I stopped in for one of my favorite lunches, the Whopper Junior, and a small Coke, and I always say grace before shoveling the food into my mouth no matter where I am. (It’s the least I can do for such a mouthwatering treat.) Just as I finished with my short prayer of thanks, an elderly man tapped my shoulder as he passed to retrieve his order at the counter. He was sitting right behind me, and I had already made up my mind to ask him if he had eaten lunch since he looked haggard and sad and possibly hungry.
The man said, “It isn’t very often you see someone giving thanks in a public place. You were giving thanks, weren’t you?”
“Yes, I was. How about you? Have you eaten?”
“I got my food ordered. You don’t very often see anyone giving thanks anymore.”
The old man picked up his food and shuffled back to his table as I began to chow down, content in knowing he was going to be alright – at least for today.
I was relishing my meal when God intuitively spoke to me, “Talk to the man.”
“Ok, Lord, but let me finish eating first,” I thought.
It was high noon, and the place was filling up with workers in their uniforms and school-age young people – black and white. As I took the last sip of my Coke that by now was bottoming out (the straw making that slurping noise that tells you the sweet fizz is over), God reminded me again, “Talk to the man.” But again, it was the old man who initiated the conversation.
I looked over my shoulder, and the old man had just finished his meal too. He had been drilling a hole in the back of my head with his eyes. We stared at one another for a moment, and he asked, “What’s your name?”
“Jim,” I replied.
Noticing that I wasn’t wearing work clothes, he asked, “What kind of work do you do… or should I say did you do?”
“Well, at the moment, I am doing some writing, but I used to be in the film industry.”
“Do you mean movies?”
“Yes, I was a character actor, but today I write screenplays that may never see the light of day or even the dark of the theater.”
Excitedly, he began to quiz me. “Which movies!” he inquired excitedly. (He apparently loved movies.)
I named the movies for him, and he asked trivia questions about some of the top stars. He was making a fuss, and we were beginning to draw attention from people sitting around us, but he nonetheless continued. He apparently didn’t have many friends and seldom talked to anyone.
“SOOO, I take it you were in the union?”
Then something was said, and the conversation took a somber turn. Naturally, it was about his state of affairs.
Tony said he lived alone in a small apartment close by and had a lady friend who visited him occasionally. Other than another male friend, that was it. His two daughters had drifted away after the death of his wife; they were very young, and his only boy now lived in San Diego. The three siblings had gone to stay with his mother-in-law. She had blamed him for her daughter’s death of cancer – no less, but at least she raised the children as her own while he suffered a nervous breakdown and had to be hospitalized.
At the telling of that story, he looked ready to cry, and it took all the willpower he had to keep from doing so.
“I know you are a religious man, Jim, but what kind of God lets us suffer like that?”
He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts. “My father left my mother with three kids to raise.”
“Well, then you should know that Jesus warned us that in this life we will have trials and tribulations and that we should cast our cares on him.”
“Please don’t preach to me, Jim. I was raised a Catholic…. and how about the soldiers with post-traumatic syndrome.
“People suffer because they don’t believe in God who cares for them. Today, many don’t look to God for conciliation, strength and hope.”
By then, I realized Tony had a lot to get off his chest. Again, his eyes began to brim over with tears, and he began choking on his words.
Tony blurted out, “I even had electroshock therapy in the hospital. It was a nightmare. My life has been hell on earth, Jim.”
His eyelids were by now rimmed with red, and I was having real empathy for the man. Now I knew why God insisted I talk with Tony. So in spite of his resistance, I plunged ahead – knowing that this conversation was what God would have me pursue.
“Tony, I go to God with all my troubles and fears and haven’t missed a good night’s rest in over forty years. I leave all my troubles in His good hands,” I said.
After a few more minutes of conversation during which I quoted scripture to encourage him, I wrapped up our conversation with, “Tony, I’m going to pray a short prayer with you across the table. Father in heaven, help give Tony peace of mind, hope and strength. May he have an encounter with our Lord Jesus Christ and receive Him into his heart and life… Amen.”
By now, the patrons were finishing up and going about their business. My voice carries, and today I’m glad it does because someone else may have gotten something to take home from my admonitions to this most sorrowful man.
As I got up from the table, Tony arose at the same time and came over to thank me and give me a hug with tears in his eyes. “Thanks, Jim …Thanks,” he blurted out.”
People from all walks of life are hurting with no one to lend an ear. You could be that somebody who takes the time to do so.