Early Sunday morning, I was awakened by a telephone call. On the other end of the line was my sister, and her voice sounded worried and dramatic. She told me that our mother is experiencing increased heart rate and blood pressure, and is being rushed to the hospital. My dad is 89 and my mother is 79, so I expect and dread these calls at the same time. An hour later, I arrived in the emergency room.

When I got there, hurrying in, I saw my mom lying down on a bed, looking older than I can ever remember. An IV was stuck in the back of her hand, and she was wearing a green hospital gown.  She gave me a quick update, and then we waited, and then waited some more. It’s funny that they call it the Emergency Room, really. The name suggests a sense of urgency. But while you do see doctors and nurses running around frantically, for most people the ER experience mostly involves waiting. We waited to see a doctor, then waited to get tests done, then to get the results, and finally to see the doctor again. We spent a long time waiting, and there was nothing much to do – but talk.

Ironically, in this bleak place, full of suffering and injured people, in between the calls of nurses and the sounds of electronic beeps, we found the serenity of having an intimate conversation like we haven’t had in years. I sat on the tall bed next to my mother. My feet did not reach the floor, just like years ago when I was a child. We reminisced about funny childhood events, wondered about friends we’d lost touch with, and recalled the times when she rushed me to this same hospital. Essentially, we had a meaningful conversation, only because we couldn’t think of anything better to do.

I remember having such conversations with people I met on the road. Being away and traveling alone, I was able to dedicate 100% of my attention to them. Sometimes short, but always deep, these conversations were the heart of my cross-country ride, a portal into the fascinating new world that every person is. In the chaos of daily life, we often neglect to cease these opportunities, but when you truly stop to give someone else your undivided attention, you enjoy real serenity. The kind that you can only find in places like the Emergency Room.

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