All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.
– Ernest Hemingway
I am writer. I was writing long before I could spell, and I can’t imagine my life without writing. As a child, I wrote on the back of my dad’s old checkbook registers, on paper napkins in restaurants, and while accompanying my mom to her office for “floor time” as a real estate agent. I’d find a typewriter in a corner, and with all the skills of a second grader, tap out poetry, sounding more like Morse Code than Robert Frost. I once overheard my mother’s friend quietly ask her, “Why do you think she writes about such sad things?” As an adult, I can see that it might seem strange that a child not even hitting double digits would be reflecting on the depth and despair of world events. I couldn’t help it. It has always been as though the words were writing themselves.
I see a tale everywhere, find messages in all interactions, and can usually excavate a short story from the mundane moments in life. Once in a while I come up empty. I don’t fret because I know that when the cup is empty, that indicates space for new ideas, thoughts, and inspirations to drop in. I also remember that Ernest Hemingway once said it is the writer’s job to tell the truth, and when he was having difficulty writing, he said, “I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there.”
That’s where I was this month when I found myself at urgent care with my son whose toe needed TLC. While we were waiting, we heard a woman at the front desk hollering, it was obvious that she was livid. Our next encounter was with the doctor who I sensed was very sad as she moved us into triage to attend to the troublesome toe. She realized that we had heard the woman’s outrage and shared that she had unintentionally angered this woman by suggesting a certain course of action. The doctor said, “I don’t mind a patient disagreeing with me, but she was really mean and actually hurt my feelings very much.”
Have you ever experienced a moment when you suddenly see the raw humanity in someone?
Most people are walking around with their masks (no, I don’t mean COVID-19 masks). I mean the masks we wear for the world, the doctor, the lawyer, the teacher, the store clerk, the label, the accolade, the title. I’m certainly in no way minimizing any role, career path, degree, or certification; I’m only suggesting that it’s possible that these titles can often limit our access to seeing an individual as a fellow human being, a body with a soul, a person with feelings.
We drove there seeking medical assistance. I didn’t once consider the doctor we’d be seeing. My son had trauma to his toe and it required attention. We may get to know our primary care doctors a little more personally, but in the emergency room or urgent care, typically the doctor appears, stoic and strategic, performs the task at hand, leaves some instruction, and everyone is on their way. Who knew we’d have a soul encounter and exchange of loving kindness with a fellow human who happened to be the doctor?
I sensed her deep upset as she was setting up the surgical tools—not angry, but hurt. She was talking to us about the procedure and the lidocaine when I said, “You know, most of the time, people can only meet you as far as they are able, which, of course, varies for everyone. We often expect others to respond like we would, extend compassion as we do, offer grace instead of grievances, care in place of criticism, but people can only meet us where they are. Sometimes it’s been helpful for me to remember this. My guess is that woman’s cruel words have nothing to do with you and everything to do with what is going on within her.”
That doctor stopped in her tracks. Turned to me sitting on the chair along the edge of the room, stared into my eyes for a good three seconds and said, “Thank you so much, that really helped me.”
So, we offered each other gifts in different forms that day.
I had been experiencing writer’s block for a few days, and I remembered Hemingway’s words and began with the truest sentence I know:
In many ways and forms, we are each gifts to one another.