Thursday, November 29, 2012

Coffee with St. Joseph

To love others as you love yourself...to love others as they are...is easier said than done sometimes.

I was in one of my favorite cafĂ©s during the lunch hour writing a piece that was due today. The energy at this particular place is great fuel for my writing. This cafĂ© is full of friendly faces, enthusiastic students and vibrant passersby. I was immersed in my work when an older man slammed his coffee next to me on the table and announced he was sitting next to me, ok then. He wasn't sitting down just yet though. His coffee steamed waiting for him, somewhat annoyed at being slammed then ignored. A few moments later a very polite, younger man asked if he could sit on my other side, of course, please do–how else would you answer politeness? A few moments after that, Old Man returns. I call him Old Man because it's the most practical way of describing him.

With my eyes on my notebook and my hand fiercely writing, I went back to my article. "Well, this coffee is cold. Why would they serve me cold coffee?" Oh no, I have a complainer next to me. I don't engage. "I'm just going to sit across from you. I like the view better." He moves to the chair across from me shaking the table and distorting my writing. Really! Come on. I'm working here. I don't engage. "Oh, the view is better from here." I don't engage. "Can I ask you a question?" says the old man. Sure. "What are you doing?" Oh boy. This is turning into a conversation. Polite Man just smiles, albeit with a little grit in his teeth. He can see that old man is not very adept at social cues. I answer briefly. "Can I ask you another question?" Old Man interrupts again. Sure. "Are you this beautiful all day long?" Polite Man chimes in "something, something, something...dirty old man." They banter for a while. I try to go back to work, but Old Man decides to read me poetry. Enough!

I caught myself about to lose it. Old Man can read poetry, but not body language. He couldn't understand the tone of my voice-the one that says I'm just being polite, but I really have to get back to what I was doing. And just when I had enough of his interruptions and obnoxious comments I looked into the face of Polite Man and something clicked in me. I remembered. I decided to live what I believe.

I closed my notebook and finished listening to Old Man's poetry. I chatted with him for a few minutes, and that seemed to do the trick. His comments after that were not so obnoxious anymore. He blessed Polite Man and me, then left.

It turns out that Polite Man's name is Joseph, to me, St. Joseph. He is going into medical school to be a physician–the profession closest to God. His soft demeanor saved me from retreating into old habits of self-importance. Being in his presence helped me catch myself in time to offer respect to someone older, surely wiser. That split second helped me recognize that what Old Man needed was attention. Not irritated by his interruption any longer, I gave him what he needed-we both did, St. Joseph and I. Old Man left walking a little taller, with a smile on his face and the joy of having had coffee with a stranger and a saint.

...to love others as you do yourself is an action. It can be as simple as having a real conversation, giving full attention to someone, letting go of self-importance, being plain and nice...


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