One of the strangest parts of my job is the completely transitory nature of the relationships I build. Sure, every bar has it’s regulars. They keep the bar going. But for the most part, people come in and out. You see them once or twice, while they are in town, and then they disappear. Because of where the bar I work at is located, these transitory relationships are both fleeting and intensely personal in heartbreakingly strange ways.
See, my bar is right next to both a major hospital and a veteran’s center, which specializes in mental healthcare. The people who come in come in devastated. They are waiting for bad news. They have already received bad news and are at the hospital for treatment. They are in town to watch loved ones die, or because their children are in the cancer ward, or because they gave months or days or years of service and it left them broken.
They come into the bar for the hours, days or weeks during which they are being treated or waiting for treatment. I see them through the worst parts of their treatment, fear, and depression. I rarely see them afterwards. I never get to find out if they are ok. I never know if the spouse/child/parent survived surgery. I never know if the cancer/heart disease/mental illness is made better.
And I’m never sure what to do. I rarely know their names. I am not a part of their lives. All I know is why they are in my bar. What I hear is:
“I’m waiting for test results on my wife’s cancer.”
“My daughter has been in the ICU since she was born.”
“I haven’t slept without nightmares since I came back.”
It breaks my heart.
But in other, surprising ways, I think it has brought me closer to G…d. I have found that I pray more – for these nameless people who come in and out of my bar. They are the people constantly in my thoughts. They are the people for whom I pray in the evening. And I am learning to let go of asking for an answer to the prayers.
When I first started at the bar, I didn’t ask people why they were there. I knew that I wasn’t going to find out if they were healed, and I couldn’t stand the constant questions. I couldn’t stand the wondering. Now, I ask. I listen. I pray. I know that I won’t know if they are healed. I won’t know if they are cured. I won’t know what happens to their loved ones. I no longer think I need to know. My prayers shouldn’t be about the answers. They should be about the people, about letting G…d know that I care for them. The need for answers is a selfish need, and not the point of the prayer.