GREENSBORO — A handful of people thumbed through outdated magazines and sections of the morning newspaper. Bless their hearts. Others scrolled through cell phones.
On opposite ends of the room, a pair of televisions were playing. The volume had been turned all the way down, but closed captioning filled in the blanks.
The sets had been tuned to different channels, yet the same scenes filled both screens. A smattering of people followed along closely. One brother tried watching; the other tried to ignore it.
But it was difficult. Impeachment hearings only happen every 20 years.
In the middle of it all sat a 79-year-old woman eyeing her sons.
They’d argued over politics before, and recently, the barbs had grown sharper. A recurrence in a doctor’s waiting room, even in hushed tones, just wouldn’t do.
Thanksgiving was only a few days away. And before that,an appointment with a surgeon to get through.
Four years separate the brothers. Close enough in age to grow up together, but far enough to have different interests and friends.
Once they were grown, they settled in different cities and raised families. Their oldest kids were born within a couple years of each other, attended the same school and became good friends.
Holidays were always fun, particularly Thanksgiving when the cousins got wound up.
Then, Donald Trump got elected president.
For years, politics hadn’t been high on the list of topics open for discussion. Pro football, the kids, the old neighborhood and college basketball occupied more time.
When politics did come up, it used to be more about philosophies. Taxation, military intervention, the role of government in general. Points given and points taken.
Disagreements over policy (and politicians) that once could be discussed semi-intelligently over dinner tables gradually became more personal. It happened that way in a lot of families and houses, I imagine.
Rancor rose, and small rifts grew into chasms. Insults and intolerance — from both ends of the left-right political spectrum — grew and grew.
The brothers weren’t exempt. At a family outing — a birthday dinner for crying out loud — one brother poked at the other. The older sniped back.
The argument was heated, fast and carried personal overtones. The mother was mortified, as she should have been.
The truth is that both brothers, grown men who should know better, were at fault. They knew to change the subject or avoid it altogether.
Neither did. Both were convinced — they just knew — that each was right.
But they were both wrong.
The brothers, who spoke or texted at least once a week, basically stopped communicating.
Hard feelings tend to linger.
Then they wound up in that waiting room earlier this month. Their mother had something go wrong with a joint she’d had replaced a few years earlier.
An infection of some sort — bloodwork failed to pinpoint it — had set in causing the replacement to loosen and partially fail. The infection could spread, and a couple big surgeries were on the table.
It wasn’t life-threatening. Not immediately. But it was serious as any surgery, particularly for a 79-year-old, carries a risk. And the prospect of two major surgeries within six or nine months was daunting.
The mother asked both her sons to go to the doctor with her. She wanted them to hear the options, ask questions, help her make important decisions and to support her. Because that’s what families do.
In that waiting room, with impeachment hearings on two televisions, gradually and then suddenly, none of the B.S. in D.C. mattered so much. Both brothers knew it.
Neither one told the other, “I’m sorry.” But there was no need. They both knew it, and they were both remorseful.
I’ll be at my brother’s house today. It’s his turn to host. I’ll probably make fun of his hairline — the running joke is that his forehead is so big, it should be called a ‘fivehead’ — and he’ll give it right back. I have zero flexibility and a ton of arthritis, so I’m expecting cracks like “Have you ever considered stretching?”
The cousins, who live in different cities and different states, will be under one roof for the first time in nearly a year. Mom went to a second doctor and found a far less invasive treatment option.
It ought to be a good Thanksgiving and an even better day.
It’s just a shame that it took a doctor’s visit for us to remember what really matters.