I suspected the lady came out of retirement to take a job that most wouldn’t. I couldn’t do it, and the fact that she became a comforter to an emergency waiting room for the sick, wounded, and those in crisis— and their supporters— is enough to reassure me that she was the right one for the job.
I wondered to myself how they found her. I know the difficulty in finding employees these days. But to find a perfect fit? That answer is elusive. Her lapel pin only read ‘Concierge.’
I was there merely as a supporter of someone special to me. I was acting as a personal concierge, driver, and advocate. While several have labeled me a man without empathy, that’s not entirely true. I’ll admit that I keep it well hidden, but not purposefully.
You see, I’m not a comforter; thirty-four years in public service wrung most of that out of me. Proper empathy comes from the heart, and mine morphed into more of a mechanical conveyance of assistance when someone needed it. I’m elated when someone else gives the hugs; I’d much rather push back the crowd to make sure the infirm get to where they need to go for help. That’s what I was doing that day.
I watched the concierge while the medical staff cared for my charge. I focus much of my attention on the people around me. I like to observe the nuances that come with the ebb and flow of life. It’s rooted in my genetic code of being a daydreamer.
Sure, the large flat screen in the center of the room was tuned to some morning talk show—the one where the husband and wife took over after Regis and that handsome host moved on. I don’t even know the couple’s names, but no celebrity guest star could hold a candle to the importance of the lady handing out warm blankets and kind words to those waiting for service.
She smiled and tilted her head at the perfect angle to convey she was listening. There’s an art and science to that move. In our limited time in one another’s presence, I envied her grasp of being genuinely empathetic.
Some were coughing enough to make even a vehement anti-masker ask for a face covering. There were a few who were vomiting into blue plastic bags. Some slept, some groaned, and some supported family or friends who needed care. Meanwhile, the lady gave a free master class in the craft.
The concierge maintained a brilliant level of customer service, exuding empathy from her core. Her upbeat manner captivated me, even while she faced a myriad of society’s ills.
Across from me, a young couple, sitting on each other’s laps under blankets, were snapping each other’s face masks in a strange, flirtatious two-act play. Oh, to be young again while waiting for emergency care. I watched them, remaining confused about the reason for the strange ritual.
Their giggling camouflaged whatever the emergency was, but it was none of my business; they were getting through it together, doing their best.
One of the two must have been sick, but I couldn’t tell which one was. The male came in with muddy boots, and while he sat there, the mud dried and began to fall off and crumble all over the reasonably clean floor. I watched the mess grow around his feet. While it wasn’t intentional, it was a substantial amount of grit and pebbles.
Once they received services and left, the concierge emerged from some cubby and surveyed the newly created miniature gravel pit. I knew it wasn’t her job, and I heard her call for someone from housekeeping. Not surprisingly, no one showed up. I am sure they were dealing with more significant things, too. This isn’t about what didn’t happen; it’s an essay about what did.
She made eye contact with me, and we made small talk about the mess, but she didn’t complain about the dirt, the man who left it, or the fact that no one would be coming to mop it up.
“I’ll grab some wet towels to clean this up myself. There are better ways to do it, but housekeeping must be busy.” She looked right at me with a twinkle in her eye. She was pleasantly mischievous, taking in all negativity around her with pleasant aplomb.
I’d have relished having her as an aunt or maybe even a fun-loving cousin. I’d sit at the kid’s table with her. She would make me laugh. I remain amused by how much you can learn from short interludes with the right people.
I said none of that; I just shook my head and smiled. I waited for the negativity, but that was merely a projection of my feelings of how I would have been acting by now. By the way, her negativity never surfaced.
A short time later, she returned with damp towels and quickly wiped up the mess. Before she got up from her knees, she looked at me and said, “You know, the saying is true. After seventy, never sit down or get down on your knees without a plan to get back up.”
And that’s where my mechanical empathy should have quickly kicked in. As I contemplated helping her up, she grabbed the arms of nearby chairs and swiftly returned to her feet, rolling the towels into a ball. I barely got “Nice work” out of my mouth before she was off to an unseen backroom.
She brought my charge a blanket from the warmer, tucking it around her chin and pulling it down enough to cover her legs. “Let me go get you another one,” she said. Off she went, showing up shortly after that with two more blankets.
“So nice and warm,” she said as she gently tucked in loose ends to provide complete coverage. Then, she stood back to take a more global view, ensuring she didn’t miss an area that needed warmth. She smiled to indicate that her job here was done— for now. My charge thanked her again.
Once she hustled off to the next patient, I looked at my mom and said, “They really found the right lady for this job, didn’t they?” She agreed with a nod, her eyes barely open, making up for the rest she missed the night before.
“I think she’s French,” I said. “I can hear a bit of an Acadian accent.”
My mother agreed. She grew up in a robust French-influenced area of Maine, as I did for a time. “She’s like everyone’s favorite Mémère,” I mumbled as I watched her treat each patient in precisely the same way. We were treated no better than anyone else, but that’s because, to the concierge—everyone here was special.
And that, my friend, is today’s lesson in empathy. I’m going to try to do better. Mémère would expect no less.
From the Jagged Edge of America, I remain,
*Thank you to my BMAC supporters; you know who you are. Your generosity keeps this train rolling. Thanks for the notes, reading my books, and paying attention to those around you. TC