Pan and Virginia smiled at me. So I smiled back. And then introduced myself. They seemed very surprised. Perhaps I wasn’t the one they were smiling at? Perhaps they just didn’t know what they were doing? They wouldn’t tell me their age, so perhaps it could have been a little of both.
I sat down at their table where they gather every day at the food court in the Mall. They’ve been going there for years. But how many, well again, they didn’t know or wouldn’t tell me. When I told them I was trying to meet 30 people in 30 days, they didn’t seem too impressed by that. “How’s that going for you?” Pan asked with a slight snickering smile. So I told her. The whole truth.
Pan was born in Brooklyn, NY and wore an all red ensemble. Virginia had a cross around her neck, and couldn’t use her cell phone. I would like to say that I met two people for the price of one, but that wasn’t the case. Even though I sat with them as they waited for their food to be ready, I didn’t get much from them. And believe me, I tried. For example, when I asked them to tell me a story about themselves they actually said, “No” in unison.
They did, however, tell me stories of the other people who share their sacred space in the food court. Just at the table next to us were a brother and sister, somewhere in their late 70’s or early 80’s. They are there everyday, all day long. She can’t walk so someone drops them off “and eventually they come and pick them up.” They know the people because they talk to them, spend their days and afternoons with them, and share stories with them...but not with me.
I made a few jokes that didn’t seem to work for them. And made very little in roads to get to know them better. I learned that they always sit at this particular table, they share their meals with other’s who join them, and they laugh, argue, and keep each other company. “Sounds like church,” I told them. They both shook their head and once again in unison said, “Yes, it does.” And they both smiled again.
I finally asked them what they would like the world to know about them. Pan stated, “The world is so full of bad people,” while Virginia just screamed at her cellphone, “How does this thing work.”
Sometimes it just works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes getting to know someone or some people isn’t as easy as it should be, perhaps because the world is so full of bad people. But here, in this food court, in the mall, we sit and make the best of the moment. A giant party of young school kids climb over the seats near us to have a pizza party. And it doesn’t shake or rattle them. In fact, they welcome the youth and their noise.
I walked away feeling like I had somehow not gotten what I had hoped for. And it wasn’t until I was sitting in traffic that I realized, meeting people takes presence as well as patience. Much like church. No matter where we find our sanctuary, one thing is for sure. If I want to draw people in all I have to do is smile. Seriously...that’s about all I got out of them. And at the end of the day, I’d say that’s all I really needed.
An ex-copywriter turned punk rock pastor and peacemaker who dedicates his life to making the world a better place for all humanity.
"that they all might be one" ~John 17:21
“Prius vita quam doctrina.”
~ St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274)
* “Life is more important than doctrine.”