There’s this guy at Children’s healthcare in Atlanta who sits behind the welcome desk at the advanced pediatrics building and says “Hello.” He does other stuff too, I’m sure, like patient check-in and um, coordination or whatever. I don’t know. What he really does everyday is say “hello.” He says “hello” in such a slow, low, melodic way, while focusing his gaze warmly at everyone who emerges from the parking deck, like he expected to see them. How good to see you, “Hello” he says. It makes me take a deep breath, which is an accomplishment because each time we walk into that building, we are inevitably running late for a specialist appointment, traffic was horrible, weather was bad, Connor’s arthritis is in flare and he’s straggling behind, limping. Then this guy says, “hello,” and I pause. I breathe deep. From somewhere deep inside me comes this sound, like I’m singing, and I have a very nice singing voice, “Hello,” I say.
I’m delighted and surprised because I didn’t know that I had that pleasant sound in me, it sounds like the me-est me. The best one. The one I most want to be on this day and every day. It feels like someone hands me an oxygen mask when he says “hello” to me that way. I take a big swig of fresh air before going back under.
This happens every time. It's not an isolated thing. He’s been saying hello to me for almost 4 years. I should know his name but I don’t. I just know his magical “hello.”
I don’t consciously choose how I say “hello” back. I’m sure I could say, “hi” or “hey” and push on toward my day, but I don’t. I mirror his intention, his “hello” is a massive acknowledgment of all the harried parents shepherding kids through that building--advanced pediatrics, because regular pediatrics isn’t big enough. His hello says “I see the work that you’re doing. The thousands of small faithfulnesses, the steely resolve, the superhuman love that does all the dirty work and keeps smiling, keeps going.”
“Hello,” he says.
Hello is a port in the storm, an oasis in the desert. It’s a last-minute reprieve. Someone sees me, really sees me, and before all the needles or diagnoses or good news or bad news or whatever's coming next, all this guy wants to say is “hello.”
Con and I had to sit and wait for a blood draw last time we were there. The lab is right near hello guy. I put down my book and watched him work. In the space of 10 minutes, he said “hello” to 8 families--some with kids in wheelchairs, some with apparently healthy kids, some with screaming babies, grandparents, aunts, uncles, all kinds of people from all walks of life. Always, he greeted them with this supernatural “hello” and a pause that made everyone find their bearings, just enough to push on. With one small, intentional word, hello guy created space, validation, and orientation.
Hello guy should probably get a raise for all the free mental health work he does.
When the kids start to swarm me, full of needs and/or demands and/or stories, when my phone lights up full of the same, I remember hello guy and I start from there.
Clear eyes, open hands, and a small word, said slowly, deeply, and with intention.