I am sitting in what is quite possibly the coldest coffee shop on planet Starbucks this evening, my stomach still in ropes from the debilitating illness that left me spilling my guts all over a bathroom floor in Seattle last weekend, and I’m rapidly losing weight having had to knife a new hole in my belt Monday morning. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say I just had a kidney stolen. All the elements are there, but as far as I can remember, I didn’t wake up in a bathtub full of ice this morning. I still haven’t counted it out, though.
I somehow managed to find myself caught in the rain this afternoon, trudging through the relatively calm blocks and quaint little shops that make up downtown Spokane looking for…something. Looking for I-have-no-idea-what. Inspiration? God? Radical faith in unsafe places? The possibility to change a stranger’s day not for myself, but for them? Just a good cup of coffee?
Chilled and tired from the rain cold as ice, I ducked into the busiest part of town to keep dry. A bus station. I shared a bench with a stranger cut like a man who’d been designed to crush concrete and tear down walls with hammers and fists. He ripped into a package of almonds with his teeth; a pile of books and papers balanced on his knee with an unexpected daintiness.
Relieved to be sitting and out of the rain, I asked how his day was.
A series of buses came and went. A sea of lifeless faces poured from their doors, drifting aimlessly in the cold.
A bag of half-opened almonds dangling between his pearly-whites he said, “It was a good day. Hard work. Got a little dirty. Waiting for the 29 bus now…”
Faces I didn’t recognize. Faces I’d never see again. Yet each one of them had a bold story to tell.
A woman with scars down her checks, crawling over her chin. Who hurt you? I want to know. Who made you beautiful?
The shy man clutching tight to his lunch box, counting and recounting change; compulsively checking his pockets. What made you so unsure?
The smoking man with his track jacket and sopping wet cigarette smashed between his lips, making only inches of progress with a walker. Others moved miles in minutes around him. Why are your legs so weak?
The food court employee.
The young couple huddled close together beneath a roof to keep out of the rain.
All these people God made in His image. His beautiful image and likeness.
So why then are all your faces so sad? Don’t you know you’re beautiful? Where are you going when you leave here? Are you headed home to an abusive relationship, or is the graveyard shift at work just the beginning of your day?
“Sometimes I like to just ride the bus and think instead of going home. Allows me to catch up on some reading…One time, I forgot to get off and road it all the way to the Air Force Base…” He passed me a bag of nuts, and we shared salt & vinegar and BBQ jalapeno almonds together.
Has no one told you that you’re appreciated today? Has no one said hello; called to check in? Has no one offered to share their umbrella, or give up their seat on the bus?
Where have you put your hope for happiness today?
In someone that swore they’d always be there for you, but didn’t show up this morning?
In a job that can’t quite pay the bills?
In the man you believed was The One?
In the human race?
Is that why you are so sad and disappointed?
“This is a good day to be alive. A good day for work. You seen these before?” My almond-eating friend held up a workbook full of sentence diagrams I hadn’t seen since sixth grade. “I want my children to understand the English language. I want to know the answers when they ask.” He looked at the notebook sitting between us on the bench. “You’re not a journalist, are you?”
I wanted to interrupt the worlds of each one of these strangers passing between us, shake them and tell them to wake up; consider being disappointed a gift. (I stopped here to consider the ramifications of shaking a stranger in an even stranger city, and added it my list of ways to abruptly end MAD Across America.) We are anxious human beings, desperately seeking approval because we’ve invested our hope for happiness in things that will inevitably let us down. Your family. Your job. Sex. Pornography. School. It’s time for you to realize disappointment is God’s way of reminding you–His creation–that you’ve invested your life into something other than Him. Things that will never live up to their expectations. After all, He created you. He wants you all to himself.
“When I get bored with studying these diagrams, I teach myself how to read this.” He handed me wrinkled computer print-outs. It was the Bible in Hebrew, broken down word for word, right to left.
It’s so easy to forget that we are loved when we experience disappointment. Is there anyone left to remind us that someone cares? Does anyone still love us?
Someone still cares.
Maybe it’s our job once and a while to remind people of that.
“You’re not from around here, are you?”
I raised an eyebrow, asked how he knew.
“Well, you’re talking to me. People around here don’t talk to each other. They mostly just keep their heads down and keep to themselves.”
I laughed, told him he’d done all the talking. I’d barely said a word. I simply said hello when we sat down.
The 29 arrived. My laboring, almond-eating friend stood with a well-earned tiredness, and without a word.
“Hey,” he said with a shrug, turning back.
“You asked how my day was…Thank you. For that.”
He glanced down, perhaps at his feet, most likely at nothing. Back at me he smiled, pointed. “Enjoy the nuts.”
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