We all contribute to our communities and society in different ways and we all have a place in the world. Some weeks ago, as we spent a good 40 minutes in the waiting room of our local Doctors' Surgery, this was sharply brought into focus for me.
Our daughter was low-grade 'poorly'. Off-colour, off school, off her food.
But, as with all children, 'nasty episodes' that send Mummy and Daddy 'off the scale' with worry can happen when you least expect them, so we were covering all bases.
I sat, mentally noting the events that took place in the waiting room that day. No more out of the ordinary than on any other of our visits, but perhaps because we were there a little longer, and perhaps because being a writer changes the way you view the ordinary, a story began to emerge.
We checked in. Each of the receptionists knows our daughter by name, so we had a little chat and a giggle with them, while she cheekily sits on their desk asking how old they all are.
As we rounded the corner to the seating area I realised that I was a little tense. I knew from experience what was to come, and I was on red alert in order to orchestrate it. For our youngest loves attention, and here was her audience! A captive audience, stuck in wipe-clean seats, impatiently awaiting their turn to deliver their five minute soundbite about their ailment to their busy GP, hoping s/he would understand and come up with the right solution. It's a kind of medical X Factor on a conveyor belt really.
I digress again.
These people were stuck, with Natty thinking she was at the helm of #HMSWaitingRoom!
She started gently. We both sat down, all quiet and demure, sweetness and light, politely smiling at the silent ones who got there first. I whispered conversation to her about the doctor, how she is feeling, what we will eat for lunch, anything to keep her distracted, but she spied her first target. A girl around her age, sitting slightly off to the left. Natty sent out a precisely-aimed cheeky look, engaged her prey, then poked out her tongue as far as she could whilst shaking her head.
The whole waiting room stopped and looked, then tittered in unison. Just the very positive reinforcement we needed to keep this embarrassing act going. Great! I frowned so she knew I didn't approve of her behaviour.
Natty smiled her cutest, sweetest, sugar-coated smile in return, flashed it around the room, and there, she had them all entranced.
We all returned politely to semi-silence, ship shape and British fashion. I resumed my distraction routine, pulling things out of my handbag. Everyone else tried to look away, but I know they are ensnared. Trapped in Natty's charming headlights.
It's half that they wanted to look at the child with the disability, half that they couldn't believe how pretty and bright and chatty she is because they are conditioned to think differently, half that she is such a star entertainer that they couldn't wait for the next installment. (Wait, that makes one and a half! ... that'll be the 'Extra Chromosome Factor' then.)
We All Need Support
A pale but pretty young woman with bleached hair and sad eyes was sitting opposite Natty. She was bundled up in oversized dark jumpers and sitting with her head in her hands, elbows resting on quaking knees. She looked frail to me, like someone who needed a hug.
Natty hopped down from her chair and stood three inches from her, bent low to look into her eyes, and whispered gently, "Are you cold?". The woman slowly looked up, as if roused from a dream, or maybe a nightmare. She smiled cautiously, directly at Natty.
I apologised for the interruption, but she said it was OK. The two new friends compared shoes and chatted for a bit. I notice that the woman's legs didn't shake again and her shoulders relaxed a little.
Then Natty decided it was time to change oace again and remove everyone's noses. (Don't tell me you don't do the same when you are in a waiting room?) She took mine off first, between her thumb and fore finger, in the style of '4 and 20 black birds'. She then went to each and every patient, from 5 to 85+ years, all 12 or so of them, and performed her nosectomy. When they were all giggling enough, she did another lap, this time replacing the olfactory features.
When she'd finished, she brushed her hands together. "There" she stated, "all done". She got one or two guffaws as her reward this time.
Finally she went over to a lady sitting more quietly with her husband.
Silently, she placed her head on the lady's lap. I heard her say "It's OK lady."
Husband and wife shared a knowing glance.
We were called in. Quick recap. Some antibiotics. Hand gel application while we waited for the 'banana juice' as we call the yellow gloup.
And as we made our way to the car outside, the lady and her husband approached us. They were actually waiting for us in the car park. The woman told me she has breast cancer. She was due to start chemotherapy in a day or two. Such private information from a stranger humbled me. She also wanted to tell me that she usually dreaded doctor's appointments and waiting in a sombre waiting room. She wanted to tell me that today was the first time she and her husband had laughed in quite a while. She wanted to thank Natty for that.
The Bigger Picture
And here is the point in a nutshell; My fears over the germs Natty was getting in the waiting room seemed insignificant. My worries that she was annoying others were unfounded.
Natty had again lit up a room with her presence, and made a real and lasting difference to someone's life that morning. She is one vital part of the very subtle balance that makes communities tick and we need people like her more than we know.
This post first appeared on Hayley Goleniowsk'a blog Downs Side Up.