Tonight after Malia’s soccer game we decided to go to an ice cream shop for a treat. The tables were outside, and on the first “Florida Fall” night of the year (a “cool” 74 degrees), there were many others who had the same idea. As I sat looking around at the other customers, I noticed how different we all were. There was my family, with two children ages three and under, there were two women who were catching each other up on their lives. They had brought photos to share and were excitedly updating each other on mutual friends and family. There was a couple who was obviously at the beginning of a dating relationship, as they seemed nervous, and although flirtatious, didn’t sit too close to each other. There was also a couple in their 60s who had brought the man’s elderly father with them, who couldn’t have been any younger than 90. He moved slowly with a walker and seemed to be enjoying every single bite of his ice cream cone. There were a few other families, each with kids of varying ages, some coming after a soccer game, just like us.
It occurred to me that even though we all seemed so different, we had this one thing in common: we all wanted ice cream tonight. Now, that’s not such a huge deal, and certainly not a reason for us to unite together for some great cause, but we all came from whatever point in life we were, and for a brief blip on the radar, we sat together enjoying ice cream. I looked at my son, who was enjoying his first-ever big boy ice cream cone. I glanced back over at the elderly man, and couldn’t help but wonder how many ice cream cones he had eaten in his life, and whether or not this would be the last time he was here enjoying one. He looked at my son and smiled, and I thought of how wonderful it was to be sitting there with one boy at the very beginning of his life, and one man nearing the end of his, both doing the same thing…eating ice cream. I thought of all the man had been through, and I wondered if he had had a good life. One glance at Gianni with ice cream all over his face, and I thought of what lay ahead for him, and said a quick prayer that he would have a good life, and that he would become the man God wanted him to be.
At one point, a man came by and handed us some napkins. He said that he had been given too many, and I guess it was very obvious that we were going to need more. I thanked him, and he sat back down and began talking to his wife. Chances are that I will never see him again, but sometimes it feels good to just get a little bit of kindness from a stranger. Even though it wasn’t a big deal to hand us a napkin, it was a little tag at the end of the day, reminding me that there are still people out there who notice the needs of others and who make it a point to meet those needs.
The whole experience at the ice cream shop lasted fewer than thirty minutes, but it got my mind thinking about Gary. Gary is a man in his 60s who in I met when I lived in Haiti. He is from the Seattle area, and we taught at the same school in Port-au-Prince. We both lived there at the school, and he was the only American I knew in Haiti. The first day we met, he was sitting out on the stoop to his room, watching The Simpsons on TV. I introduced myself and noticed that he had a gold front tooth with a peace symbol on it. He was under the impression that he was in Haiti to teach English to adults. There must have been some communication failure, because he landed in a classroom full of second graders and had no clue what he was doing. A kindergartener at the school asked him to tie her shoe, and he said, “God! No! Aren’t you supposed to be able to do that? That should be a prerequisite to get into school!”
Gary and I were as opposite as any two people could be. We could hardly find ground that we agreed on. However, because he was the only other English-speaking person around, he became my friend. The president of Haiti would cut the electricity for all of Port-au-Prince and Gary and I would sit in the pitch black, with the sounds of voodoo ceremonies in the background, and debate politics, religion, or which of the Golden Girls was the best. On weekends, we would pay ridiculous amounts of money to get in the back of a semi- truck with pigs and goats and travel to orphanages high in the mountains. For the time that we lived there, he was a father, a neighbor, an older brother, and a friend to me. Had we met in the U.S., we never would have even had ice cream together. But I learned so much from Gary, and I also learned a valuable lesson in kindness and respect for others, no matter if they think like me or not. Gary taught me that I can listen with respect to the opinions of others, and that if I really, truly, believe something, I should never be ashamed of it, and should never cower or hide my passion just because someone else may disagree.
I think that God brings all sorts of people into our lives, whether it’s for a short time, like those folks at the ice cream shop, or for a longer time, like Gary. He never brings just the people that He knows we would get along with; He also brings people who challenge us, who challenge our faith, and who, perhaps, we can point toward Him. Christ died for every single person at that ice cream shop, and He died for Gary, and He died for me. Whether we happen to be all enjoying a cone at the same time, or whether we are out trying to save the world, it's interesting to see all the different people who come across our paths in life, knowing that God loves us all.