Advent is a time of waiting. We wait anxiously for the Lord to come again into our lives with the freshness of the incarnation, and He waits attentively for us to let go and allow the power of His life to completely transform ours.
The other day I was waiting in the busy reception area of our Peruvian parish’s Hermano Andrés clinic, one of two run by the parish where for a modest fee, the poor of Canto Grande can receive a whole range of medical services—from dentistry to pediatrics and gynecology to reflexology—administered by a professional medical staff with state-of-the-art equipment and procedures. (Check out a short video sharing more of the pioneering ministry of Holy Cross at the Hermano Andrés Clinic.)
As I sat there, my attention was drawn to the sight of a nurse, who while all the others on duty were moving quickly in and out of consultation and treatment rooms took a seat not too far from mine in the waiting area. I thought it unusual that in the mist of the buzz of activity she would all of a sudden sit down among the patients to take a break from her duties, until I began listening to her conversation with the elderly woman who she faced across the aisle.
She spoke slowly and clearly. “Look at my fingers and let’s count”, she said. “One, two, three, four. Now you count for me.” With a growing smile the lady counted haltingly. “That’s it”, the nurse said. “In one, two, three, four days it will be Friday, and that’s the day the doctor would like you to come back so he can see you again.”
She continued, “Now, come early in the morning and don’t eat anything before you come.” Then she placed three fingers over her lips, shook her head, and looked at woman as if to expect a response. With an expression on her face that belied the intense effort she was making, the woman slowly raised her hand to cover her own lips with three fingers and turned her head from side to side—again, ending with a smile of accomplishment.
And so, with the same deliberate, painstaking and tender communication, the nurse continued onto explain what it meant to fast, how to find the same office again when she arrived for her Friday appointment, etc. As I watched and listen to the details of this incredible conversation, it was as if all the other activity in this busy lobby halted—nothing but the two women remained. And clearly that was the reality for the nurse who waited on the woman as if nothing else were on her mind and nothing else mattered, except to be attentive to the special needs of the woman who sat across from her in the place where poor people wait for medical care.
This nurse was there to wait on whoever might need her amazing attentiveness, imitating the extreme sensitivity of Jesus who, in the midst of the noisy, pressing throng, stopped everything He was doing to turn the power of His attentiveness toward a poor sick woman who just happened to brush past the fringe of His garment.
What a happy encounter this was, in a world where poor people are accustomed to expect anything but being waited on in such a way when they seek medical care. It gave me pause to ask myself how I wait on people. Do I wait on people like the person who takes care of the last table at the closing of a long day or is there really waiting going on—akin to what I saw that day?
Fr. Don Fetters, C.S.C., is a member of the District of Perú, one of several foreign missions overseen by the United States Province. He is a monthly contributor to the Spes Unica blog reflecting on the work of Holy Cross in the missions. Learn more about the missionary work of Holy Cross priests and brothers to extend the Good News of Jesus Christ across “borders of every sort,” including Perú.