I just hooked up a customer with television service. Malcolm was in his 90s and lived in a palliative care facility. This particular box didn’t have its firmware downloaded yet, so we had a bit of a wait while the box finished setting up.
We made conversation. He loves the flowing ocean and arrogant bombast of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture while I prefer the somber yet plaintive wails of Symphony No 6, Opus 74. We talked about uranium enrichment and cold war technologies. We talked about the largest libraries we ever got happily lost in. We shared amusing anecdotes about the development of Lockheed’s Skunk Works projects, from the U2 to the Blackbird to the Stealth Fighter. We had a pretty awesome time.
The box finally finished updating, and I went over its features one last time. He seemed very happy and I bid him farewell. He stopped me in the door, and put money into my hand. This man, on a fixed income and with the most meager of luxuries, was pushing a large tip at me. I refused with a smile, explaining that we are paid hourly, but he insisted. I again told him it really wasn’t necesary. He put it in my hand, and said, “Please take it. I really enjoyed our conversation, and I don’t have long enough left to spend it.”
That was true.
Palliative care is also known as hospice care. I saw the bruising, the veins, and the fact he needed two canes to walk me to the door, when he could have stayed sitting. I saw this dark and empty little room, with the only brightness being put off by a new cable box and television. The only other brightness was in his eyes, eager to connect, to appreciate, to share. I couldn’t say no.
It’s also all I could do to not cry.
That’s okay. I’m in the van now. No one can see me.