I had my physiotherapy appointment today (suffered a minor injury thanks to over-enthusiasm on the jogging track). Having reached 15 minutes before time, I settled down in the waiting room. Few patients fidgeted with their gadgets, and the rest stared at the wall. I stretched forward and picked up one of the magazines on the center glass table.

While I was reading the cover story, a part of me could hear the receptionist talking on the landline at her desk, barely four steps away. She was trying hard to convince someone about something, and sounded upset. I didn’t catch the details intentionally. But sitting at earshot distance, it was clear that she was quite stressed. When her call ended, there was silence in the room, but the air was tense.

I looked at her and asked, “How are you?”

She nodded her head, gave a brittle smile, and continued to stare at the computer screen.

I began to flip through the pages of the magazine, and while continuing to look at the pages, I asked, “Are you worried?”

This time, I heard a sigh and a “Yes.”

I urged softly, “Don’t worry…”

And then, in a matter of fact tone, I said “Life is short.” I looked up at her.

That was it. Something happened. Her face lit up! She flashed a big broad smile, and repeated the words “Life is short!” just as I had said them, and began laughing. It felt like something cracked open inside her. She looked down, thought to herself for a couple of minutes, and announced once more, this time with great conviction, almost like a morning affirmation – “Life. Is. Short.”

Back on track, she opened the drawer below her desk, took out some files, and got down to work. The vibe in the room became relaxed.

Soon it was time for my session. As I was about to enter the physiotherapy room, she got up and gave me a friendly pat on my arm. I smiled and closed the glass door behind me.

Three words is all it took.