The store suddenly filled up with people, impatient people. I went from browsing lazily to feeling that I had to simply get out of the store and out of everyone's way. The store staff, all lovely to a one, kept giving cold social stares at those customers who acted as if their life would fall apart because they had to step around me. It's a small store with big minded employees. As I headed to the door, leaving Joe to make the purchases, I noticed that someone was coming in from outside. Awesome, if he'd hold the door for me my exit would be done quickly and simply.
I noticed immediately two things. First the door he opened was blocked by a display, I needed the other door opened for me. Second, the man had been in some serious fire as his face was deeply scarred and both hands were missing fingers. His eyes, the colour of melted ice, were friendly but fearful. I asked him if he would mind holding open the other door. He smiled, the skin pulled in a way that looked painful but that I could sense was not, nodded and opened the other door for me. I rolled by him saying, 'Thanks.'
It was such a normal interchange between two strangers. I felt his breath before I noticed that he had followed me a step behind. He whispered into my ear, 'God bless you man, god bless you ... and you know what for.' Then he was gone, into the store. I sat outside fighting tears.
I know why he thanked me. I was the one that he let out, but I was also the one that let him in. Let him into a simple and normal transaction. A transaction not fraught with anything but giving and receiving. I didn't feel saintly for treating him with the casual friendliness of strangers, he didn't feel saintly for holding the door for someone who could not open it himself. We just were for a moment, two people in a normal relationship with each other.
He doesn't get much of that.
Nor do I.
He blessed me for noticing his difference but not letting it make a difference. But I didn't want to be 'blessed' ... somehow I'm angered by the fact that we live in a world where men with burned faces develop wary eyes. I'm angered by the fact that an unremarkable encounter becomes a remarkable occurrence. I'm angry.
Without knowing his story, I know that his journey has been hard. I know that the life he has is one that he had to have fought for. I know that he rises every morning knowing that he will face those who react to his face. And yet, and yet, and yet, it took me hours to realize that there is a miracle here. Not the modern miracle of the self obsessed society ... water into whine ... no the miracle is, that after all he's been through, he had a blessing left to offer. He must have a heart as deep as God's back pocket.
The wheeliecrone says -
Every night, here in Australia, that last thing I do before I turn off my computer - I read your blog. You always give me something to think about.
I have had a few interactions like the one you described, and I don't really know how I feel about them. I try to be unwaveringly courteous and pleasant to people who help me during the day's journey, and it always catches me by surprise when I come across someone who clearly is not accustomed to people being pleasant to him/her.
My first reaction is, like yours, anger. But then I just feel sad. It costs me nothing to behave pleasantly - a tiny bit of effort, that's all. A smile. "Thank you." I do not understand why so much energy seems to be devoted to putting people down, denigrating and disrespecting.
There are a whole bunch of things I just don't understand. Isn't life a puzzle?
Another very thought provoking post. It makes me think about a character in Zoo Station - a young Jewish man who is getting out of Germany and who tells the main character that he has come to expect cruelty and is surprised by kindness. (Thank you for the book club read Dave because that book has really stayed with me. And that idea that people who are the targets of prejudice come to expect cruelty.) How refreshing indeed to experience the ordinary!
The post was moving--and I loved the thought that God has a back pocket--a deep back pocket.
That's a beautiful image, Dave. God's deep back pocket. I too am sad that such an everyday occurrence would be out of the ordinary for you both. Makes me want to apologize for society.
Lovely. Thank you.
Wonderful post, Dave!
And I'm sitting at my computer fighting back tears.
The world doesn't deserve to suggest it has culture when a simple exchange is extraordinary :(
Dave, you are a brilliant writer. The image of this truly bighearted man is going to stick with me.
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