When it began, the day seemed typical.
I took the train. Being a staunch proponent of public transportation and not enamored of driving, I often commute to work by train. Then I walk from the railway station to the hospital on a slightly circuitous route through a small, beautifully manicured park.
This morning, in the park, I noticed the forlorn old man whom I always see reclining on the bench that he seems to call home. More pathos surrounded him today. Not sure why. Fewer teeth? More intense body odor? General deterioration of his constitution? I placed a ten sheqel coin in his collection dish. The gesture felt good, but I suspect that the self-interested side of my subconscious hoped for a small reward – a little good luck, perhaps, in the upcoming day.
It was a day that already held promise. Today, I intended to launch my new coffee initiative. Fed up with long lines at the local Aroma (Hebrew for Starbucks) and tired of paying ransoms for barista service, I’d concluded that I could brew the energizing elixir myself, in my office.
I’d come to that conclusion because, not only would I save time and money, but my buddy with the bean-roasting business had convinced me of the relatively poor quality of java-joint coffee. He’d brought me some tiny, plastic-bagged tastings. Granted, I’d felt a little like a low-life experimenting with cocaine samples at a crack house, but they were fun to smell and sip. And I’d gone to what I can characterize only as a "coffee head shop" to purchase the requisite paraphernalia, including a cone filter and a French press, the bongs and vaporizers of the trade. But now I was ready. Today I’d become my own barista.
In my office, I set up my brewing station on the small workspace surrounding my sink. (In Israel, virtually all physician offices contain sinks as in-your-face reminders to attend to hand hygiene.) As I began pouring boiling water over three heaping scoops of ground Coffea Arabica and inhaling the pungent fragrances that were released, I felt a rush of excitement.
Just then, however, I heard a faint tap at my door. I chose to ignore it. The racket continued until what seemed like an angry mob broke through. When I turned to inquire as to why we were having a pogrom, the stream of water that I’d been pouring carefully over the filter’s central aperture jogged to the side, the cone toppled, and a tsunami of scalding, dark coffee raged out across my sink, then down onto my clothing and my carpeting.
My first concern was, surely, the obvious one: before I could throw the whole mess into my garbage can, the disaster scene must be photographed for this blog! Not just any amateur photo would do, so of course I called the professionals in our Department of Medical Photography. They explained that there is a new "justification form" that needed to be filled out by those requesting their services (since some colleagues had, Egads!, been using them for unofficial medical center matters). "So," the secretary inquired, "what is the reason for calling us? Are we photographing a tumor? Depicting a new procedure?" Not knowing how to precisely put it, I heard myself answering "there''s been a complication in the Department of Radiotherapy and I want it to be captured."
A photographer was immediately dispatched and within five damp minutes, the following photo was taken. (I have chosen not to upload the picture of me which had a great big stain obscuring the section of my pants that begins with the letters "c-r" and rhymes with "splotch.")
Figure 1. Aftermath of a caffeinated misadventure.
The photographer burst out laughing. "It''s really quite comical,” she giggled, then went on in a serious tone, “But, actually, it''s a nothing!”
The photographer went on to explain. Her 15-year-old niece was like a daughter to her. The young girl had, just yesterday, been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Probably benign (a "meningioma"), but the family was terribly worried about the prognosis, the surgery, and a range of matters that had no business being on the radar of an adolescent. Would the surgery be life-threatening? Would the scar be visible? Is post-operative radiotherapy in the girl’s future? Will any boy be secure enough to ask her to the prom?
I did my best to console my colleague and humbly offered a prayer for the niece''s speedy recovery, but that word "nothing" had made it all too clear: some things are something, and some things just aren’t. Some matter; some just don’t.
One more story, if you will.
Before coffee, I have another breakfast ritual: I prepare a yogurt-granola-fruit concoction. I’d noticed on the previous day that those overpriced blackberries in the elegant, tiny boxes were on sale for only 12 sheqels. The price was still high but justifiable as a splurge, I’d rationalized. So immediately prior to the aforementioned coffee disaster, I’d taken out a strainer to rinse the berries only to find that almost all of them were covered with mold. Managing to salvage about five edible blackberries, I’d discarded the remainder into the trash, saving one moldy example for documentation so that I could exchange the bad berries for a fresh package.
After I cleaned up my office, I walked over to the supermarket armed with my receipt and my lone, moldy berry. I presented the fruity offender to the attendant with expectations of a prompt exchange and maybe even an apology. "Nope, can''t give you a refund or an exchange," came the verdict. She needed to see all the damaged goods. I thought about taking her through the whole coffee story, emphasizing that I was trying to shield her from exposure to the entire, disgusting mess. Instead, I said only: SUPERVISOR!!!!
Composing myself, I explained to the woman’s manager that the customer service department of his store seemed to have a problem. A customer-service problem! He agreed, scribbled down something—perhaps, I thought, a reprimand to insert in her employment record--and gave me my refund as well as a complimentary box of berries.
Those, then, are my two stories for today. I like the juxtaposition. Each tale had found resolution in a different way. The berry story had met with an explicit, happy ending, while, with news of the young girl’s serious diagnosis, the coffee escapade had come to an abstract conclusion that compelled me to put things in perspective.
For many of us, life needn''t detour far from our conception of how things should go for us to conclude that we''re having "one of those days" and to climb into our I-feel-sorry-for-myself-so-don''t-come-near-my-orbit armor. But why should others pay the price for our bad moods? In fact, why should we pay the price? Most of the things that go wrong are, after all, pretty ok.
In order to remember to be happy, I don''t need to learn that a young lady has a brain tumor. I don''t even need a compensatory box of berries. I just need to remind myself of priorities and how to configure things in proper proportion.
Disasters, small and large, are bound to occur. But it is reassuring to know that, as a general rule, if we''re willing to keep our eyes open and maintain intellectual honesty, there''s a high probability that we''ll be able to notice that good things really do have a way of reinforcing themselves.
Whether this is all attributable to the man on the bench, "the Man/Woman upstairs" or some other force, well, I''ll need to have my morning coffee before I can figure that one out.
Until next Monday, Shalom.