My wife says men can’t multitask.
And one example she’s likely to give of that observation is a story I told her years ago after visiting a wheelchair patient in the psychiatric ward of Houston Northwest Medical Center.
I arrived in the open bay of the ward to find an afternoon talk show turned three points above a megaphone. As I settled on a couch to talk to the man, it quickly became obvious the competition for my attention would be intense.
The show’s guests included a mother and her two daughters discussing their pictorial appearance in a men’s magazine.
I’m not proud of this, but as the man began his story, I attempted the multitask of trying to hear the talk show and the patient.
The patient started his story two years previous when he had had a great job, an expensive house, nice cars, great family. But then my attention drifted into the talk show, and the patient’s story started sounding, like the adult voices of a Charlie Brown episode — “blah, blah, blah.”
What? Did the patient just say something about a diving board?
Back to the talk show. Wow! Mom and daughter were in the same issue! The minister part of me feigned outrage while the male side listened with intensity.
Suddenly, the patient barged into my Walter Mitty world asking me what God had to say about all this.
“Well, maybe God . . .” My voice trailed, fishing for comprehension. Had I missed something?
Yep, you might say I had missed something. As I pieced together the parts I’d half heard, it was obvious he had recounted a horrendous diving board accident and his subsequent loss of his house, job and family.
I had fumbled the ball, big time. Definitely a fourth-down play. Pass or punt?
Punt, definitely, punt. Why not suggest prayer and church or something?
It’s been a long time since that encounter, but I still can remember him asking, “Is that all?”
Good question. Here was a guy who was paralyzed. No job, home or family. And all I could manage to tell him was to pray and go to church.
In his math, God owed him a few more answers than that.
I was feeling a bit desperate. My back was against my own goal. Maybe I needed to call for a referee or something.
Or, I finally thought, “How about give up on the game playing?”
So, I confessed, saying something like, “Those were lousy answers and I doubt if God liked them any better than you did. I was tuning in the TV and tuning you out. Can we start again?”
He should have cussed at me and run me over, but he chose to give me another chance.
Not all of us are distracted by afternoon talk shows, but I think you’ll agree most of us find it easier to listen to the story of a stranger on a talk show than to listen to the misery of someone we know.
And that’s what I was doing that afternoon, choosing the talk show over people to avoid the misery I was hearing in the ward.
Truth is, my wife is right about multitasks, especially when it comes to people. Because, simply put, people aren’t tasks.
I’m not sure I ever was able to accurately quote God’s plan for this man’s life, but in choosing to be honest, I think I finally became to him what God expects of all of us: an interceptor of his hurt and a reflection of hope.