Sunday, October 30, 2016
Not What It Seems
One Sunday many autumns ago while I was home from college on break, I went to church with my family. During the middle of the sermon, my mother poked me in the ribs. I wasn't dozing off or failing to pay attention. No, I could tell by the grin on her face that she had something to share. She whispered, "You know Walter?"
Of course I knew Walter. He was the sweetest little old man, and he never missed a church service. If the door to the church was open, Walter was there. He didn't sit in the pews with everyone else. He had his very own chair--it was so far at the back of the sanctuary that it was pressed against the wall, and it was right next to the exit. Walter was quiet but always smiling and nice.
I nodded in response to my mother's question, so she continued,
"He used to drive for Al Capone."
Al Capone? The gangster? Public enemy number one? Sweet little old Walter? I snorted and had to double over to keep from giggling through the rest of the church service. It was unthinkable. Sweet little old Walter? Never! But, yes, my mother told me on the way home that he had given his testimony in church and that was part of what he told.
Things just aren't always what they seem.
I should have known that. My mother was, to nearly everyone who knew her, a Barbie Doll--charming, nice, pretty, nearly always wearing pink; indeed even her name was the same. But I knew her better. I heard the salty language and the naughty jokes; and I knew a lot of other things, too. No one would ever have believed me. But I'm glad I was there to listen, and I'm glad she trusted me; we all need someone we can trust to allow us to be "real" without fear of misunderstanding.
We look at people and, maybe without even meaning to, we make an assessment and judge them. We expect certain things from them and we don't wait around to see if there's something else simmering under the surface. But waiting and listening is exactly what we should be doing.
Because we judge and are judged, people are generally careful to keep the truth inside. We don't share all we know; and very probably we should keep lots of things quiet--there is much to be said in favor of personal privacy. But there are so often untold stories that others are longing to share, that they need to share. They need someone to be a witness to their lives.
How long did Walter hang onto that secret? Did it make him feel unworthy? Uneasy? Is that why he always sat inches from the exit? I wish I knew.
Truthfully I still chuckle when I think of that morning when my mother nudged me during service. But really the underlying story isn't funny at all. Someone should know. Someone should care.
There are so many, many people unheard and unheeded. I hope you'll talk to one of the Walters in your life and that you'll listen to his story as you hope that, someday, someone will listen to yours.
Life is good.
Take time to hear what someone needs to tell.