Class ended five minutes early this morning. To me, that meant five extra minutes to dash across Euclid Ave. and grab my daily cup of holiday cheer from Starbucks.
It was five minutes to stop working on that to-do list I dedicated my previous class to completing.
It was five minutes to stop thinking about life. After all, what started as a simple outline of the day quickly turned into a 30-line-strong itemized list. And, the only obstacle between me and tackling that first task was a nonfat caramel brulee latte.
She was standing at the counter when I entered. Draped in a ruby red, oversized winter coat, the middle-aged woman was conversing softly–or rather sincerely–with the barista behind the cash register.
I was checking my email, voicemail, tweets and calendar invites–everything my phone had intercepted on my behalf during the past hour.
Once my unread count reached zero, I began peering around the woman, hoping to get a better glimpse at the sandwich menu displayed behind the counter.
The woman turned around.
“I’m sorry I’m taking so long,” she said quietly as her hand began fumbling in the pocket of her overcoat. The tone of her voice was soothing, yet resolute. Her scalp was a thinning collection of wispy curls that held no color. But, the curls were not gray. They simply looked as though their ability to hold a definitive hue was somehow lost.
I slid my iPhone into my front pocket.
She resumed her discussion with the barista. “I think I’ll take a nice, hot tea,” she said as she began rummaging through her purse. “I just finished another round of chemo today. Who knows how this will turn out. I just keep on hoping.”
Her words were not pleading. They did not ask for sympathy or pity. It was as if the color that once adorned her hair had repositioned itself in the tone of her voice.
“Oh and I got these for you,” she said to the barista as she pulled out a pair of holiday earrings from her purse. “I thought they were beautiful.”
“They are,” the barista replied while she brought the package to her left ear, as if to model it for her customer. The smile on her face could not be missed. But, it was outdone by a smiling woman in a ruby red, oversized winter coat.
I placed my order and moved down the bar.
While I waited for my latte, the store manager set a hot tea and a sandwich on the countertop. The woman reached for her order and began walking towards the door.
When she passed me, she turned. “I hope you have a great day, sir,” she said warmly as her hand briefly touched my arm. She waved goodbye to the barista and exited the store towards the Seidman Cancer Center.
There was something in the way she moved.
A few moments later, I found myself standing at the corner of Euclid Ave. and Cornell Rd., waiting for the light to change. I pulled my iPhone from my front pocket.
It’s a habit I developed after standing at that intersection nearly everyday for almost four years. But, I didn’t check my email, my Twitter feed or my voicemail.
This time–for whatever reason–I called my mom for the first time in too many weeks.
The executive editor of The Observer, Tyler Hoffman has helped tell Case Western Reserve’s story since 2010. To reach him, call 216.368.2914, drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @tylerehoffman.