Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Coincidence?

I didn't plan to take my three year old out to lunch today. I didn't plan to go out today at all. Had my 12 year old not forgot her library books at home, I would have stayed home. And being out and about gave me a chance to take our old car battery to the car parts store. Had I not done that, I wouldn't have had 12 dollars in cash so that I could say "yes" when my three year old asked if we could go get something to eat.

Because of this series of coincidental events, I was one table away when she dropped her full cup of ice tea she was trying to balance on her tray as she placed her three year old son into the chair beside her. Unlike a paper cup would under such circumstances, the styrofoam cup split from top to bottom. I could see her wither inside when it happened. I hopped out of my seat picked up the cup and what ice I could, and then walked over to grab a pile of napkins so that I could help mop up the mess.

When I came back, I saw that she had thrown her single napkin on the tea. It was swimming in the puddle. I threw my pile of napkins on the puddle too, and she said, "Oh you don't have to do this, but thank you."

"Don't worry - it's not a problem at all. I've spilled lots of stuff in my time."

"Really?" she said in a tone pregnant with relief. "I knew it was going to happen. It's been one of those days."

"Yeah, I know how that is."

We mopped up the puddle together. "Why don't you ask for another drink? This kind of thing probably happens all the time. I've done as much before. Most places are happy to comply. It's just a drink, after all," I suggested.

"Oh, I would even pay for it again if I had to. Do you think I should tell someone so they could mop this up?"

"That would probably be a good idea."

I stood with her son and helped him unwrap his straw and put it in his drink.

When she returned, I went back to my table and finished eating lunch with my daughter. She and her son only spent minutes at her table; most of that time she spent receiving cell phone calls from various people. She and her son went into the play area, and she paced back and forth as she continued a serious phone conversation.

Eventually, my daughter and I gathered our things and went into the play area too. I stood off to the side and played with my daughter in order to give the woman privacy. We entertained her son too. I tried not to eavesdrop, but I couldn't help overhear bits and pieces of her conversation with school officials regarding her children and the soon to be ex-husband.

After she wrapped up her conversation, she came over to where we were playing - her son, my daughter, and I - and said, "You must think I'm a crazy person. I'm sorry you had to hear all of that."

"Don't worry about it. Somtimes life is rough."

"Well life has been pretty rough for me lately."

"I've learned not to judge. We've all been there."

"Me too. Unfortunately, I had to learn that the hard way."

We chit-chatted a little more. I introduced myself. We talked about her three boys and my four girls, their ages, etc.

When she left, she looked into my eyes and said, "Thank you for helping me today. I really appreciated that."

"It was really nice meeting you. I'll be praying for you."

"Oh, thank you. I really need that right now. I really need that. Blessings to you!"

And then she left.

Lately I've been thinking about change. Not about changing myself or my circumstances in particular, but changing my world and the world around me. Sometimes I'm overwhelmed with the task. I think, "What can I do about poverty and sickness and pain? I have a hard enough time just making it through the day some days. I am only one person." When I ventured to articulate my frustration to an older, wiser friend recently, he responded with this: "You change the world one person at a time."

One person at a time.

You need to know I don't count myself as a saint - I'm far from that. More and more, however, I'm convinced that we are put into situations where we can offer hope or grace (and one not need aspire to any particular faith or believe in God to do that). But if I believe that God is in the business of transforming his kingdom in the here and now, then it's my job to open my eyes and make the most of opportunity when opportunities arise. My main obstacle in carrying out this quest is me - I'm afraid. Sometimes I'm apathetic. Sometimes I'm pathetic.

How will change happen if it doesn't start with me? I think I'm finally beginning to understand this truth. You just never know how much a person might have needed to see a smile or have someone listen sympathetically. Even if it is only a split cup of tea that needs to be cleaned up in a restaurant, I can take a moment to extend grace to that one person in that one moment. You can too.

Responding. This is living out the gospel.

6 comments:

Anthony said...

Nice work!

but I really thought you'd work peas in there. LOL.

bluesugarpoet said...

You are a quick one, Anthony! Didn't I just hit "Publish" not more than two seconds ago.

I did eat peas again for dinner the other day, but I thought you might tire of hearing that, lol. Yesterday, for your sake, I mixed it up a little. I ate stalks of celery for my appetizer and mixed vegetables with my dinner (yes, there were peas in that). :)

Anthony said...

Since I finished reading the internet, I don't have enough to do.

thanks for the pea report!

Ch@ndy said...

i'm so glad someone is consuming my share of peas in this world.

btw...great post. very thought provoking, challenging and inspiring.

you are da bomb.

pjd said...

I read an article in the New Yorker a few years ago--no patience to look it up now--about people jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge. One guy walked all the way from downtown to the bridge, and in his mind he had this commitment: If one person--just one person--smiles at me, I won't jump. He ended up jumping.

Helping someone in the way you did results in such a feeling of elation that it can cause guilt. Should we feel so self-satisfied for having helped out a little bit? Damn straight we should.

A similar yet different story, which I think I am pilfering from a book I highly recommend called Peopleware: The researcher was interviewing the head of a hospital. They walked on a tour of the hospital, and there was litter everywhere as the busy staff bustled about. The hospital head decided to pick up every fourth piece of trash he saw. As they walked, the researcher observed the workers seeing the top guy doing this. When he returned to the same floor an hour later, there was no litter to be found.

I have not read the book Pay It Forward or whatever it's called, but the concept is valid enough. A good deed has an inherent ripple effect. Not only does it ripple internally, improving your own sense of self-worth and psyche, but it has an external ripple effect. That woman will remember the kindness you offered her, unasked for, and will repay it to someone in the future.

Change is driven not by the Big Deeds of Big People but by the overwhelming volume of small kindnesses that cause a positive feedback cycle in the universe.

The challenge is not in finding things to change but in seizing the opportunities presented to us. Acknowledge the homeless person even if you can't (or won't) spare change. Pick up a piece of litter when someone is watching, but don't pick up all the litter. Offer your skill when you see someone struggling who could benefit from it.

Thank you for doing what you did. You raised us all up just a little bit by that small kindness.

bluesugarpoet said...

Thank you, friends, for your encouragement! We are all on the journey together, and in that we spur one another on to do good. I think of you all often throughout my day, and that gives me courage to act.

PJD - I think I heard of that Golden Gate Bridge story...scary. (BTW, i was practically accosted by one of the toll booth workers there once about 15 years ago, lol. Apparently she thought I was going to run over her. I wasn't even close!)

Pay it forward - I didn't read the book, but I saw the movie - I almost said that to this gal..."Just paying it forward."