As the doors to the doctor’s clinic burst open, tears poured down my face. I struggled to pull the shroud of denial around the news. As an Oklahoma seventh-grader, to hear that I would miss an entire football season devastated my day and my dreams.
I dragged my feet through clumps of freshly dead August grass. The still-present morning dew seeped through my new pair of Nikes that, though I was supposed to save them for the official start of the school year, my mother had allowed me to wear, anyway. My sadness mixed with rage as I stumbled down Fourth Street.
I didn’t know where to go. Home wouldn’t bring relief. Also wanted to avoid friends. I neared Memaw and Papa’s house, hoping to pass ghostly. Papa was outside — repairing or damaging a car, it was hard to tell. Hoped he wouldn’t see me. He makes eye contact with all passersby, though, turning acquaintances into friends.
His eyes pulled on me. He shouted, “Hello!”
I feigned contentedness. But only for a minute. The tears were too torrential to dam up. Along with the tears came premeditated anger. I despised the impending shallow message of comfort I was sure to receive: “Everything will be O.K.” I clinched my jaw in anticipation.
I told him of the needed surgery. I hinted at broken hopes of playing in the N.F.L.
His jocularity disappeared. And with wisdom and insight that went beyond the limitations I had put on this simple, loving man, he peered into my eyes and uttered two words, words that provided the healing balm I needed: “That’s terrible.”
He embraced me, saying nothing else — no talk of “everything will work out,” of “God has a plan,” of “this isn’t that big of a deal.”
I found myself sitting in the office with the elderly woman as she told me of her brother’s cancer diagnosis. I panicked, for I was a twentysomething with no significant life or ministry experience. I looked her in the eyes, and I shared with her the words that Papa had shared with me several years before: “That’s terrible.” The wound was still there, as it should be, but the healing began that day.