Saturday, October 19, 2013

Everyone really is fighting a battle.

One of the more popular quotes on Pinterest today goes something like this: "Be kind - everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about."

Who knows where the quote originated. According to Wikipedia, it was first coined by a Scottish writer and minister by the name of Ian Maclaren who died from a bad case of tonsillitis while visiting the U.S. The illness overcame him, and he took his last breath in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.

Iowa. My home state. I am quite familiar with good ole' Highway 218 which used to cut right through Mount Pleasant. Now, it bypasses the little Iowa town and is known as The Avenue of Saints.

But I digress.

I thought about the quote yesterday as I had breakfast with my daughter at Panera. Those of us who live in the Greater STL area know the eating establishment as The St. Louis Bread Company. Home of great bagels and coffee.

A middle-aged woman sat at a nearby table - a newspaper spread from one end of the tabletop to the other. She hopped up to get another bagel or cup of coffee, and turned around to look back at her table. I glanced up when I heard her snapping her fingers like a mother might do to reprimand her child.

"What are you doing? That's MY table! I'm still sitting there." She was livid.

A grown man looked up and mumbled something about not realizing she was coming back. He slinked back to his table and waited for his friend to join him. An older man finished filling his cup and took the seat beside the newspaper-thief.

They began chatting.

My fourteen-year-old daughter whispered, "Awkward," and spread more cream cheese on her asiago bagel.

When the woman returned to her table, the would-be thief attempted to apologize once more. But the woman was still miffed, making reconciliation impossible.

"Couldn't you tell I was still sitting here? My glasses are here. My plate. My purse. Seriously, couldn't you tell I was coming back?" She pointed at each personal possession as she named it, and then nailed him with a look over her reading glasses that declared him to be either an idiot or a -- well, since this is a Catholic blog, I won't write that word here.

The man abandoned the apology and went back to his conversation with the older man and the woman returned to reading her newspaper.

By now, I am in full-people-watch mode.

Within minutes, the man's story took shape. He thanked his friend for meeting him. Asked him if he had any leads on jobs. Anything. I'll do almost anything. My dad has helped us out a lot financially. Really, everything is going well. My wife is even doing better.

Over the course of the conversation, I pieced together that the man's wife had been ill - quite ill - due to some unfortunate health problem that was left unsaid.

Actually, everything would be just great, if I could get a job. It's been almost a year.

And that's when I began to wonder. The newspaper thief seemed to be at least middle class. He wore a suit coat. Had well-groomed hair. Was clean-shaven. Wore glasses that made him look almost handsome. But he wasn't eating or drinking anything.

Could it be that the man was simply looking for the help wanted pages? Was he pinching pennies out of necessity and not because he was some arrogant *&^&)*^$?

Is it possible that the woman just didn't realize that the trespasser was dealing with some really tough stuff, and all he wanted was a couple of pages from her paper.

I thought about their conversation. How she had ended it by saying there are more papers right over there if you want to buy one for yourself.

She had been indignant at that point. The man didn't get up from his chair then. He didn't go buy a paper. He just thanked her. And kept waiting for his friend.

I felt convicted. How would I have responded if I had been the woman? Would I have been angry. Would I have snapped my fingers at the man? No. I don't like to draw attention to myself like that. But I definitely would have been irritated by a man who violated my personal space the second I stood up and walked away from my table.

Everyone really is fighting a battle. Everyone. And I wouldn't have realized it any better than the woman with the angry snapping fingers.

Unemployment. A spouse with health issues. God knows what else.

How difficult would it have been for the woman to ask the newspaper-thief if he was looking for something in particular? If I'm not reading it, you are welcome to it.

That wouldn't have been so hard. Not hard at all.

So, a Scotsman who died in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, might have left us the key to peace and justice and charity.

Everyone really is fighting a battle you know nothing about.

Be kind. Share the love of Christ with all people.

1 comment:

  1. A great reminder of charity above all else. I think it is the idea of not just being nice, but living a life driven in humble love towards all man.
    Of course- who among us (besides the saints) have that good habit, that virtue.
    God Willing, entrusted ourselves to the example of holy love and obedience- Mary- will get us there.