The other day I had to do a hard thing. As part of my work day, I had to spend some hours at Denver Health. Here is one way Denver Health has been described to me: "Hell is a lot like one of the waiting rooms. Except at Denver Health it's hotter and there's more Michael Bolton music." I feel like that should paint you a pretty solid picture of why I don't love that place so much.
But this particular day in one such waiting room, I watched as two women waited for their labwork to be completed and struck up a conversation. Now, we were in a tiny room, a room so tiny that whispering would have been entirely pointless, as I'm pretty sure the guy next to me could actually hear my thoughts. Which is why it was interesting to me when these women - complete strangers - began talking. Within, I'd say, three minutes of initiating this conversation, they were sharing with one another [and by default, the rest of us as well] about their struggles with addiction, discussing in detail their drugs of choice, and pretty literally comparing rap sheets.
I have chosen a profession where my job will always be, in large part, to allow people space to share personal things. But this? I won't lie to you, I was super freaked out. I wanted to aggressively tap them both on the shoulders and remind them that those things are personal and you are in public! I started to get embarrassed for them and for myself, a little. But as I wiped my sweaty palms on my cloth-covered padfolio, I started to listen. And as I listened I realized that this wasn't embarrassing, it was just honest.
And then I got a little sad that those two things are sometimes, in my mind, synonymous.
There is a researcher named Brene Brown who decided she did not like the idea of vulnerability and was going to do a lot of research and essentially [her words] "outsmart it." It's the greatest thing ever because she totally fails and gets on board with vulnerability as basically an essential to what she calls whole-hearted living. She defines shame as "the fear of disconnection." She says: "Connection is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. It's why we're here."
In one of those bizarro, colliding-of-worlds moments, though these women were strangers to one another, I happened to be privy to a little bit of both of their hearts on that particular day. And as such, I believe firmly that they both left feeling refreshed, feeling important and validated and loved, because they connected with each other. It was raw and messy, it's true. It was absolutely not the prettiest thing I've ever seen. But it was also unarguably good.
Recently I've gotten to spend time with people who wear their hearts [and rap sheets] right there on their sleeves. In my experience, they can occasionally tend to be construed as uncouth, impolite, maybe even a little bit inappropriate. But even when I put on my judgiest of judgey faces, really? I would give just about anything to be that brave.
So maybe instead of worrying about being socially acceptable, we share. Maybe instead of being ashamed, we connect. Maybe we are even honest with a stranger in a waiting room. It won't always end well. We may even get our little hearts broken. But the lives we get to live are wholehearted ones.
And each time we leave the proverbial waiting room I bet we'll know beyond a shadow of a doubt it was worth it.