Travelers from around the world scurried through the walkway in front of me. I grabbed my dried-out breakfast burrito from a hole-in-the-wall cafe and found a seat. The few tables that were located in the hallway were occupied by others just trying to find a restful place while filling their stomaches.
I found one empty table and sat down across from an empty chair on the other side. Within seconds I was inhaling my burrito and preoccupying myself with the game of people-watching. I had zoned out. Suddenly a voice broke through my daze, “Can I sit with you?”
“Yes,” I replied with a startled voice. I scurried to move my stuff over. I didn’t want to appear selfish.
The man was a decorated army soldier, a paratrooper, marked by the parachute pin on the right side of his chest (Isn’t it funny how camouflage is all but discrete in a public place?). As he sat down, I thanked him for his service, just as my dad had taught me to do to anyone in uniform.
Our time together couldn’t have been more than seven and a half minutes. Nonetheless, my short meal with this man caused me to pause and learn a few things before jumping back into the busy flow of travelers.
First, the man treated me like a human, not a stranger. He asked to sit with me. He acknowledged me and wasn’t afraid to engage in a regular conversation with someone he had never seen before and would never see again.
I find it funny how we so often treat strangers (even in a busy airport or on a plane) as if we can’t see them. We don’t acknowledge their presence unless they invade our personal space. The soldier was kind, made me feel more appreciated as a person than I made him feel with my shallow words of thanks.
Second, he cared for me by sharing with me. No, we didn’t share food or sip out of the same straw. But right away, he was selfless enough to notice I didn’t have a napkin, so he offered me one. And as soon as that napkin was turned into a used up wad, he offered me a second. He wasn’t too prideful to be selfless. I want to be more like that.
Too often I am too worried more about what people will think about me. It keeps me from being hospitable, remembering names or maintaining eye-contact. I would like to believe that Jesus had a way of always anticipating needs in the Bible, and meeting them instantly.
Finally, he was real. I shared a story about my Dad‘s time in the military and he met it with an equally impactful story. I asked him if he was leaving a family behind as he flew to his next assignment, to which he replied, “Yes.” We talked about parenting, loving our sons and staying present as fathers no matter where we travel.
With a gentlemen’s goodbye, we parted ways. He was off to his mission, and I was off to mine. Whether we are serving in God’s Army or the U.S. Army, we must be authentic humans who care, anticipate needs, and be strive to be faithful fathers.