Some thoughts on wonderful days and listening hearts

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 21, 2007

Leo Peters, a white-bearded coffee companion of ours who looks an awful lot like You-Know-Who at this time of year, asked some of us at a café table last week, “What does a wonderful day look like to you?”

His question seemed especially timely in view of the headline-grabbing not-so-wonderful day experienced recently by an agitated immigrant at Vancouver International Airport.

Leo, a motivational speaker and song writer – and, yes, a professional Santa Claus – is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met. Just to sip a mug of dark roast with him is to have one’s heart filled to the brim with happiness.

At the table with Leo and me were Mark Bretherton and Mike Veloski.

Mark is a writer who loves to play classical guitar when he’s not driving long CP Rail freight trains through the Spiral Tunnels near Field, B.C. I think he must have had the breathtaking scenery along the Continental Divide on his mind when he replied that a wonderful day for him looks like “fresh snow in the Rockies.”

Mike is a petroleum geologist with a keen philosophical bent. He’s also an avid bird watcher and photographer with an amazing sensitivity to his surroundings. He replied that a wonderful day for him is to be “alive to what’s around you.”

As I reflected on their answers, I thought back to an event in the life of my friend, the late Dort Breisch. She was not only alive to what was around her, but if what she saw wasn’t wonderful, she did her best to make it wonderful, as in the following story:

It started out as a typical shift for Dort while she was nursing supervisor at a busy Calgary hospital. She checked duty rosters, reviewed a mountain of reports, made her rounds to the various nursing stations. Finally seizing a moment to catch her breath, she was just about to take a coffee break when her phone rang.

“Dort, can you come down to Emergency right away?” one of her staff said urgently. “We've got a wild man here!”

It was quite a scene that greeted Dort upon her arrival in the ER.

Standing elbow to elbow in a circle, arms folded and eyes fixed at something in the centre of the circle, were over a dozen nurses and orderlies.

There in their midst sat a very agitated man in his 80s.

“Don't get too close to him!” one of the nurses warned Dort. “He's abusive and violent. He might hurt you.”

Her staff filled her in on the situation. The man had walked into the hospital about a half-hour earlier, demanding to be checked, they said. When it seemed no one was paying attention to him, he began yelling unintelligibly and grabbing at the nurses and receptionist. Finally some of the staff surrounded him, sat him down, and summoned Dort.

Ignoring the cautions, Dort stepped inside the circle and sat next to their trembling, troubled guest, pressing her arm and shoulder gently against his.

“Are you okay?” she asked softly.

Whether it was the warmth of Dort's smile, the gentleness of her touch, the tenderness of her voice, or her disarmingly beautiful silver hair, the man breathed deeply and started to speak more calmly.

“Check! Check!” it sounded like he was saying over and over in a heavy Eastern European accent.

Suddenly it dawned on Dort what he’d really been saying all along. She raised her head and looked around at the contingent of health care personnel encircling them. “I think we've forgotten something here,” she said to them. “Is there a Czech interpreter on duty?”

The solution to the problem was so simple. Somehow in the busyness of caring for the many patients who had come to Emergency that day, the admitting staff had missed the obvious: the old man couldn't speak English!

He wasn’t saying, “check,” but “Czech.”

He was pleading for an interpreter to explain that he was having chest pains. He was crying out for his life, and no one seemed to understand – or care. Then Dort entered the scene and sensed beyond words the frightened gentleman's distress.

Her staff thought he needed a straitjacket; Dort offered him a listening heart.

Allow me now to reword Leo’s question: What can each of us do to make this a wonderful day for someone else?

Leo’s songwriter friend Molly Hamilton has the answer in her soon-to-be hit song, “Make a Wonderful Day”: “It’s up to you – can you see – what the world’s gonna be – Make a choice – it’s a wonderful day – Make a wonderful day.”

So, coffee companions, what does a wonderful day look like to you? What ideas do you have for making a wonderful day for someone else? Let me know, and I’ll pass your comments along.

© 2007 Warren Harbeck

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