The little boy—at least I think it was a boy—was throwing a tantrum, standing by the bank of elevators to the parking garage. Such an amazing loud noise came out of this tiny person, so tiny that it was hard to see how he could be old enough to be standing on his own, yet he was. His mother tried to shush and comfort him. He was having none of it. His howls only seemed to get louder. Why was this small person making such a noise? Did it have something to do with that tube in his nose? Could it be related to the lack of even a wisp of hair anywhere on his head?
Then there was the older man, with a younger woman who was probably his daughter. The man held a stack of colorful files, probably ten-inches deep. She was trying to keep him from rummaging through the files, yet he continued. Occasionally, he pulled a random piece of paper from a file, looked at it until she took it from him and put it back in the file and closed it.
And, finally, there was the woman in a wheelchair. Her make-up was carefully and completely done, though a little brighter than women tend to wear now. It reminded me of how my friends and I made up our faces in the 1980s. She was surrounded by a small group, maybe family, maybe friends, maybe some of both. A bright pink hat on her head, she was smiling contentedly as they pushed her from the hall to the elevator.
These were the people, amid hundreds, who stood out for me while visiting the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. I was there accompanying a friend for an appointment.
I had not been inside Dana Farber for many years, probably not since my Clinical Pastoral Education experience at the neighboring Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the summer of 1991. On this recent visit to Dana Farber, the place was buzzing, a hive of activity. People made up tidy lines to check in or to wait to for the initial clinical visit. Then, there was all the activity by the elevators, and the various places where patients—along with their equipment and their people—needed to go. And wandering around, one could see a few blue-smocked people with “May I Help You?” printed on the back.
Dana Farber is a cancer treatment and research center in Boston. The patients there are looking for answers, for a path out of cancer, as are the people who accompany them. The woman with the bright make-up, the man with the stack of files, that tiny, howling boy with the tube in his nose, as well as my friend—each one very likely with a cancer diagnosis, one that is serious, or mysterious, or both.
As I left the building, while I thought of my friend, I also thought of those three people who had stood out among so many—the woman with the bright, colorful face, the man with his files, and the small boy. And, I thought to myself that I should keep them all in mind, especially when something insignificant gets the best of me, when I allow something small to gain more meaning than it deserves.
In my life in the church, there are lots of insignificant things that get the best of me. It happens to the people in my congregation as well. While insignificant things gaining too great a foothold is all too common in life in general, it shouldn’t be so—so often anyway—in the church. Perspective must be kept, maintained, considered, held up in prayer.
It’s all too easy to get caught up in our own little dramas, allowing all manner of issues to seem just as important as any other. But, some things are more important than others.
I don’t know how well I’ll do, but I begin this year with a renewed sense of the significance of perspective—hoping that, through God’s grace, I will have the wherewithal to take a moment, on a regular basis, to ensure that I am keeping an eye on what is truly important, and what is not.