The Road through Residency:

The Conversation

The cold air penetrates, knife-like, into the spaces my gloves can’t cover. I pull my coat together at the bottom of my neck as the wind whips across my face. I look up and see that only a few more feet remain to the door of the restaurant.

The sight of that door fills me with the same feelings, perhaps, that a small island would give a weary sailor, tired from months of floating across the sea. I pull the door open with my free hand, noting the bells clanging, reminding me I am knee-deep in the season of cheer and goodwill toward man.

The hostess looks up and asks, “Reservation?”

“No. Meeting someone. Will just sit at the bar,” I say as I pass by.

Few people are here this evening. I see a few couples, eyes locked together while bags of presents sit at their feet. An older gentleman sits at the end of the bar, his eyes turned towards the televisions.

It is unbearably evident he has nowhere else to be.

I find several seats standing lonely in the middle of the bar. Taking off my coat, scarf and gloves, I seat myself on a stool and order a beer. Months of call and long hours at the clinic and hospital have begun to take their toll.

It has been some time since I’ve sat down with my friend for a chat. It has also been a long time since I’ve had time to reflect on anything that has happened over the past several years.

Taking a drink, I look up from the glass and notice my friend coming in from the chill air of this bleak winter night.

After an hour of catching up, watching a game on the TV sitting high above the bar, and poking fun at each other, he asks me what’s bothering me.

“Just tired, I guess.”

“Marathon runners are tired,” he says. “You look depressed.”

“Maybe just a little. You have these expectations of how it’s supposed to be, treating patients,” I confess. “Things just aren’t what I thought they would be.”

“Things never are.”

“What I thought was this homogenous population of experts is more like a hodgepodge of educated tailors, each one with a different talent, each one with a different amount of ability and knowledge.”

“Well,” my friend says, “a doctorate does not a smart person make. Intelligent, maybe, but not necessarily smart.”

“And the politics,” I continue. “It always feels like a losing battle.”

“Well, your humanity still appears intact. You know, everyone faces cold and horrible situations with no honorable outcome. The compassionate person meets these, while the selfish person runs from them. You knew that when you started wearing that albatross around your neck years ago.”

“When you’re young,” I tell him, “you feel like it’s a phase, that at some point the storm will let up and you’ll be in calmer waters. Sometimes it feels like the storm will never end.”

“Life isn’t simple,” he says. “It’s not supposed to be. If you go through your whole life following one set of rules, you’re living as if you were following a large truck through snow on a forgotten country road. Eventually you need to either pass or pull over.”

“Or crash.” I smile at him. “I think I’m hopeful. I just don’t think I’m happy, I guess.”

“Well, I gotta get home.” My friend stands and puts on his coat, scarf, and gloves. “I’ll get this, okay?” He pays quickly.

As my friend makes his way to the end of the bar and the door of the restaurant, before going into the deep cold of the December night, he turns back toward me.

“I would rather be hopeful than happy, and I would rather be content than hopeful.”

He smiles and walks out the door. After he leaves I stare into the glass in front of me for a long while before I smile back at my reflection. I finish my drink, put my coat, scarf, and gloves on.

The bartender walks by and comments, “That’s a pretty good quote.”

“What quote?”

“You know. About hope, and happiness and whatnot.”

“I know. It’s one of my friend’s favorites,” I say, gesturing to the door.

The bartender, looking puzzled, asks, “What friend?”

I stop for a moment. Staring at the bar in front of me, I notice only one glass. From a look of confusion, I break a slight smile and pay the bill.

“Happy New Year,” says the bartender as I make my way toward the door.

“I hope so,” I say, and I break out through the door and into the cold night, smiling.