple joys.
Something about our fleeting contact, seemingly so insignificant, was vital and precious to me. In the last few months, I’ve come to savor such moments with a greater appreciation for all they bring — a fragile restoration and palliative for the heart still wrestling and churning with loss.
Just the night before, my boyfriend Zane and I had stopped at the supermarket. As I realized we hadn’t bought enough to benefit from the coupon I presented, I asked the cashier if she would mind waiting while I dashed back into the aisles for a few things. I returned, carrying a pepper, some apples and a crown of broccoli, to find her, head in her hands, eyes closed, pushing a soft snore from her lips.
“I didn’t take that long,” I protested, but I was already chuckling, as her eyes flew open with an impish twinkle. Suddenly, the three of us were bound in an unexpected camaraderie, beaming and teasing each other under a fluorescent glare, amid the clack and ding of cash registers. Zane and I were still smiling when we left the store, our hearty goodbyes ringing in the cold night air.
I’ve always derived satisfaction from such moments but now they are a balm — the extended hello with the mailman, the swapped memories of favorite vacations with my mechanic, the “how are you?” called by a neighbor, even the passing compliment I give to the chic woman sporting a gorgeous yellow jacket in the Trader Joe’s parking lot, which inspires a look of startled pleasure that becomes a full-fledged grin.
This is my bank of love and kindness, my garden of renewal. For each morning I wake up a brokenhearted girl. Some days are harder than others, my longing for my father, who died in October, like a sharp stone, glinting and hot in my chest. On others, I flit through the bright and ordinary, sufficiently unperturbed. I have my family, my friends, the ones I can count on for comfort and for safety in these sifting layers of grief.
But I am grateful, too, for those interactions in which my father lives on. He was always that spark, charming and affable, capable of turning a mundane encounter into a brief yet memorable rhapsody. And so these moments unfold like small blessings in my life.
On the days when hiding isn’t an option or a loved one’s door or voice aren’t within easy reach, I give myself to the world and trust in a wheeling good to scatter its grace at my feet.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times