One of the reasons I wanted to write about living and moving at a slower pace is illustrated in the following hour or two in my life. It’s a small passage of time that revealed my impatience, propensity to hurry and pettiness. I could add other adjectives but, you know, I’m trying to be conscious of word count.
During Christmas break, my son Caleb had dinner plans across the city from our home. The location of the meal was just far enough away it didn’t make sense to divvy the driving between me and Carl or to return home after drop-off only to return in short order for pick up.
I decided to take a book, find a warm place to read and wait. I remembered a nearby Starbucks from a previous waiting scenario and was delighted to find several open chairs, cushioned just enough for passing time.
The young woman who took my tea order was cheerful and engaging. It was hard not to notice thin raised lines running the length of her left upper arm in contrast to her right arm, a colorful sleeve of ink. Each side a visual of pain in different dimensions. I hoped it was a testimony of inner and outer healing.
There were several tables dotted with men in conversation and every so often another member would step across the door’s threshold, causing an eruption of laughter and welcome.
I staked claim of my seat, set my cup upon the side table situated between me and an adjacent padded chair and opened my book.
After about 15 minutes, a man sat down with coffee and proceeded to blow his nose more than sip his drink. He stayed for about 10 minutes and was on his way. I was relieved.
Another ten minutes passed and an older man nabbed the vacant seat and spread his bounty of food and drink, covering the table. I am sure there is an associated emoji for how I eyed this action. I am sure I inwardly sighed as he buttered, torn open and crumpled his bags and liberally seasoned his food with salt and pepper. I know I snapped a discreet table photo and sent it to my daughters with a comment about the virtues of sharing space after he pulled the table towards him, almost toppling my stoppered tea.
I resumed my reading after picking up my phone a few times to read the emoji and gif littered text responses when the man asked me if two giggling brown-faced children sitting at a high table across the cafe were mine. I replied no and pointed to their parents sitting in mirror-imaged chairs to ours.
I set my gaze upon my book and attempted to locate my last read sentence. He continued to express his worry the children might fall if not watched properly. We conversed back and forth for a few minutes. It was harmless really. But then from what context of our conversation I am not certain, he began telling me about his great-great-grandfather and how Indians tried to take his land while living in Montana. I didn’t have a response and to be honest, I wanted the conversation to end. I picked up my phone hoping for a text to appear, informing me my time was up.
I attempted to direct the conversation to a different subject. He rose to fetch additional napkins from the counter and I took this as my opportunity to assume a forceful reading posture as if I were a superhero of the literary kind. For a small passage of time, my victory was clear as there was not a sound except for the tide of conversation, laughter, and frothing swirling about us.
My phone’s telltale ding alerted me that Caleb was ready for a lift. I told the gentleman I was heading out and the reason why I had tarried.
I gathered my belongings and stood up.
“…but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.
I do not know You, God, because I am in the way.
Please help me to push myself aside.”*
He lifted his face towards mine and asked,
“Did you have a nice Christmas?”
In as few words as possible, I answer him by telling him, I did have a nice Christmas, it was simple, quiet and lovely.
I ask him about his Christmas and hoped for an equally quick answer as my foot needed to be attached to an accelerator.
He paused and quietly replied,
“My Christmas wasn’t so good. My wife died 10 days ago.”
My mouth widens and I sit down.
For the next ten to fifteen minutes, Darryl shares about his wife, his sorrow and the pre-existing splinters within his family which would require more than a tweezer or needle to remove the nagging ache.
My book is in my bag, my phone is in my pocket and my eyes are affixed to him. When I glance down, I reacquaint myself with the remains of his meal. Perhaps this partially consumed spread is considered dinner when a home is suddenly empty.
I truly need to leave but how can I leave?
My watch buzzes every so often and I know my messenger’s identity.
When it feels like the right moment, I tell Darryl my need to retrieve my son. I express my sorrow for his huge loss and the grief he must be feeling. I ask if he would like me to pray for him. It is truly all I can even think to offer. I don’t expect him to consent but he slides his hand to an open spot on the table closer to me.
In the midst of hands exchanging cash for nourishment and huddled voices seeking community, I touch the top of his hand and pray words that can only be accomplished by One mightier than me demonstrating my best superhero pose. I whisper words to the One who is always there in the midst of our darkest days, even when the world continues to spin as usual. He’s the One who knows my impatience, hustling, and inward-turning ways and tenderly offers me a seat to grace me with a better, clearer view.
When I arrive at the restaurant, Caleb is unbothered by my tardiness, figuring something important must have come up to delay my arrival.
Caleb’s friend needs a ride home as well and as we drive the rain-soaked streets, I explain the reason for my lateness and don’t delete any unvarnished parts regarding me.
They listen in silence and I hope it’s not because they are absorbed in scrolling their phones. When I finish, they both agree Darryl had a crummy Christmas and they were glad I listened.
I am glad I listened too.
*Flannery O’Connor-A Prayer Journal