Papa and My Bad News

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.


2 thoughts on “Papa and My Bad News”

  1. Yes. A thousand times yes. As someone who has been through some terrible things and had all of those empty “let me make you feel better” things said to them, all you really want to hear is that life right *now* is terrible and that someone else understands that.

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