Good writing, with a strong point and with life oozing out.

64 — see/show

June 28, 2007

Getting underway with some friends in this experiment, I sent out an email this week saying this:

We had a nice time cooking together and catching up on life, and talking about our impressions from the graveyard walking and gospel-reading we’ve been doing. As we did so, a theme seemed to emerge: we’ve all been struck by just how engaged Jesus was with so many people. Sometimes superficially, and sometimes substantially, but seemingly quite intentionally at every turn. Too, we noted that though he certainly spent most of his time with the powerless and the poor, he also hung with some rich and powerful folks, and we spent some time pondering his enigmatic parable of the Shrewd Manager, and trying to see how we fit into this alternately wealthy and poor culture in Northern Virginia.

As we continued to talk, we noted how we tend to notice roles, rather than people. To not know our neighbors, or our co-workers, or the people with whom we interact and live among every day. We talked about our tendency to objectify the people whose job it is to serve us, and to objectify those who we are tasked to serve. To gloss over people, rather than to really connect with them. So our experiment is this: once a day, to pause to see a person, and then to find a way to show them mercy. We plan to write down at least three of these encounters over the next two weeks, so that we can share them when we get together.

But here’s the real deal: I wrote that yesterday, from a big coffeehouse that I visit about once a week. Where I didn’t say more than 10 words to the person who poured my cup and made my change, and where I didn’t speak to another soul. I mean, the 10 words were really friendly, of course– I’m a Midwesterner, after all– but they were not more than was necessary. So Day One, Strike One. I’ll be more like Jesus later, I guess.

Today I didn’t even think about the experiment until later in the afternoon. But looking back on my day, I realized that I had been the victim of a reversal…

Ella loves the telephone. Which, in our house anyway, means one of our two cell phones. She loves to open them and shut them, sometimes babbling gibberish into the mouthpiece or the earpiece before — always, always– saying ‘bye!’ and closing up the phone. Again, and again, and again. Today, I noticed that she was pushing a few buttons, but didn’t worry too much about it, until I tried to check my voicemail and realized that I was now locked out of my own phone. Who knew there was a security code? What is it? I had no idea. I tried all of my PIN numbers, and then a few random numbers, and finally just gave the thing to Ella, reasoning that if she had randomly punched in some weird code, she was as likely as I to do so again. She couldn’t figure it out, either.

I had an errand to run, so I stopped by one of the big-box electronics stores on the way, to visit the kiosk at the front of the store where my phone service provider is all set up to sell phones. Last time we had a problem with a battery, I went there for help, and they offered absolutely none, sending Ella and I across town to wait in three lines at another store. So I wasn’t expecting much more than a slightly heated back-and-forth with a salesperson who didn’t have any interest in or creativity about helping me to solve my problem. As I drove, I rehearsed imaginary talking points to counter their lack of helpfulness and to try to make some subversive point before I left with a locked-up phone and a drive down the beltway.

So I kind of surprised myself when, even after waiting 90 seconds for the solitary man to look up from his notebook to help me, I simply smiled and said, “this is my only daughter, and this is my only phone, and I think she locked me out of using it…” He grinned at her, and offered a wry smile at me, grabbed the thing, pushed a few buttons, and gave it back, good as new.

“She loves to play with our phones, and I guess we shouldn’t let her,” I said sheepishly, subtly shifting the blame with my plural pronouns.

“Well, let’s get her one of her own!” he said, and dove down under the counter to find a nice non-working display model for her to take with her. A red Razor phone with a woman singing into a microphone on the display screen changed hands, and he informed The Girlie that she now had a better phone than her dad. I thanked him profusely, of course, and wandered around the store for a few minutes to save face while Ella whispered into her phone.

Wow, do I have a lot to learn, and a lot to live.

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