I was invited to sing at a cookout with my group yesterday. Arriving at 2pm as advised, I discovered later that the event wasn’t scheduled to begin until 4pm. Nevertheless, I waited patiently the whole time. As guests continued to pile onto the picnic benches, I asked my cousin to guard my seat while I went for food. When I returned, my seat was there…minus a few inches. The gentleman beside me decided to place his hat directly to his left…occupying the inches of sitting space that I needed to feel comfortable. Trying to gesture for him to move his hat just a little so I could sit down, I gently eased over as much as I could. Aftet I sat, he firmly asserted his elder status and affiliation with the sponsors of the cookout and ordered me not to attempt to move him off the bench. Typically unaffected by overly emotional people and their rants, I was enraged by this old man. Sitting backward in the picnic table, his hat could’ve been placed on the tabletop behind him. And it wasn’t as if I wanted him to move, I just wanted to be comfortable. I came early to secure my seat and I wasn’t going to yield it to a hat. But after the hat didn’t move, I sat with my thin legs crossed and at my food…the entire time plotting how to settle my anger before I had to sing. I thought about relocating to a spot under a tree, sitting in the car and even leaving the event altogether. Then the man asked me if where the trash can was located. Since the man looked a little feeble, I offered to take his plate to the trash for him. As I took his place, I noticed he didn’t have anything to drink. So before I left I asked if he wanted a drink from the cooler and listed a few available options. He said anything would be fine. When I returned with a Pepsi and placed it in his hand, he mentioned how you can’t find many people that would do what I did for him. Then he moved his hat.
The music started and the man felt more comfortable talking to me. He told me that the big guy on stage went to his church and that he could really sing. I asked him what church he attended and he couldn’t remember the name. For the rest of time I shared the picnic bench with him, he reiterated word for word about the big guy from his church that could really sing. Then I realized he probably had dementia like my grandma. I thought back to hat and how defensive he was earlier. And I remembered how my dad would say it’s hard being old because you can’t protect yourself and people take advantage if older people. I reasoned that this man’s attitude was his defense mechanism and his hat ensured he would have a seat at the table even if more people joined.
My sister still thinks I shouldn’t have taken his plate to the trash for him. But small acts of kindness like are a ministry. And as Christians, we’re commissioned to love even when we feel emotions on the furthest extreme of compassion. And now sitting cross-legged on a crowded bench in the heat beside a hat that wad taking up my space doesn’t seem as bad as it did then.