On a recent weekend visit to my parents, I find myself spending all of Friday evening at an urgent care center, waiting for a doctor to examine my daughter, who seems to have an infection that needs to be treated before we can get back home to our pediatrician Monday morning. It is not how I planned to spend the evening. We planned to check out the new pizza place in the neighborhood, then go home and let Grandma and Papa put the kids to bed early and take advantage of my parents’ fancy on-demand TV.
But instead, we have sent the guys out for pizza on their own, and my mother and I play charades and twenty questions with my daughter in the waiting room while we wait, and wait, and wait, for it to be our turn.
I realize with a pang of awareness, as the clerk at the desk calls yet another name that is not ours, that I am unaccustomed to waiting. I live a life in which I am almost always entirely in control of my own schedule. I make appointments, I’m seen on time, I can afford to walk away, to look for another options. It is one of the many ways I am so very privileged.
My daughter is fine; she is not in pain, nor will a few more hours affect her care. We are just impatient, tired of waiting and cranky at being told we are not currently in control of our lives.
While we wait, a little girl and her mother emerge from exam room. The girl has her arm in a sling. “Her collarbone’s broken,” the mother reports to the waiting family. “We have to go on to the ER.”
My mother and I exchange a glance. A trip to the ER means even more waiting, even less control. Please let them be able to treat her here…
The doctor is able to treat her, thankfully, though not until an ambulance is called for another patient – a teenage boy – who needs to be rushed somewhere else. We’re in the exam room by then, and we can hear the commotion outside the door; the nurse who sticks his head in to tell us we’re “up next” looks frazzled.
Once we’re home and eating reheated pizza, we recount all the waiting to the rest of the family. “It could have been worse,” I say, “at least we don’t have any broken bones, and we didn’t need an ambulance.” We administer the first round of antibiotics and we all head to bed, but before I go to sleep, I can’t stop thinking about what I’ve said.
At least we’re not those other people with bigger problems.
What are the implications of being grateful that you are not someone else? Tonight, I am grateful I am not the mother of the kid with the broken collarbone, or the mother of the teenager who left on a stretcher. I am grateful that my kid only needed available and affordable antibiotics, and she’ll be just fine.
Sometimes, I think, that kind of gratitude-to-not-be is helpful for keeping things in perspective – I can’t complain about the wasted evening; it really could have been so much worse.
But something like that feels off-kilter to me. It’s like the saying, “There but for the grace of God go I,” which has always rubbed me the wrong way. But for the grace of God, we’d be heading to the ER? But for the grace of God, my kid doesn’t have any broken bones? Does that mean those kids and their parents somehow missed out on God’s grace? No way. I can’t put my trust in the vastness of God’s grace and then think that I get special treatment because of it.
So instead, I’m grateful for the medication that is easily attainable and will knock out the infection quickly. I’m grateful for the staff at the urgent care, who could have been spending Friday night with their own families. I’m even (though it’s a stretch) grateful for the waiting, for the reminder that I am not the center of the universe, not always in charge of everything.
And I’m praying for the girl with the broken collar bone and the boy on the stretcher, and I’m feeling grateful for the grace of God that is big enough to hold us all.