A couple of months ago I took my car to a local shop to have some work done. The attendant asked for my phone number in order to look me up in their computer system.
“Jolly Carol?” he asked.
“What?” I wasn’t sure I’d heard correctly.
“Jolly Carol. That’s you, right?” and he showed me the screen. It seemed that someone, many years ago, had mis-entered my late husband’s name into their system. “John” had somehow morphed into “Jolly”. Later, they added my name and just like that, I was Jolly Carol Shaw.
The attendant then sat down to regale me with jokes and stories about his grandchildren. What’s more, he expected me to laugh. I was, after all, Jolly.
Last Friday, I found myself in the hospital emergency room. My foot, propped up in front of me, looked like an overstuffed empanada. I wish I could say I injured myself doing something heroic, like saving a puppy, but no. The truth is, late Thursday night I stepped on my own shoe while packing, returning from a quick trip. My foot (still not healed from an earlier sprain) exploded in pain. In the morning, I had to ask for wheelchair assistance at the airport. And by the time my flight landed, my foot was an angry, swollen mess and my son made me go to the ER.
As we sat there chatting, my son and I, my nurse came up and introduced himself. We cracked a couple of jokes. The doctor ordered some tests and I was wheeled down the hall to rule out a DVT (a precaution after flying-while-injured). The ultrasound technician made a lighthearted comment and I laughed. She said, “I heard you were fun!”
Fun. A new label had preceded me, and she was prepared to treat me accordingly.
We shared a few chuckles. The x-ray tech came to cart me away and we laughed together. Eventually, I was deposited back in the hallway with my son. The doctor came over, handed me some papers and told me that it was a bad sprain; he had prescribed pain medication, there was no other damage, I should go home and stay off my foot for several days.
My son and I looked at each other. We both needed lunch. I was loopy from little sleep and lots of pain. And I needed the bathroom. So he wheeled me toward the door. We passed one bathroom, but my addled brain said, “No, that’s for patients,” and in my mind I was not a patient. So I asked him to take me to the waiting area where I could easily hobble into the bathroom.
When I came back out, I found my son explaining to someone from the hospital that no, we really weren’t running away. The man eyed me with suspicion. Then he gruffly ordered us back to our spot in the hall until properly released.
Back inside the ER inner sanctum, they processed me for discharge. We joked about my slow-speed “escape”. We came up with new labels: Wheelchair Fugitive, Granny on the Lam, and Hotfoot Shaw all made the cut.
But I couldn’t help thinking. We humans tend to treat others based on our own expectations. We often see what we expect to see.
So, what if we all expected to see in others the image of God?
Would it change how we treat them?
And if it changed how we treat them, would it change their response?
Would it change the world around us?
I don’t know about you, but I want to find out. Just let me grab my cane and orthopedic boot.