By STEVEN WENICK
The expression “to kill time” most aptly applies to many doctors’ waiting rooms. I don’t like killing time; it’s a waste of time. Nevertheless I resigned myself to wait my turn in Dr. Iyan’s office, along with a dozen or so people who were just sitting, snoozing or thumbing their way through the pages of old magazines. I tried to console myself by wishfully thinking that maybe some of the patients-in-waiting were really not patients, just people accompanying them. The only thing I knew for certain was the inevitability of a long and tedious wait.
Because I was in an ophthalmologist’s office, it came as no surprise when I spotted a Snellen Eye Chart on the wall opposite me. But there was something about the chart that didn’t look right. I squinted and strained my eyes trying to decipher the character sitting at the top of the chart because it definitely was not the customary iconic large capital “E”.
During my self-administered pseudo-eye exam I realized that all the characters on the eye chart were in Hebrew. That surprised me since I was in Philadelphia not Israel. There was a second eye chart hanging next to the one in Hebrew, it was printed in Arabic. I could only speculate as to the doctor’s motive in placing the Hebrew and Arabic eye charts next to each other. Perhaps it was his indirect attempt to heal the ideological fracture between Israelis and Arabs that have left them on opposite sides of an ever-widening fault line.
It seemed to me that, since all efforts at reconciliation had failed in the past, using Snellen eye charts was a novel way to try to coax some kind of détente between the sons of Abraham. I believe that the doctor and I share the same dream-like fantasy that someday those combative Middle-Eastern cousins will reconcile their differences.
So I settled in for the long wait and as I felt myself nodding off to sleep I glanced at two of Dr. Iyan’s patients sitting immediately beneath the eye charts. Both men appeared to be in their mid-thirties and possibly of Middle Eastern descent. As it turned out it was more ironic than coincidental that they happened to have claimed and occupied two chairs whose arms butted against each other, because one was an Israeli and the other an Arab.
At first I could not make out what they were whispering to each other. However, when their whispers escalated into loud hissing sounds I knew that they had embarked upon a verbal war, and soon I managed to hear enough of the bits and pieces of their arguments to determine the basis of their grievances.
The fact that they held divergent political views came as no surprise. What amazed me was that, in spite of their differences, there seemed to be some invisible force drawing them together. Perhaps it was their shared Middle Eastern background, similar body language, and the measured pace at which they adhered to the daily rhythm of life that made them appear so much alike. With so many apparent similarities outwardly it was surprising that inwardly they had nothing in common, except maybe for a few remaining strands of DNA.
From my perspective the clear vision necessary to arrive at a successful resolution to their conflict was nowhere in sight, and abutting eye charts would not bridge their differences that persisted along with this shared quality—an abnormally large negative scotoma (a blind spot) caused by intransigence and magnified by unwillingness to compromise. (Regrettably history shows that repeated attempts at reconciliation between the two opposing sides have burst like so many punctured party balloons, only to fall flat on the floor.)
Perhaps it is fitting that I found myself that afternoon sitting and waiting while nodding in and out of a daydream which gave rise to an imaginary debate between an Arab and Israeli about a real life dispute.
And with no clear resolution visible, I’m still sitting, dreaming and waiting.