I’m still getting used to this new last name. It’s bulky, only a letter longer than maiden Ritschard, but so many more syllables.
My signature is sloppy, spilling over the lines with the bulk of all these new vowels. “You’re just finishing writing that name by the time the test is done,” he jokes.
This man, fingers wrapped tight against styrofoam, soaking in pleasure and comfort as if from a ceramic mug. Enjoying Lipton like it were the Emperor’s tea.
Steam curls in slow swaths, and his eyes see. “But it’s a beautiful name. Just beautiful.” We joke of test-timing and long last names, he asks of husband’s job and new marriages.
A few weeks later, I am absorbed with customer, call the next. “Do you remember me?” he asks. Of course. You saw my name. His Lipton comfort is wrapped in fingers drinking warmth. “I was watching you,” he continues. “And I know why your husband married you. He saw your gentle heart and he loved you. Am I right? I just know these things.” Echoes of words from my husband’s mouth, this Father-heart speaking words of life to another man’s daughter.
“Is that Spanish? Italian?” Another man, inquisitive about this mouthful name, so new to me, Italian, so Italian that he thinks I must speak the language. I laugh, a Swiss, non-Italian laugh. I probably should learn with such a name, but my husband’s the Italian. I know the next comment before it comes. “You look so young to be married!” I explain: It’s a young marriage, built on a few months, full of hopes, full of work to be done, challenges to be met, and love to be deepened. “Wonderful! I am a priest,” he replies, “and I’ll be praying for you.” Words so easily spoken, but somehow I believe him.
These interactions are so simple, inspired by this spelling-bee name, but they trouble me with life and warmth. I’ve heard it said before; New York is a lonely city, even when you are surrounded by people, and it’s so true. I walk through my days looked at but never seen, passed by but never noticed, spoken to but never known. Community is a relic of the past, pushed to the side in the flurry and fury of speed, money, possessions and desires. Everyone self-protects, self-promotes, self-provides. I haven’t had a girls night in ages, and the women I do know spend their time in bars flirting with strangely muscled men, taking hits off the highs of chemistry and pheromones.
I’m desperately lonely, and it means so much to me when two strange men see my name, my character! Their Lipton-kindness warms my heart, troubling it with new life and grace. It’s the kind of grace that sinks in, makes me think, makes me grow.
Can it really be that simple? Can deep ministry really come out of simply seeing?
I’m running, a few days earlier, through crackling leaves and sun soaking its last rays into earth, when I pass a woman. She’s sitting on the curb, waiting…waiting for a bus or who knows what. I’ve only lived here a few months, but the New York survivalist is sinking in. Take care of yourself. Look after yourself. Every else will only lie, steal, cheat you out of what you deserve. I am passing her by, leaving her in her life and I in mine when I feel that gentle tap on the shoulder. Jenni, look at her. Just look at her and smile.
I don’t know if my quick smiling glance mattered to her. I don’t even know if, from the depths of her own world and her own agenda, she even noticed. I don’t know.
But here’s what I’m learning: I’m dying to be seen. I’m dying to be known. And doesn’t the God of all Love and Mercy comfort us that he has seen us since the very knitting of our bodies, since the inception of our souls? That he has known every hair on our heads, every thought in our hearts, every step of our feet? This is the God of all Love and Mercy, who, upon the Day of Overcoming, will show us the name that he has kept for only himself to call us. This is the God who knows us better than husband and wife know each other in their marriage bed, better than a mother knows the child she has loved and nurtured and wept over and prayed for and protected, better than the therapist knows his long-time client. This is the God who sees and knows and names.
And I am called to be like him.
So, I will look. And I will smile. I will call them by name. And I will make sure that, despite New York dead lines and speed limits and agendas, despite personal gain and hard shells, I will see. I will look at them like they are my fellow human beings, made in the image of God, seen and known by him and dearly loved. And hopefully, from my small life, and my small sphere of influence, and this small gesture, I smile Lipton-life into someone like these two men spoke into me.
Because I will be the first to say, the very smallest things can stir and trouble a soul into life.