Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Finding the Heart of Minnesota Nice

Minnesota Nice is the stereotypical term of Minnesotans: courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered.

Seated Mayo Brothers Statue 2005

Yesterday I found the heart of Minnesota Nice, a somewhat bland term for people born and raised in Minnesota. I almost didn't make it. I remembered my appointment with only 30 minutes to spare. At 6:00 A.M. my driver pulled up for the Mayo Clinic.

When you strike out from the Twin Cities of Minneapolis or St. Paul, you have to allow for the driving time to cross the northern plains between here and the Mayo Clinic complex in Rochester, MN. 

As soon as you open your car door or attendants open it for you, one is offered a wheelchair if you are in need of one. The kindness starts there in the cold which is what it was yesterday. Families are either receiving treatment or waiting with baited breath for a diagnosis. This is at the core of what employees appear to be taught before they greet one guest. 

I sat near two women as we waited for a family member or caught our breathe from the cold. The woman who sat at the end of our cushioned bench was winded and heavy. Then I noticed she was crying. I asked if she was all right. She nodded and said she just catching her breathe. Soon she rose and made her way to the elevators. Her coat was lush and beautiful. It even shimmered.

The woman nearest me said her husband had been an executive in the hotel business. Thirty years ago the compulsory annual exam had revealed a spot on his lung. His wife said it was so small and caught so early that he had been able to live his last thirty years in good health. But now she said her husband was coughing blood. She hoped it was from an infection and not that cancer was back. I asked for her husband's first name; and she told me. I said I would pray for him. 

Her face lit up: she said now, I have you and a prayer circle praying for him. Her husband appeared, a handsome man both gracious and warm. She told him my intention and his face shone like hers. He shook my hand.

Then a crazy gal with dark hair, decked out in glitter from head to foot collected her jade-sequin backpack from the end of the bench. Her boots shone, and a pocket purse with long, black fringe was perched on one thin hip. 

After a bit of gathering her glitter, she and her mother strode to the elvators as well.

Charming Mayo greeters were spaced right where one would need them: outside the elevators and in the halls. Last year there had been a piano, but the piano had clearly been moved. But when we walked out for lunch several were singing right below our exit door on the second floor. There was the piano. The music was like a heart massage breaking any anxiety anyone carried past them.

On the floor which became our three-hour residence, I heard a patient berate a receptionist for an arrogant attitude. But instead of her voice becoming louder, it became softer. She seemed to apologize to him--to such an effect that an hour later, she had changed the dynamic. Their next exchange was like one at Plum Village in France: with courtesy on both sides of the desk.

I found I wanted to apologize to her but tried to stay apart from it all. But in the end I did just that. She was the most gracious soul in the world. She said: I tried to see things from his point of view. Who isn't softened by compassion holding mercy? 

We did talk a bit and she said: your words mean the world. 

Minnesota nice isn't really about casseroles served in church basements or even the wondrous Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon. It is the constant caring, brother-I-can-spare-a-dime, at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. 

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