He had been with his wife as she talked and dozed in the infusion chair next to mine.
He left for a while, returning with a carryout with an aroma that suggested a succulence and satisfaction I had almost forgotten.
I asked about his selection. “Smoked turkey,” he said and gave me the name of a new barbecue place uptown. He asked if I wanted to try some. I lied and said “no.”
The next thing I knew, he stretched across the vacant space between us with a fistful of turkey on a fork.
After sharing their lunch, I couldn’t just go back to reading. Our conversation ranged from childhood to cancer, introducing me to two people who would enrich and challenge my day.
I had seen them before, nodding hello as they found a chair down the line. She was the quiet one, but with a slight, inviting smile. He was the social one, greeting patients and spending time with those he apparently knew.
I learned his father died when he was 12, the youngest child and the only one still at home. Within a year, his mother turned ill, and he became her caregiver.
He cooked and cleaned, even got a hardship license to take her to appointments. But most of all, he talked to her, fighting off the depression and loneliness, sharing dreams of a better day.
“I think he was trained to take care of me,” his wife offered.
You wouldn’t think that this attractive woman in her late 40s would need that much care. You wouldn’t suspect that she has been in chemotherapy for over two years.
You wouldn’t guess that this reserved but affable woman was dealing with a triad of death: cancer in her ovaries, pancreas and liver.
I was stunned by the diagnosis but awed by their ability to share it and then seamlessly move on to talk about kids and the best barbecue.
No doubt, many tears have been shed, and fears still haunt their nights, but they have accepted the sad facts of their lives while not allowing that suffering and sorrow to define who they are.
I don’t know if they come out of a faith tradition, but their path echoes the songs of lamentation in the Psalms. Somehow they, too, have found a way to move from the familiar opening line of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” to the closing: “And I will live for the Lord.”