It was a quiet morning in the waiting room of the local tire store. Except for the employees, an elderly man in a military baseball cap and I were the only ones in the room. I said hello to be polite but had fully expected to be reading e-mail, reviewing photos and checking Facebook during the hour it would take to install four new tires.
Instead, the old man struck up a conversation. He told me about his car and what repairs it was in for. He explained that his wife lived in a nursing home and didn’t want to get out of bed. He shared the frustration he and his daughter felt about his wife’s situation. He complained about nursing home costs. I listened with half an ear, made small talk, but kept thinking about the work I needed to get done.
But as he continued to talk, I grew more interested in the conversation. He was telling me his story, a story that deserved an ear. I closed my laptop and began to listen and ask questions.
He shared about his life as a younger man. He talked about his parents and how he lived in an orphanage until he was married. I thought it odd to have parents and be an orphan; he explained that his parents, a minister and a nurse, ran the orphanage.
He talked of serving in the Korean War; his upbringing in Emmaus and college life in Allentown; and how back then, men were expected to be far more polite to young women than they seem to be today.
As he continued to share his stories, I thought about my father and the stories he used to tell. I thought about the similarities between the two men—their age, their infirmed wives, their driving of older cars that they were proud to own.
While I wasn’t getting any of what I planned to work on finished, I didn’t feel I was wasting time. I was enjoying this conversation, listening to stories and interacting with someone with whom I’d never met and would likely never see again.
Before I knew it, my car was finished and it was time to go. I thanked my waiting room counterpart for this conversation, wished him well and drove off with a smile. I think on future waiting room visits, I’ll leave the screen at home and instead, seek out—and learn from—the stories of those around me. I invite you to do the same in your communities and congregations.
From the July/August 2015 Moravian Magazine