It was in an airport in Texas. Lisa and I were flying from California to Orlando and had to change planes in Austin. The airport was busy – people were everywhere walking, running, drinking coffee, looking at their phones. We stopped for lunch at a counter service restaurant to wait on our next flight and it was in that moment that I recognized the quiet. Surreal quiet. All these people – everywhere and hardly a sound was being made. People were silently in their own little world of looking at newspapers, eating lunch, staring out windows and simply trying to get through their day.
“If the Lord had not been my help, My soul would soon have dwelt in the abode of silence.” Psalm 95:17.
This is a busy world we live in – sometimes crazy in terms of the activities, deadlines, obligations and busy-ness of what seems at times like a mad, mad world. My retirement and our traveling with Lisa’s job has taken away a lot of the mind numbing, body breaking deadlines. And though we have eliminated much of that type of lifestyle – we have found ourselves now immersed for the third time in the lives of people still battling the world and, in some cases, losing. Lisa has been able to bring a little light and energy to otherwise sad, frustrated people who God has thrown in her path and in mine. I am proud of how she has been able to share the love of God with a lot of desperate, lonely and sad people with just a few kind words and a very, very good work ethic.
Yesterday she told me of a young nurse at her hospital who she noticed never spoke to anyone. She did her job, ate her lunch, walked down hallways and simply existed in near silence. As they were eating lunch, the lady blurted out – almost unknowingly – that she wished she knew how to coupon. Lisa overheard her say this and then sat mulling over whether she should speak up and let her know she had found the right person. For a few years now Lisa has couponed like the pros and has stockpiled tons of items that we will be using for the next decade. I am fairly certain there is no “Colgate” toothpaste left in western Kentucky. It is stored in our cabinets in Owensboro. Her experience has led her to even teach several classes explaining her coupon technique. She found herself hearing this very quiet person spill out this desire and knew God was once again up to something. And (with the help of her co-worker, Gary – who is never at a loss for words) she introduced herself and explained that she could help her coupon. The lady was ecstatic and began talking a mile a minute. Others would later say they had never heard her say so much and the two are now planning to go shopping together in the coming days. I’m interested in seeing how this relationship develops in the coming weeks.
It is my hunch that many, many people are living in quiet desperation. They go about their lives without saying much about their pain and put a good face on an otherwise excruciating sadness. We (and I have to include myself) are masters at “faking it”. It does not take much (really) – just a kind word – a deliberate interaction – a breaking of the silence to make a difference. As the Psalmist wrote “If the Lord had not been my help – my soul would have dwelt in silence.” It is in silence, I believe, that many are living out their pain.
There is a couple living here at our campground (originally from Ohio) who after their retirement decided to move to Arizona. They are in the process of building a house outside Kingman and are staying here until it is finished. The man’s brother came out to visit for a few weeks and I would see him sitting by himself near the pool day after day. On occasions I would say “Hi!” or “Nice day!” but would never get a response. Finally, I decided he just did not want to talk to me. After he went back to Ohio I had an opportunity to ask the couple about him. I told them how sorry I felt for him and that he seemed so sad – often just sitting with his head in his hands. They explained that he had some mental problems and was just unhappy no matter where he was or who he was with. They went on to say that he would probably never be any better.
I have to wonder if many people are nearing a point in their lives where their quiet sadness will someday be irreversible and find themselves at a depressed point of no return. It seems that Lisa has been given this unexpected ministry to be tuned into those around her that need a kind word or maybe a coupon buddy. Her ability to reach out to people hurting has resulted in new friends now scattered across three states. In September we are planning to meet up with some of those friends we made in Loma Linda as we will travel to Redlands, Ca. and spend a weekend with them. We hope to get back to Hanover and visit with the friends we made in Pennsylvania. Someday, I feel sure, we will want to return here to Kingman and see our friends here again.
It is true that Lisa is the one working and I’m retired. I tell people that she could not make it without me. I joke about that – but it really is true. I cook, clean, do laundry, take care of our RV (swim and play golf – I had to throw that in). But the fact is I could not do without her. And it is not because of her work and income. I need her to continue pushing me to (as she says) “put myself out there” and meet people. I am learning how to do that. She has shown me the importance of breaking my silence in order to help other people break theirs.
Our legacies will not be what we leave in a bank account – but what lives have been brought out of an abode of silence because of a kindness we have shared.
Steve and Lisa