I was sitting with a friend today, at a bookstore cafe. As we sat there discussing life and future endeavors for this year, a man approached. We were unaware of his presence until he began talking to an older woman behind us. The brief interaction between the two was disturbing. The man, who was probably in his mid 60’s to early 70’s, was standing outside of a railing that separated the cafe from the bookstore. He was holding a coffee in one hand and what looked like a child’s gift in the other. His face was weathered and his clothes a little muffed. Altogether adorable.
The woman on the other side of the partition, was sitting three tables over from the railing where the man stood. Smiling face, arms full of gifts and coffee. She had her book propped up on a stand for easier reading. Quite frankly after the incident, the stand annoyed me. Who needs a stand to read a book? Feels pretentious to me. (Although I probably only feel this way because her actions angered me.) The scene that quickly unfolded made my blood pressure rise.
Only a few moments before I had looked over at this man as he was sitting one table over from my friend and I. We made eye contact. He smiled and shrugged. An expression that made me think that he thought I was looking for something. He knew it wasn’t him, so he made a friendly interaction with me. I thought he was adorable. This is probably part of the reason that the next few moments made me so infuriated. In my life I have had multiple interactions with numerous people. Many from all different walks of life. And one thing I knew was this man was completely harmless, with a kind sense of humor and a joy for life.
So what happens next as this harmless man is standing next to the railing? He says to the “book stand” lady something about her resembling a women on the book cover just a few aisles over. All the while smiling. It made him look years younger. You could almost see the boy inside. “Book stand” lady quickly dismisses him. She makes this rude expression on her face and makes a hasty 90’s “talk to the hand” motion. Saying something about just leaving her alone. This action made her seem years older. Perhaps like a nasty school marm that chastises small boys for simply being boys.
Her “chastisement” of course draws the attention of the store manager. Funny how people are so quick to judge. The manager then intervenes, although the man was already turning to walk away.
The man says to the manager, “I was just telling her how she looks like the lady on the book cover over there.” The manager says, very patronizingly, “That’s fine, but you can’t scare the customers.” At that the man looks hurt and confused and says, “Scare the customers?” He walks away. By this time the “book stand” lady’s friend returns and they begin a 10 minute dialogue about this sweet man. The manager rushes off to make sure this man doesn’t bother anyone else.
At this point my friend and I look at each other, anger registering on both of our faces. She says, “I am going to find him and talk to him.” I say, “Good idea.” I would have gone too, but didn’t want to leave our valuables sitting there with such “dangerous” people in the store. Anything can happen, you know? I mean according to the lady she was “scared” of this man. Insinuating that she felt like she was in danger. It must be true!
As I sat and listened to continuing comments between the two ladies, the manager returns and says she can’t find him, and the discourse between “book stand” lady, her friend, and the manager continue. (Seriously? Did anyone really feel intimidated by this man? You’d think he was a suspect in a murder) The lady soon changes her tune and says that she knows the man probably didn’t mean any harm, he probably just wanted someone to talk to, but he scared her. My brow furrowed even deeper.
My friend returned at this point. She said, “I found him. His name is Bob. He is here looking for a present for his 6 year old granddaughter. I told him that he had done nothing wrong and that he shouldn’t feel bad.” Bob had responded, “I was wondering what I did to scare people. Wanna see the book I was talking about?” My friend said, “Yes.” He showed her the book. The likeness was close I guess.
I told my friend, “I don’t think this woman knows what to be scared of. Scary would have been someone walking in the door with a gun. Not, Bob.”
We both sat there more aware than ever at the disservice that we do to people. There was nothing threatening happening. However, somehow an old man attains almost “Criminal” status, warning posters are printed and hung on walls, and staff are alerted to a “problem customer” all because of one person’s over friendliness. Granted, I fabricate some, but truly, what are we so afraid of? Why can’t we talk to a stranger, or allow a stranger to interact with us? Without fear? Without reservations? Without feelings of being “rudely interrupted.”
Everyone has a desire to to be loved and noticed. And yet we isolate ourselves by stero-typing our neighbors. I’m not advocating that you talk to strangers in KNOWN dangerous areas, but a bookstore? Surrounded by people? In broad daylight? When the stranger is frail and obviously over 65? I wouldn’t pin him on a “Most Wanted” poster.
It left my friend and I wondering what we miss out on in life because of our fears. But more than that, WHO we miss out on. Call me crazy, probably most people do, but I will continue to talk to the person behind me in line, the person next to me on a plane, and the homeless guy on the street corner. Because all of them represent God’s children. Bob is God’s child too. And I never want to have to look God in the face and tell him, because I was afraid I loved His children less.
Take Risk My Friend.