“Come on, we’re late!” I yelled as I hurried my young son up the stairs to the doctor’s office. Very late. I thought I knew where the office was but I missed the turnoff and had to circle back around through the endless string of morning traffic. I did not want to miss this appointment because it would mean having to take another day off from work and my busy schedule. We walked in and I rushed up to the receptionist’s desk to fill out the paperwork, hoping I would blend into the waiting room area without anyone noticing how late I was.
I plopped down into a chair and began filling out the lengthy questionnaire. Have you had a broken bone before? no. Any other injuries? no. And the list went on. I was almost finished with page 3 when something made me stop. I looked up from my paperwork and saw a woman sitting in the chair across from me with her three young children. She was plain-looking, her clothes a little worn, and her disheveled hair was loosely tied back in a ponytail. She was in her mid-30’s perhaps, but looked tired beyond her years. She was looking at me. That is what made me look up.
But I was annoyed. I was late. Traffic was horrible. My mind went back to my work left undone in the office. And the woman’s youngest child was throwing a tantrum on the floor which no one seemed to be paying attention to. Why isn’t she attending to her child, I thought? The child only wants a piece of paper to draw on. The woman met my eyes for only one long second, but she looked afraid.
Still, I was annoyed, and her screaming kid didn’t help ease my tension. It wasn’t until I turned my papers in to the front desk and sat back down that I noticed her husband standing nearby. He was standing up, pacing back and forth, while he filled out paperwork. The woman was still sitting there, doing nothing, and the young girl crying with no one looking in her direction or acknowledging her. The two older kids sat close to their mom in silence. I secretly hoped this family was not ahead of me or I would be here all day. Why didn’t the dad stay home with the other kids while mom brought the one to the doctor? Who brings their whole family with them?
About that time my son’s name was called. Good, I thought. I walked quickly past the woman and guided my son toward the door, but out of the corner of my eye I caught one more cautious glance up from the woman. Her face was expressionless this time. I didn’t smile. It’s hard to smile when you are annoyed.
My son and I walked down the hallway to our assigned room and I quickly forgot about it. My thoughts were filled with other things. What do I need to ask the doctor, how long will this take, how late will this put me into work and school? The nurse came in and instructed my son to put on a gown for his x-rays, so I stepped out into the hallway. That’s when I heard the noise from the room across the hall.
It was those kids. Five people in one small room – mom, dad, three young kids. The doctor walked in soon after. I heard some banging around, scuffling on the floors, moving of chairs, just more annoying noise. Then I saw the door open with a small crack and quickly slam shut again. A doctor at the other end of the hallway started running down the hall toward the room where I was standing. When he saw me standing there, he stopped and seemed to hesitate about whether he should open the door. I said, “The doctor is in there.” “Good,” he replied and turned and walked back.
Now I began to understand more of what I was too busy to be bothered with earlier. We were in a children’s orthopedist office, one that mends broken bones and other similar injuries. They probably see their share of child abuse too. This woman had all the signs of being in an abusive and controlling relationship. She may have been frightened and felt all alone. I may have been the one friendly face she was seeking for a glimmer of hope, to know that someone understood and cared. But I had been too busy, too rushed.
I came home that day and prayed, “I’m sorry God I let you down on this one. I’m sorry I thought I was too busy.” Maybe there was not much I could have offered to the woman, but I always have a smile with me that I can pass along. So I decided right then that I would never again leave the house so unprepared in my heart that I was too busy to care. I would never again let the insignificant things in life get in the way of the significant things. And for that, dear woman, I am sorry that I did not smile at you that day.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline
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