The young woman’s eyes were hopeful but I had to disappoint her and explain that I did not work in the hospital gift shop. I was just there to stock the book rack. I pointed to two ladies at a nearby counter. “Maybe they can help,” I said.
She nodded, stared at the flower display and sighed. “I’m not really sure what I want.”
I took note of her dress then – a baseball cap pulled over messy hair; a thin pair of pyjama bottoms topped by a hospital issue housecoat wrapped around a frail frame; pull-on terrycloth slippers.
“My friend is dying,” she said, then turned back to me. “I am too.”
I put my clipboard down and waited. Her story unfolded in simple language, the words slipping from her mouth almost as though rehearsed. She reached into a pocket and pulled out a picture of her seven year old daughter. I could see the resemblance. She smiled when I mentioned it and went on to say there was a surgery that she was hoping for – highly experimental, there was only one doctor who could do it and he just happened to live in a nearby city. But then her voice fell and I had to lean close to hear. Her friend had had the surgery. She was still dying.
The conversation turned to the word hope then. She had hope they would agree to do the surgery, hope that, unlike her friend, she would recover, hope that she would live to watch her daughter grow up.
She said a pastor came to visit sometimes and “we say our small prayers together. They seem small, just words, but maybe not, eh?” Again that hopeful look in her eyes.
I was praying small prayers right then. She’s so young, Lord. Please. Please.
Then she was gone and I resumed stocking the rack. I do this once a month and in that hospital the rack is usually almost empty by the time I return. As I filled the pockets with books I was acutely aware of their content. They were full of pages about the love and mercy of Jesus, pages filled with stories of courage and faith, pages of humour to lift a sad heart and inspiration to lift a weary soul. Pages of hope.
And my job suddenly seemed a lot more important. I knew I was not there that day to "just stock the book rack." My other job, as a writer, suddenly seemed essential, “That I may publish with the voice of thanksgiving, and tell of all thy wondrous works.” (Ps. 26:7, KJV).