What are you reading? | Why are you here?
He wasn’t exactly looking at the paper he was holding. He was really looking over it. I couldn’t help myself. We were in the lobby of a hotel in New York and I’d been watching him NOT read his paper for several minutes. I moved to the chair nearest the couch where he was sitting. And he averted his eyes my direction just long enough for me to have that window necessary to engage. “What are you reading?” I asked. And without hesitating, he answered, “People. I’m reading people.” I smiled.
“What are you learning as you’re reading people this morning?”
He smiled too and put the paper down.
He then told me the story of the family he’d watched leave who were clearly running late to catch an overseas flight. He couldn’t understand the language they were speaking but he understood perfectly well what was going on. “You don’t have to hear them to be able to understand. We’ve all been there, right? Running late, feeling out of control, desperate for time to slow down so we can catch up?”
I agreed but did not interrupt. I felt like I was just supposed to listen.
Then he told me another story of people he’d read that morning. A couple who were in a silent feud. “You could feel the heat and anger across the lobby. You could feel it when they stepped out of the elevator. You could feel it between them. Other people moved physically out of their path and the lobby got very quiet until they were out the door.”
Then, as if in summary, he added, “I’m reading people.”
And before he could raise his paper shield and shut me out I asked, “why?”
First, because they are endlessly fascinating and second because they want to be read. People want to be seen and heard and understood. They want to know they matter. In reading them I grant them their dignity. I acknowledge to God that the individuals He has made – that one and that one and that one – the one who thinks he’s really something and the one slipping in and out of the shadows along the edge of the room – the one being served and the one doing the serving – each of them matters. I do not know their names, where they’re going or why they’re here but I can read them in the moment we share in passing – thank God for them and pray for them.
“Really?” I asked, wide eyed.
“Yes. I read people as a part of praying for them.”
“What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I’m doing here what I’m doing wherever I am: I’m looking for ways to use the time God has given to His glory. I’m old and I can’t walk with my grandchildren as they explore the city. And no one thinks I can do the things I used to do for which I was once paid. But that doesn’t stop me from doing what I can right here and right now to honor God. So, I read people and I pray for them. That’s what I’m doing here.”
And then he asked, “So, what are you reading and what are you doing here?”