When I walked up to the desk to register for my appointment, I looked around the waiting room in amazement. Did the man sitting to my left realize that his phone was on speaker mode? He was carrying on a loud personal conversation about a student and seemed quite relaxed about the whole thing, even joking with the person on the other line. The receptionist at the Pain Clinic rolled her eyes at me and mumbled something like “This has been going on for almost 15 minutes.” When I took a seat, another gentleman leaned in to share how annoyed he was at this thoughtless behavior. I immediately made a decision that this situation needed to be handled so I got up and approached the man with the speaker phone. “Excuse me sir, do you realize that your phone is on speaker mode and we can all hear your personal conversation?” He looked at me, put one finger up, nodded and then took the phone off speaker mode to finish his conversation. We could still hear one side of the discussion but it was an improvement. I wondered why the other folks in the room had not done this 15 minutes ago?
I thought the phone man had left the building and felt relieved for the opportunity to sit in peace before my appointments. Just as I was relaxing, I caught sight of the phone man returning and then placing himself directly across from me in the waiting area. The other gentleman who had been annoyed with his behavior turned to him and said “That was rude of you to carry on a conversation on speaker in such a public place. You disturbed all of us. You should be ashamed.” The phone man turned to him with a scowl and sputtered “The woman (he meant me) already told me. Don’t get in my face or you won’t like it. Trust me! Don’t get in my face!”
I sat there in shock for a few moments and thought about how silly this whole situation had turned out to be. I was surrounded by people with no regard for others and no decency to do the right thing. The nurse called my name a few minutes later and I was elated to escape from that uncomfortable circumstance.
Reflecting on her duties with the Catholic Worker Movement, Dorothy Day wrote the following thoughts with respect to the people she encountered in 1946 “We repeat, there is nothing that we can do but love, and dear God – please enlarge our hearts to love each other, to love our neighbor, to love our enemy as well as our friend.” These incredible words are especially meaningful when one considers the devastating economy and the number of destitute people who relied on Dorothy Day and her Catholic Worker Movement in the post World War II years.
Dorothy Day challenges us to take this same approach to people in modern day America – including the phone man. It IS truly difficult to love people who challenge us. In fact, one might argue that is is justifiable to shun those folks who are rude and indifferent to us. “They don’t deserve my love, they have not earned it or asked for it” we might say. But Dorothy Day reminds us that God calls us to a higher ideal. “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44) Of course this type of love is not easy, but if practiced regularly, it can be a personal blessing by helping us to grow in humility.
C.S. Lewis said “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Perhaps humility is the anecdote to the problems in our modern society. If the phone man had a bit of humility, he may have possessed a little self control. This would have caused him to think of the comfort of others instead of himself. Either way, I know that I am called to love – especially when it is burdensome. I can’t change the phone man or anyone else but I can change myself. As Dorothy Day said “We can throw our pebble in the pond and be confident that its ever-widening circle will reach around the world.”