As I was driving through a little town close to my hometown yesterday, I decided to stop for lunch at a cute, mom and pop diner along the main drag. I felt at home as I entered the diner where an assortment of country folk were enjoying their BBQ and root beer floats. Lots of plaid, ball caps, and half- empty coffee cups. I was alone so I made my way to the counter to sit on a bar stool. Having ordered my squash and field peas, I was looking forward to managing a quiet lunch while catching up on some reading.
Though there was other seating available, a smiling middle-aged man approached and with a heavy country accent, asked: “is this seat taken?” I said “no, feel free,” while secretly annoyed that he had parked it at this spot beside me. I don’t feel like talking and I definitely am not interested in you, I thought. I happened to have my best shirt on and frankly, –and this is not at all bragging– my hair was just working for me that day. Maybe I should have chosen the grungy look this morning, I thought.
As he settled in, I went back to my endeavors. Ironically, I was reading over some notes I’d taken on a recent talk about compassion and apparently, it wasn’t quite sinking in yet. The man began talking to the waiter as she came to ask his order; he unfolded a sad story, his husky voice trying unsuccessfully to hide the pain in it. Recently his daughter had suffered a traumatic brain injury that had rendered her a subsequent neurosurgery and was currently incapacitated, needing a ventilator to breathe for her.
Well, suffice it to say, I began feeling terribly guilty for my shallow first impressions of this man. I didn’t know what to say since I hadn’t technically been invited into this conversation. I’m a big fan of keeping my mouth shut if at all possible, especially when I haven’t a clue as to what I’m talking about.
As the waitress walked away, knowing nothing else to do, I leaned in closer to him as we both sat eating. We were close in our communal silence. It was as if he knew I was saying, “I hate this for you right now. And I’ll sit right here beside you as long as you need. Because when it comes down to it, you and me… we’re really not so different after all.”
Eventually, he slowly rose, smiled just slightly, and walked away.
And there I sat, having learned another lesson.
Sometimes just being close to someone, even a stranger, is enough when you are hurting so badly. And at the end of the day, all we can hope to do is take each others hands and walk each other home.
What are you learning these days? Pray, tell!