The man stared at me, probably wondering why I sat RIGHT next to him when dozens of seats rested vacant around us.
“Well…hi,” he finally said, apparently deciding that direct contact would be the anecdote for awkwardness.
“I’m Elisa,” I beamed, holding my hand out to him.
He seemed shocked. And slowly—almost reluctantly—the man grasped my hand and shook it. Crinkled, thin skin framed his blue eyes. And I knew something scary brought him to the hospital.
I didn’t know what to say, not right off. And I remembered a recent conversation when someone asked me why I have so many exceptional occurrences, especially with strangers. “It’s because I put myself out there—and I’m vulnerable.”
You see, normally I’d love to sit away from people because that’s comfortable. But sometimes I get a niggling, that maybe a person is lonely, or they need to feel heard or of value. And in the grand scheme of things, that is much more important than momentary comfort. And this felt like one such occasion.
And so, instead of sitting in one of the 50+ seats in the courtyard, I sat directly next to the man.
Step #1 complete: Put myself out there. Now for step #2: Be vulnerable. I suddenly knew what to say.
“My husband went to get our car,” I blurted. “I have stage 4 cancer, and I’m only in my 30s. It’s been hard adjusting to this new normal. I just can’t walk as far as I used to.” He remained quiet.
This poor guy obviously didn’t know what to do with a woman who talked faster than a squirrel who’d had five shots of espresso—a squirrel who had cancer.
After a while, he squinted toward the cloudy sky like something had caught in his eye. “Yeah, I have a hard time walking too far too. My wife went to park the car.”
“I don’t know what you’re going through, but I’ve found something that has really helped me.”
“Really? What?” he asked, more eager than I expected.
“The opposite of fear can be a lot of things when we really think about it: peace, hope, knowledge… But what I’ve found takes the fear away the fastest for me right now is trust. If I can somehow trust that there’s a plan, cancer loses its sting.”
“You must get so scared in your situation,” he said. “I just found out that I… Well, I have a heart condition. And I’ve been so ashamed that I’ve been scared. Men aren’t supposed to get scared. I’m supposed to stay strong for my wife and my whole family.” He looked exhausted, not just from feeling sick, but from carrying so much for everyone.
“But we all get scared sometimes,” I said. “We’re human. I hope you’ll find whatever it is that’ll help you fight the fear. But I guess realizing it’s there is a great way to analyze it so you can find a way to not be scared anymore. For me, I just want to see my kids grow up. But realizing everything will be okay, no matter what…that God is looking out for them and me—and all of us…that made the difference.”
This quiet understanding settled there. And neither of us really said much more; instead, we both gazed at the luminous sky. Cirrus clouds spread to the edges of the mountaintops, framing the sun quite perfectly, and I thought how ironic it is that I love feeling sunshine on my face even though it’s what doctors still say will kill me. I’ll never fully understand melanoma.