The local pub is walking distance from my home. I sometimes go during Happy Hour when my daughter is at Tae Kwon Do. Lately, I’ve noticed I tend to get chatted up by visitors to the area on business. These encounters offer an hour or so of grace-filled active listening where strangers become closer.
Stories between strangers
Talking with strangers is a balancing act in decorum. Hot topics to avoid may not always be the usual religion and politics. Often, I’ve found people can be more confessional and honest one on one, away from home in a place like this. Also, it’s hard to avoid topics of the day: Winter Olympics on one hand, gun safety in schools on the other.
The other night, I was in the same pub. The bartender asked me for ID, which made everyone at the bar laugh. Maybe it was my recent haircut, which probably made me look more like I did in high school than someone closer to the big Five-Oh. I ended up sitting next to a 25-year-old visitor. We made the usual small talk and found a common topic in martial arts and gymnastics. After a bit, he excused himself to stretch his legs.
An older man, who appeared to be a regular, came up to the bar in a wheelchair and parked next to me. After he placed his order, I began a conversation with him. He told me he was 90 years old. “And God willing, I’ll be 91 in April!” He was a WWII vet, pointing to the patches on his jacket. We spoke a bit about where he grew up and how he came to be in Virginia.
One of those where were you when moments…
When the first guy returned, he made it a point to pay his respects to the veteran. After that, the mood changed and he and I started talking about other veterans we knew. I spoke about teaching Desert Storm veterans when I was his age in Ohio, and we shared memories of September 11.
He was in second grade, but remembered it clearly because he grew up in a small town about 15 miles from where Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania. He remembered the makeshift memorials long before the formal one broke ground.
I had just started theology school in DC and had passed the Pentagon on the Metro about 20 minutes before the plane hit. My wife and I had family and friends who worked in and around the World Trade Center too. Afterward, I remembered the anti-aircraft guns on the bridges to DC and the soldiers with M-16s in the streets of NYC.
Amidst the “bread & wine” of a secular pub are myriads of stories shared or overheard. Like sitting amidst the “tabernacles” of Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration, I found myself midway between these two men. The veteran fought for the Allies in his early twenties. Now in his twilight years, he was like Lazarus waiting the return of his friend. The younger one, like the earliest believers, survived a traumatic event that changed the world.
And there we sat sharing our hour.
The journey from Lent to Easter is not just a cyclical one in which winter turns to spring. It is also a historical one in which God’s power endures throughout and we are promised salvation. We are all strange visitors being welcomed to a story, ready to be made whole.
Midway through this Lent, where do you find yourself? Where has history been going? Are you more of stranger to God or are you being drawing closer to others?
Copyright 2018 Jay Cuasay