Concern for a stranger's well being is something that mostly escapes me. Sure, I get misty when I see a kid with a cancer on "20/20". I choke up over a guy who's lost his wife and is left alone to raise their small children. And I certainly pity anyone with a "McCain/Palin 2008" bumper sticker plastered on their Hummer. I'm not without sympathy for the tired, the hungry, the poor or anyone who paid to see "The Notebook" in the theater. I donate to the St. Jude foundation, which, I'm told is NOT named after the Beatles song. I give money to the guy that approaches me in the parking lot, spinning a fairy tale about "car trouble" and his "wife's doctor's appointment". I figure if I can afford two and sometimes as many as three bags of beef jerky at a time, it won't kill me to shell out five bucks so a guy can have a 40 of Old English and a People Magazine. Even the destitute should be able to stay abreast of Tom and Katie's latest adventures. This is America for chrissakes.
But those things don't make me a real humanitarian. Not in relation to the lady I spoke to on the phone today. Compared to her, I'm downright misogynistic. Whereas I took no more than a casual regard in the jewelry order she was giving me on the phone, she took an intimate interest in me and my health. As I was pretending to care what channel she was watching our auction on, she cut to the chase.
"Honey, I'm in the medical field…" she interrupted "…and I want you to make sure you get your prostate checked." I wasn't sure if she was offering to do it herself. I hoped not. She didn't sound like my type.
"Uh. Alright, June. I'll do that." I stammered. My phone voice clearly wasn't as hip as I thought. Obviously I sounded old enough that my internal organs required routine maintenance.
She sensed my discomfort.
"I've been in the medical field for 50 years, sweetheart, I can say things like that. My husband didn't listen, and BANG - prostate cancer, overnight."
It's disconcerting when someone uses the word BANG in relation to a prostate exam.
I wasn't sure what she wanted me to say. Should I promise to send her a note from my doctor after it was done? Did she want notary confirmation? Photos?
"I promise I will get that done, June." I told her, with as much conviction as I could muster. I thought about imploring her to check her breasts for lumps ASAP, but I blanched.
"Ok darling. You have a real nice Thanksgiving." she said.
"You too, June. And thanks." It sounded hollow.
When the initial shock wore off and I was able to force the imagery of the procedure from my mind, I realized that this woman had REAL compassion. Sure, I might toss some loose change to the lady at the bottom of the off ramp, but far be it from me to ask about the time since her last pap smear. I just don't care that much about someone who's not a close friend or immediate family. Hell, I've got cousins who's names I've never bothered to learn, always being able to get by at Christmas dinner with "Hey reindeer sweater, pass the yams."
I didn't ask if June's husband's overnight prostate cancer had been fatal. I didn't want to prolong the conversation lest she find out about my diabetes and demand to know my blood sugar level RIGHT NOW. She'd been in the medical field for 50 years, she could say things like that, right? I promised myself I would take her advice and call my doctor at my earliest convenience. No later than the next Summer Olympics or presidential election, whichever comes first.
I don't think I'll ever be the kind of person June is. One that talks so freely about prostate cancer, is concerned for total strangers and orders gaudy jewelry off the TV. I think I'll just keep doing the little things like giving the guy in the Wal Mart parking lot money. Maybe he will actually use it for gas to get his wife to her doctor's appointment. If he does, hopefully they'll have a copy of People in the waiting room.
I hear baby Suri is walking now.