Picnic on Sunday: When Life InterruptsEssays, Social Justice — By Kristen Bennett Marble on May 17, 2012 at 11:30 am
The minutes were ticking by faster than I was making progress. It was Sunday afternoon and my planned day of final sermon prep, studying and co-rec volleyball games overwhelmed the remaining hours. With the sun shining in the windows and rare 70F spring temperatures, focusing on the undone work ahead required the utmost in concentration.
A knock on the door interrupted my thoughts. Looking up I saw Henry smiling and waving. I got up from my desk, sighing over yet another interruption, smiled and welcomed him inside. It had been awhile since I had last seen Henry, but he seemed to be in good spirits and told me he was recovering from yet another illness. Helping himself to his favorite spot on a barstool at our kitchen counter, Henry shared about a new friend he’d met, another friend who passed away from a deadly combination of diabetes and whiskey, and his relief and excitement at finally getting his $49/month food stamp card activated.
Eventually the request came that I expected all along. Henry needed something, and I am often the one he calls upon. On this Sunday he needed a ride to and from the grocery store. Since the community bus doesn’t run on the weekends, walking was his only other option, and he wasn’t sure he could make it there and back (and to be honest, neither was I).
Sighing, I glanced at my desk, piled with work to accomplish. Shaking my head, I looked at my watch, whose hour and minute hand were still advancing. But in my heart I knew that there was truly not a single good reason why I couldn’t take fifteen minutes out of my day to respond to his request. I knew my answer had to be “yes.”
Loading my two little boys into the van, I muttered a quick, silent prayer, asking God to allow me to be fully present to Henry over the next few minutes. On the short drive to the grocery store, we had a great conversation. I laughed and thoroughly enjoyed myself with a carefree attitude that had gotten misplaced amidst my messy desk and overwhelming “To Do” list. I dropped Henry off at the store, and told him we’d wait for him across the street at the park, figuring my boys would enjoy the chance to run, jump and climb on the playground equipment.
In just a matter of moments, I caught site of Henry walking toward us, arms loaded down with grocery sacks – food bought with his $49 in food stamps. As he came closer he smiled and waved, first at me, and then at the boys. “I got something for you. I got a surprise for us,” he said. “How about a picnic? I got us some chicken.” And out of the bag, Henry pulled a box of fresh, hot, fried chicken from the deli. With delight, he offered my two boys and I a piece of chicken, apologizing profusely that he had forgotten to grab napkins.
For the next few moments, time slipped away, and I simply sat, basking in the heat of the sun and the warmth of genuine love. The hour and second hands on my watch were forgotten. My undone “To Do” list no longer beckoned. And I was reminded of what really matters.
Just as quickly as I began reflecting on the important life lesson Henry was teaching me, he gathered his bags together and said, “I need to be going,” worried he had imposed too long on my time. Heading back, I expressed my gratitude, not just for the chicken, but for the meaningful, impromptu picnic and lesson.
I’m quite sure I will enjoy many more picnics in the park in the coming months, but they will surely pale in comparison to this one. For it was at this picnic on Sunday that my busy life was interrupted by an important lesson about truly living.