There are so many ordinary people leading extraordinary lives out there and they don’t even know it. I got to spend a couple precious hours with one yesterday. By day, he worked in human resources and was happily married to his beautiful college sweetheart, and afternoons he spent with his soccer teams. Well, not now, because his last team had all just graduated from high school. He had sent them on their merry way. After 17(!) seasons. And before this group, he had coached a group for 20(!) seasons.
In two hours, we hardly got the pleasantries out of the way before I started hearing names, seeing pictures on his phone and their collective Facebook page, and then was privy to descriptions, not of events, really, but of moments. Moments that meant everything. I knew immediately because he told me the stories. One after another, they just came tumbling out. I’m not sure that even he knew they were stored there, waiting for someone to open a space where he might put them.
Such is the power of asking and then listening. Such a gift, this sharing of space between two ordinary humans. Somehow when two are gathered in this way, there is something very much more.
Thank you, Chas.
I am sorry for eavesdropping But the tables are too close together to have private conversations at the Starbucks. And I was rattled by the one taking place at the table next to me. (No, Judy, not OUR Starbucks) A tall, well-dressed, salt and pepper haired, Caucasian man was seated across from a small, young Asian man, dressed in laborers clothes. They were sharing a drink, and I heard…
“WHAT …WOULD …YOU.. LIKE ..TO.. KNOW … ABOUT AMERICA?” Caucasian asked this in a very loud voice with many pauses. I don’t think the Asian man was hard of hearing. Caucasian then proceeded to talk about the importance of “containers.” Yes. really.
“They are one of the most important discoveries of the 20th century,” he said. “We shipped supplies, tanks, food and men to Vietnam during the war in…containers. Large ones, smaller ones…”
At first I thought the guy must be some kind of container salesman. Then he paused in his loud ramblings and asked, “Do you know what a container is?” Apparently, his table mate didn’t because Caucasian then began pointing to things around the Starbucks that might ‘contain’ something. Boxes, bags, mugs, cartons. Examples, yes. No definitions. Clear as mud. Obviously not a teacher, this man.
The Asian man was listening and politely nodding his head but saying nothing, so the other man resumed. This time on a new course. I tried to bury my head in my Kindle but to no avail. I hear, “Hard work is important. This is important to all Protestants.”
Hmm. Maybe this is a church outreach. A kindness offered to introduce immigrants to the American lifestyle. Now, I can’t help listening.
“When we work hard, God is pleased and he rewards us. He gives us good things and makes us prosper.” (implication: money, cars, houses, ??) “This is a very important teaching of Protestantism,” he says. “Very important. Part of our culture. This has been part of the Protestant belief for hundreds of years. Do you understand? God blesses hard work.”
What? The Asian man is still politely nodding his head. I expect he has few, little, or none of these material things. Yet, Caucasian, I am quite certain, is trying to be genuine. He is invested in hard work and believes a faithful person should be so, because it pleases God. From this he has concluded that’s why his life is bountiful. This is his best attempt at offering good advice to the younger man.
But Caucasian’s signals are crossed. He is reasoning in reverse. He, with all of life’s opportunities and advantages, has been materially successful. Probably been recognized for his achievements and his good works. And he figures, this is God’s pat on the back. But He is completely blind to the implications of this reasoning and, indeed, the harshness of it when applied to a man who has been dealt a different hand. One who has none of these “rewards.”
By this reasoning, if I work three jobs and raise a special needs child and care for my ailing parents but don’t have the finer things, that means God is not pleased. No! I really want to shout this. I am pretty sure Caucasian would see the smoke rising from my ears, were he looking my way. But he isn’t. Thank goodness.
I do consider interrupting the conversation and interjecting a bit of Biblical sense. But I don’t. This is not mine to set right. I close my Kindle, collect my coffee and exit to the parking lot to find a quieter, more comfortable place to read. But once settled anew, the scene still lingers in my mind: Caucasian counseling. Asian listening. One elevated, the other shrinking. A whole world between them. And all I can think is, “Pride is really ugly.” This man’s pride has misguided his faith. Blinded it really.
No wonder Paul tells the Corinthians that faith, hope and love remain. All good. All necessary. But the greatest of these is love. Because love opens our eyes so we don’t say such heartless things, deceiving ourselves into believing we are being helpful.
Thankfully, I had another Starbucks moment the next day. Different Starbucks. (I know. I know. I only order the black coffee…) The man in front of me in line ordered a complicated drink in a checklist sort of way. Grande, frappachino, whip? skim? The barista asked, “The one with coffee or the one without?”
“Er, I don’t know. It’s for my wife.” The man shrugged and looked a bit helpless.
“Well, the one with coffee is the most popular,” the barista suggested.
“Okay, sounds good,” the man said.
“Your name?” the barista asked, pen poised to write it on the grande plastic cup.
The man paused. “Well, my wife’s name…or you could just write ‘I love you.'”
I laughed and the barista went to town with his sharpie. I am sure there were hearts and x’s and o’s on that cup as he handed it over to be filled. Not Valentine’s Day or anything!
“Hope your wife enjoys her drink,” I called to this man as I turned to leave, with my coffee: black-no room – personal cup.
He said, “me too.”
But with ‘I love you’ written on the side, how could it be anything but joy?
I don’t know whether this guy was a man of faith, protestant or otherwise. He was tall, salt and pepper and Caucasian, but he had a whole different way about him. Humble heart and open eyes for the one for whom he purchased the drink.
I’m smiling thinking about God at the Starbucks counter, ordering a drink especially with my name on it.