It's come to my attention that I've been a bit heavy, even depressing, in the last several posts. Perhaps the last dozen posts, for that matter. The thing is, when living through a time such as this, a time in which doing everyday tasks seems strange, and conversations with salespeople in stores seem surreal and almost impossible, finding a light and easy topic is equally impossible. The other day when I went into an Eddie Bauer to pick up some XLT long-sleeved shirts for Grampie who had cross the Sound in two places to get to his daughter's bedside, without any shirt but the purple (think Huskies) turtleneck--complete with a hole right at the base of the neck--he was wearing, a teenaged girl behind the counter cheerfully asked, "So how's your day been so far?" I answered honestly, as I am wont to do. "Not that great--my sister-in-law is dying." You should have seen the look on her well-made-up face. You'd think she'd never heard of death before, certainly had never had a run-in with it. Didn't expect someone to be so rude as to mention it in answer to what was clearly just the question she'd been trained to ask. She didn't want to hear such an answer.
It seems to me that there are only a couple of acceptable answers to the query casually put forth as a Starbucks barista prepares a drink, a grocery checker scans canned corn, a salesperson helps you find the XLTs, a phone soliciter tries to get you to buy new windows. The best answer is "Great!" or "Fine." So they can answer, "That good," and go about their business, small talk finished. It's also possible to say, "So-so," to which they respond, "I hope it gets better," with a meaningful inflection tone. Often, when I say, "Fine," I'll add, "And how's yours?" which, for some reason, seems to catch them off guard. Or, I'll say, "You look like you've had a long day," which really throws them. A girl the other day (at a different Eddie Bauer), said, "Yeah. I just came on here, straight from my job at Barnes and Noble."
But it's really a rare thing to tell the truth in business transactions. Yesterday in a fabric store, I also played the 'dying sister-in-law' card. And I admit, it was with an agenda. See, this little store, which I love and am on my way to spending a fortune in, had a 30% off everything last Thursday through Saturda'[y. Exactly the same days I was sitting in a CCU in Seattle. I secretly hoped that my admission that I'd wanted to come to the sale, but a family emergency had kept me from it, would create such sympathy that I'd be given the discount a couple days late. To no avail, however. The owner, who was waiting on me, was more humane than most, though. "If you don't mind my asking," she said. "What's she dying from?" We had a good, simple conversation about her father and G-J, and I left the store with no sales fabric, but glad to have made a real human connection.
That started me thinking about how rare such conversations are when we're doing business. I made it a point to tell the truth every place I went yesterday, and beheld more uncomfortable people than I've seen in a long time. Death is such a hard thing to talk about. Even among strangers. But somehow I think, because of the way our world is now, that it's harder than ever. There are too many ways to avoid human contact. And, of course, too many ways to put death off, at least momentarily. Not permanently, of course, not for one of us permanently.
It seems to me that if the gospel means anything, it means we should engage with each other in truth. We should actively seek ways to "seek the Kingdom", the Kingdom which is love for God and love for our neighbors, wherever we encounter them. Start with--at least start with--meaning it when we ask, "how's your day going?" And meaning it when we answer. See where it goes from there. Perhaps that small thing, that easy start, is the first step toward the Kingdom for someone. Someone with whom we had an honest conversation.