Last night we stood in a long line for the symphony, waiting to get into the theater. My wife and I were dressed in our finest Christmas clothes purchased from T.J. Maxx.
There was light frost on the sidewalk. I was rubbing my hands together, trying not to freeze off my Blessed Assurance.
So I did some people-watching to keep my mind off the cold.
The first person who caught my eye was a construction worker across the street, wearing a watch cap. He was talking on a phone, smoking a cigarette. It sounded like he was speaking to a child.
“Don’t cry, sweetheart,” the man said. “Daddy loves you. Don’t ever forget that. No matter how bad it gets, remember your daddy loves you.”
He spoke so sincerely it hurt.
Also in line was an old couple. They were conversing in a foreign language. Their skin was olive; their hair was cotton. They were dressed in fancy clothes, the kind they don’t sell at T.J. Maxx.
The old lady kissed the man, and I saw the man hold her tightly, as though he’d won her at the fair.
I don’t know what their strange words meant, but if I had to guess, they were probably saying, “It’s cold enough to freeze the nuts off a pecan tree.”
I saw a teenage boy accompanying a young woman who was in a wheelchair. I think they were out on a date.
The girl wore a satin blue dress and a shawl. The boy wore a tux. He was staring longingly at his date. Occasionally they would kiss and you could see sparks fly off their bodies.
Everyone was watching them and smiling.
Meantime, in the parking area across the street I saw a middle-aged woman and her elderly mother arrive in a Lincoln, dressed in heels and silk, carrying sequined pocketbooks.
The younger woman was helping the elderly lady out of the car. It was a long and painstaking process, but the younger woman was gentle, patient. She bore the unmistakable traits of a caregiver.
Once the old woman was out of the car, on her feet, she told the girl to come closer. They embraced for nearly two full minutes.
I timed it.
Finally, the theater doors opened and we cattle were all told to—big surprise—stand in yet another line.
I am convinced that as a human being I have spent two thirds of my life standing in lines. And when you die, it won’t be any better. You will stand in line and wait your turn to speak to Saint Peter.
As we waited to get our tickets scanned, I met a man originally from Zimbabwe who was attending the event with his wife. She just found out she’s pregnant with her first baby.
And I met a family from Virginia. The family just lost their father to pancreatic cancer. The newly single mother was taking her teenage sons and daughter to the symphony to help get their minds off the grief.
I also met a gaggle of Carmelite nuns. Their habits were chocolate brown, and they were all smiling and laughing in the cold. Their collective breath vapor rose in the night air like incense.
One nun spoke to me and said, “Oh, isn’t this a wonderful night?”
I nodded and smiled.
“It’s beautiful,” I said, since I didn’t know how else to respond.
And it struck me that her words weren’t just idle words. This older woman in the medieval headdress wasn’t making chit chat, she truly meant what she was saying. She was taken with the beauty of the starry night.
Would that I might be so awestruck with such simple things.
Later that evening, when the symphony played the “Hallelujah Chorus,” everyone in the auditorium spontaneously rose to their feet.
The nuns, the families, the lovers, the grieving, the elderly, and me.
The old man beside me was so moved by the experience that he started to cry and sniffle. He didn’t want anyone to see so he hid his face in his sleeve. That’s when his wife slipped her arms around his waist. And I heard her say, “Oh, John.”
They wept together. He kissed the old woman’s scalp, and his tears fell into her hair. I don’t know what he was crying about, but it made me start to cry a little, too.
I held my wife and thought about all the people I’d seen in one night. Ordinary people, like me.
Sometimes, I see love everywhere. I see it on sidewalks or at stoplights. I see it in people walking their dogs, in young couples in Walmart, and in the families camped outside the ICU.
I know love is not newsworthy stuff, or particularly noticeable in our world of sorrow and horror. But if you look around you’ll see it. It’s floating around you. Like humidity. Like vapor.
There are fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, and women in brown habits who work in love the same way an artist works in pastels or watercolor.
And even when you can’t feel this love, that doesn’t mean it’s not there. In fact, that’s when it’s most present; when you’re convinced it has evaded you. When you are scared. When you are filled with the kind of grief that knocks the wind out of your diaphragm. That’s when I believe love is nearest.
That’s when it’s important to remember the words of a humble construction worker on the sidewalk.
“Your daddy loves you. No matter how bad it gets.”