A day off, a mall, a cup of green tea, life is very good. Joe has gone off to check to see if the bookstore has a book and I'm left to my own devises. I am an consumate people watcher, catching people as they are absorbed in the business of living is fascinating. It's like their guard is way down and their face becomes their own.
I see a mother with child her face full of frustration and her voice full of patience - it's a tightrope she's walking. I see a business type guy reading the entertainment section of the newspaper - the business section discarded beside him. He looks like he's indulging in a secret act of rebellion. I see a young guy with Williams Syndrome standing with someone (staff? mother? friend? not sure) who is looking through the magazines on the magazine rack. He's talking - it's gotta be Williams Syndrome - and his companion is absently nodding. I've done that nod before.
But the two that interest me are the two sitting at the table directly opposite from me. They look barely out of high school but they are clearly students. Not just students, med students. She has a book that looks like it weighs more than she does called "principles of surgery" and he has a text that's even bigger but with a title I never see. They each have a wack of printed handouts all covered with yellow highlighter. They are talking rapidly using terms that I don't understand but I think they are reviewing the layers of something because I do catch the word sub-cutaneous. There's a word I've never before used in a sentence.
They fall silent and look back at their texts. He is chewing his bottom lip. She is bouncing her leg up and down quickly. Vulnerablity and anxiety is written all over their bodies. They clearly care deeply about what they are reading and about the future they each imagine for themselves. Looking closely I can see that the care has worn on to both faces. His eyes look very tired. Her shoulders look like they could use an hour long massage.
Suddenly we all shift our gaze as the young man with William's laughs loudly at something that struck him funny. Everyone looks up. Mom - frustration leaving her face. Business guy - curiousity covering his. The two med students also glance up to see the source of mirth. They react differently. She looks a little disturbed - annoyed even. He looks relieved - as if he was grateful to be pulled from a sub-cutaneous world.
I don't know what was on my face - pleasure, I'm guessing. I like seeing people with disabilities out in the world.
Joe is on his way back and I can tell he hasn't found what he's looking for.
Then I look back at the two med students. She is back and busy reading the text. He has sat back in his chair, closed his book and is enjoying his coffee. He looks over at the young man who's leaving, still talking, behind his companion. Maybe I'm misreading him but he looks grateful.
In that moment, I wonder if he knew.
He had just learned something more important for a doctor to know than anything he would ever read in a textbook.
Because I keep learning the same lesson.