“Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” -Hebrews 13:2
My husband is not frequently mortified by my behavior, but within the past year, two separate occasions brought rolling of his eyeballs, scratching of his head, and more than one “I can’t
believe you did that” lecture.
I befriended a lady-about a year ago-while Ernie and I stood in
line waiting to get a table at the Stage Deli in mid-town
Manhattan. She and her husband waited alongside us on the
sidewalks of 7th Avenue, all four of us cold, hungry, and very
anxious to get inside. It seemed perfectly normal-even given that we were in New York-to strike up a conversation with them. They seemed quite normal, were nicely dressed, and had fairly thick Southern accents. In the twenty minutes or so that we spent outside, we managed to find out where they were from, how many kids they had, and what they did for a living. You know. Normal conversation.
As it would turn out, they got seated at a table next to ours. That area of the restaurant is well, tight, so even though technically we sat at different tables, we were
essentially having lunch together. So we chatted some more,
mainly because we practically had to, but we tried to give each
other some space; this was New York after all, and we were
decent, respectful people. Towards the end of our meals, I saw
her struggling to make a dessert decision. Reknown for their
cakes, pies, and cheesecakes as the Stage Deli is (their
chocolate cake is legendary and stands about 7 inches high; it is one of the best I’ve ever “experienced”…and, as you may or may not know, chocolate in any form is not eaten; it is
“experienced”) there was indeed a decision to be made but it was
not a tremendous decision.
There was only one decision to be made and it was a chocolate one. I hated to see my new friend struggle so I offered her some advice. But her other issue was: could she eat it all? No problem. We agreed to share it.
Our husbands’ eyeballs at that point were not just rolling; they
were getting that very bizarre look about them that said:
“You’ve got to be kidding please tell me you’re not going to share cake with a perfect stranger with who knows what kind of germs are in her mouth that will be transferring onto that plate not to mention what viruses she’s a carrier for or the fact that you have no idea where she’s been where she comes from or for that matter what kind of germs her husband and kids have either.”
And yet before they could verbalize the mental war they were each undoubtedly battling, the waiter brought one mammoth-sized piece of the best chocolate cake ever on one plate with two forks. And we sat there and ate it, giggling at how stupid we must have looked yet happy to be in that exuberant state that only chocolate cake and hot coffee on a cold winter day can induce.
We never saw them again.
But if Ernie was mortified and mystified by that exchange, he was downright angry about what I did a few weeks later. Last year, I took our two youngest kids to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. We left at the crack of dawn in order to both beat the traffic as well as to ensure front row positions on the sidewalk. Our home is roughly 60 miles from mid-town Manhattan; I literally pulled the kids from their beds and met them downstairs ten minutes later with juice boxes in one hand and car keys in the other.
After driving into the city-fighting traffic and tourists all the way from the West Side highway to the parking garage off 7th Avenue-walking three or four blocks to the perfect spot on the perfect street with the perfect view, and chatting with the tourists sharing asphalt space with us during the good hour of standing and waiting time, Victor informed me that he had to go to the bathroom. Badly. It only took me a few minutes to ascertain that he didn’t go when he woke up. No. He had to let us go through all of that.
So what was I supposed to do? If we all left, we’d lose our front-row spots. (And of course that was the intelligent option.) Victor was by this time practically dancing, he had to go so badly. Cristina was grumpy to think that little brother was too “little brother” to not use his brain and go to
the bathroom before leaving for the city. And I was calculating
all of our options given that the parade was about to start in
just a few minutes and that downtown businesses were mostly
closed early morning on Thanksgiving Day. The nice older man I
met, who, with his wife, engaged us in charming conversation
during most of the hour, offered to take him in search of the
nearest restroom. OK. I’m not that stupid. But at the suggestion
of a handful of people on the street who all witnessed my dilemma and who all offered to watch my daughter during the ten minutes it would take me to deal with Victor, I did wind up leaving her with a band of (almost total) strangers on a curb in mid-town Manhattan on Thanksgiving Day.
With the city on high alert for terrorism and dozens upon dozens of policemen within a hand’s grasp-and a firm and very loud order to scream if anyone did anything weird-she calmly waited on the sidewalk for something like eight to ten minutes while I took care of Victor.
OK. Both incidents were nothing shy of sheer stupidity on my
part. And I can’t even believe that I am confessing to either one in this Newsletter. And I know you’re thinking:”what’s the point in telling these stories anyway?!?” It’s this: most people are good at heart. And if you allow yourself the freedom to engage with both friends as well as with complete and total strangers alike, you will find that people want the best. Most people look for the best, want the best for you, and will offer their best to you. We are all in this journey together, and we all want to move forward. Everyone wants health and happiness. Everyone wants to be in love and to be loved. These are universally human cravings.
When we allow total strangers to enter our world, we may be
allowing a touch of the divine into our lives. And sooner or
later, we will all entertain strangers. It may not be over
chocolate cake at a New York deli, or on a sidewalk waiting for a parade. But it may be in a subway car, in a grocery store…or in a hospital room.
We have allowed the owner of a local restaurant to enter in our
world during this past year. We eat in his restaurant nearly
every Sunday after church, so by now we know each one of his
waiters by name. And they have all become very involved in our
lives. They provided homemade chicken soup by the potfuls when
Nick was first diagnosed with leukemia. They’ll bake Cristina a
cake for her birthday this Friday, which she will celebrate there after school with her friends. The owner comes to see us at “our table” every Sunday and gives us encouragement and tells us of how he prays for Nick’s healing. He was a total stranger a year ago. He is an “angel unaware.”
Wellington pumps my gas. He, too, was a total stranger last year. But after pumping my gas almost every week for a year, he’s entered my world. He, too, is now praying for our family and for Nick’s healing. He is an “angel unaware.”
So is a lady at the local pharmacy who has been faithfully
helping our family with routine prescriptions during the past
year. Now she has entered our world at a more intimate level. As
have teachers at my kids’ schools. Moms in our neighborhood. And
dads whose sons play lacrosse with one of my own sons.
I have allowed complete strangers to dispense chemotherapy drugs
into a port in my son’s chest, drive my daughter to tennis
lessons, and all three to violins lessons in a town forty-five
minutes away from home. Angels unaware.
Just yesterday, while standing in line at the post office to mail Christmas packages, an old friend who I hadn’t seen for several months came through the door. With her at one end of the waiting line and me at the other, she kind of yelled across the room: “How are ya?” and when I yelled a little softer: “Fine but have you heard about Nick?” to her “No,” the whole post office crowd quickly became involved in our son’s illness whether they wanted to be or not. After making five trips to my car to get some twentysomething packages and apologizing profusely to the now very involved people in line with each new package-laden entrance, an elderly lady-a complete stranger-walked up to me and wrapped her arms around my neck and waist and literally squeezed me. She kissed me on the cheek and said: “I felt compelled to do that.” And walked away.
An angel unaware.
Be not forgetful to entertain strangers this holiday! Invite them into your home for dinner. Invite them to your Christmas Open House and to your coffees and your luncheons. Invite them into your world. And you will be delighted to find-as I have in both my moments of “horrible judgment” as well as in my moments of complete transparency-that God puts people into your path to make your journey not just more bearable, but more enjoyable, too.
Angels unaware. Each one of them.
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