Sometimes conversations about faith get so bogged down in philosophy that we forget to look at the human aspect.
We can discuss the relativity of truth and whether or not Jesus is a triune God until we throw up, then wonder if we even got anywhere.
Religious commentary and mock speeches for the pope are interesting and worthy of conversation, but what about the little moments that happen in everyday life that so often go overlooked? Sometimes that's where the answers, or at least the most valuable lessons, lie.
One of those moments happened last Tuesday when I was at a small, locally-owned frozen yogurt shop with my two kids. The shop is in a university district and frequented by college kids (especially on Tuesday nights... $1.69 mediums!).
On this night, among the throngs of nubile college co-eds, two of the oldest people I'd ever seen were there; sitting a few tables away from us. This couple had to be close to celebrating their hundredth wedding anniversary. The man, wearing a matching tweed hat and jacket, was hunched over and moving slowly. The woman was seemingly frozen in mid-bite. A folded up walker rested against the man's chair. The couple didn't say a word to each other and seemed oblivious to the incredibly diverse, laughing, chatty, text-messaging crowd that surrounded their table.
I was just amazed that the kids had enough respect to keep their distance and allow the couple to enjoy some peace. But then the frail lovers of frozen yogurt began the arduous process of getting up from the table and exiting the building. It was then that a complex choreography of absolute human beauty unfolded.
First, one of the college girls at a table next to ours nudged her friend and uttered a quiet, "Cute..." as the couple stood up. Then a man across from their table fluidly stood up, while talking on a cell phone, and in one motion unfolded the old man's walker and set it in front of him before gracefully falling back into his seat and not missing a beat in his conversation.
Walker in place, the couple put on their jackets and made their way for the door. Crowds parted to allow them access. A customer just entering the shop stopped and held the door open for much longer than would have been necessary, allowing the couple to exit without having to lift a finger.
The couple's Cadillac was parked directly in front of the shop, but the man had to shuffle down the sidewalk until he could step off a lower part of the curb before shuffling his way back up to his car. By the time he got there and started the process of opening the passenger side door, another yogurt customer was passing by and opened it for him. The man gave a small nod before disappearing into the leather-clad abyss of the Caddy's interior.
The man's walker was still outside the car though. His wife managed to fold it up, but when she opened the back door to slide the walker in, she lost her grip on the door and it slammed shut. A customer exiting the shop with her daughter noticed, and opened the door again. She even took a moment to slide the walker onto the rear seat. The old lady smiled, held her purse in front of her chest with both hands, said thank you and began to work her way around to the driver's seat.
As the white reverse lights blinked on, I mouthed the word "wow" to myself and went on with regular conversation. Everyone else in the shop was either engaged in conversation or had thumbs flying across phone keypads. They were oblivious.
The amazing thing about this? No one who helped the couple seemed to notice the person who helped just prior. This was not inspired kindness, but pure, genuine individual compassion that when viewed from 15 feet away looked like a perfectly timed and choreographed TV commercial for human grace. It was nothing short of heart warming and inspiring.
In that little yogurt shop, and for no more than five minutes, humanity came together as one to help an elderly couple in need of a little love and assistance. Then everything returned to normal. But for that moment it didn't matter what religion anyone in that shop followed. Prejudices and orientations and races and beliefs were all overshadowed by one commonality between us all:
Pure, unconditional acceptance of humanity.
Ahh... if only the rest of life was so easy.
Have you seen any similar moments of human compassion unfold? Let's hear your stories!
Travis Griffith, who left behind the corporate marketing world, choosing family and writing in lieu of “a comfortable life” financially, is a former atheist trying to define what leading a spiritual life really means. His children’s book, Your Father Forever, published in 2005 by Illumination Arts Publishing Company, Inc. captures only a fraction of his passion for fatherhood.