What comes from pouring coffee for a stranger
The Column: 04.01.22
It is Lent, when we contemplate God’s great goodness to us and our own unworthiness. The Republicans contemplate the unworthiness of the Democrats, and we contemplate theirs. I have plenty of my own unworthiness to consider but when my wife puts her arms around me I think I must not be all bad. The other day she looked at me and said, “Your hair is trying to do something it really shouldn’t try to do” and that’s about as harsh as she gets.
I had a penitential meal at a motel last week, a complimentary breakfast of synthetic scrambled egg and pseudo-sausage with factory pastries wrapped individually in plastic next to the plastic forks and knives. Breakfast in prison is surely an improvement, especially on death row. I glopped some on a paper plate and imagined a little café where the food is meaningful and a waitress would ask where I’m from, but oh well. As my mother would say, if a lousy breakfast is the most you have to complain about, consider yourself fortunate. And I do.
The night before the breakfast, I did a show for a crowd that wanted to laugh hard and I didn’t get in their way and the next day I flew home to my wife whom I still find fascinating and the descent was like a wild ride on a rocky road and in and out of a couple ditches and when I got home and put my arms around her, I felt uplifted and redeemed. A rough landing will do that for you. A person should experience more of them.
At that dreadful breakfast, I met a man who came up as I was pouring myself a cup of coffee so I poured him one. He was a soybean farmer who also raised sheep and we talked about that for a minute. Parenting is brief, he said, the lambs are weaned at two months and the rams have no parenting responsibility whatsoever, it’s just hit and run, and by thirteen months, the ewes are ready for breeding. He said that soybean farming is looking somewhat hopeful although a couple years ago he lost his whole crop to a hailstorm and almost had to sell the farm.
“So what is the fun in farming?” I said.
“Being outdoors on a beautiful day,” he said. “Knowing other people are shut up in offices and you’re on a tractor and it’s 75 and sunny and you can smell the vegetation and hear the sheep talking.”
“In other words, just being alive,” I said.
“That’s exactly right.”
It was worth the penitential breakfast to get that word from a stranger. I don’t know what his politics are, we didn’t get into that, but this simple conversation brightened my whole day, and it all came from my offering to pour his coffee. Wow. I’d done my job the night before and entertained people and relieved them from the March doldrums by telling jokes but I didn’t get to know any of them except for a lady named Dorothy who came up afterward and said, “You need a haircut.” She, it turned out, is 94 and has all her marbles and some arthritis in her knees but that doesn’t keep her from telling the truth.
Speaking of jokes, there is a wonderful joke in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 24, and it’s so good that John repeats it in his. Jesus was welcomed to Jerusalem as a hero and days later he was crucified and three days later his disheartened followers went to his tomb and found it empty, evidently the grave had been robbed, and they were devastated. Two followers were on the road to Emmaus and talking about the crucifixion and were joined by Jesus who disguised himself and said, “What are you talking about?” They told him. “What crucifixion? Who was it? Anybody I know?” he said.
We should celebrate this joke on Easter morning. Someone walks up the aisle before Communion and says, “What’s everybody all dressed up for? Who brought the flowers? Am I interrupting anything?”
I’ll be there. The church packed with people, many of them in colorful outfits and me in my brown suit, and Brother John, our organist, will include hymns that everyone knows and the room is full of singing and the man in the brown suit weeps, the performer gets to be in the crowd, it’s beautiful. The soybean farmer turns off the tractor and smells the life around him and hears the sheep and is grateful.
More and more events everyday! We hope to see you at one of the following.
April 9 Virginia Street Swedenborgian Church, St. Paul, MN Book reading/signing
April 21 Greenwich Odeum, Greenwich, RI Solo
April 23 Bay Street Theater, Sag Harbor, NY Solo
May 2 Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morrison, CO APHC Reunion
May 4 UW Stevens Point, Stevens Point, WI Solo
May 6 Eagles Theatre, Wabash, IN Solo
May 14 Lincoln City Amphitheater, Lincoln City, IN Solo
May 16 Brown County Playhouse, Nashville, IN With Prudence J/Dan C
May 24 Broward Center, Fort Lauderdale, FL With Prudence J/Dan C
June 8 Tower Theatre, Bend, OR With Robin and Linda W
June 10 Bankhead Theater, Livermore, CA With Robin and Linda W
July 27 Midland Theatre, Newark, OH With Prudence J/Dan C
July 28 The Kent Stage, Kent, OH With Prudence J/Dan C
Oct 9 Paramount Hudson Valley, Peekskill, NY Solo
Oct 13 Virginia Theatre, Champaign, IL With Prudence J/Dan C