I spent most of September 1983 in the waiting room of Georgetown hospital's cardiac unit. Millie Bender, a longtime member and pastor at Sojourners, had a heart attack on Labor Day. Double by-pass heart surgery followed, and the weeks at the hospital turned into a vigil.
A hospital waiting room can become a kind of community. A particular sort of bond develops between those who are sharing many of the same emotions and find themselves spending hours and days together. The loved ones of waiting-room companions also become important to you.
The night we rushed Millie to the hospital, a young man was in the waiting room. He and I and Joyce Hollyday were the only ones there all night. No words were spoken that first night, but a connection was made. We later learned that his 20-year-old sister was suffering from a rare blood disease that was threatening the functioning of her heart.
In the days that followed, we met the mother, father, and other members of the family. We never had long conversations, but we would often ask how the young woman was doing, and they shared concern for Millie. Without a lot of talk, there was real compassion and support for one another.
Right in the middle of our hospital vigil came the "arms bazaar." The Sheraton Washington Hotel was hosting the annual Air Force Association's huge weapons exposition, and we had been planning a large protest for months.
Inside the hotel the weapons of modern warfare were on display--Pershing II and cruise missiles, the B-l and the MX, lasers and fighter planes--and all the buyers and sellers were gathered for the deadly auction. Outside, 1,000 church people assembled in the street for a Sunday worship service that would begin a week's vigil for peace and justice in the shadow of the hotel.