Tuesday, October 23, 2007

A New American Gothic

Kim and I caught a quick supper at Wendy's this evening. When it's just the two of us, as is the case most of the time these days, we normally sit across the table from each other and engage in near constant, and often animated, conversation.

Tonight, we both were facinated with an elderly couple seated across the restaurant. (Pardon the grainy cell phone photo. I tried to be surreptitious as I snapped it...I don't know how successful I was.) This couple had arrived before us. They were quietly involved with their meals when we sat down.

Their table, like ours, was a four-top, with seats available on both sides. As is our habit, we sat opposite each other. This couple chose to sit side by side. Per our habit, we talked throughout our meal. We observed not a single word pass between them. At no point did we see one look in the direction of the other. When they finished their meal, they carefully folded their sandwich wrappers and continued to sit quietly with each other. At irregular intervals, one or the other would take a sip from their drink. She used a straw. He didn't.

I can imagine each of them in their Sunday School classes each week...she in her ladies' class, he with the men. They're sitting in straight, ladderback chairs that creak occasionally, with cushions in the seat that could use fresh foam inside the faded, handmade covers. Each have adopted the exact same posture we see in this picture as they patiently listen to the teacher standing behind a slightly off-perpendicular lectern made in someone's home woodshop years and years ago. Neither class is as large as it was last year, two years ago, five years ago. So many of their friends...the ones he used to share a smoke with on the front porch of the church between Sunday School and church, that is before it became frowned upon and besides, the doctor made him quit...the ones she used to call once each morning and once each afternoon "just to catch up", that is if she could catch that chatty neighbor off of their party line...they're in the cemetery behind the church.

There's a place waiting for each of them in that same cemetery. It's a thought that each of them used to ignore because of busyness, because of energy, because of fear. Now, neither is as busy, neither has as much energy. But neither is there as much fear. Because after all of those years sitting with those friends, in their separate Sunday School classes, listening to the Sunday School teachers standing behind the slightly off-perpendicular, homemade lecterns, those lessons, especially the ones from Ecclesiastes, ring truer than ever.

To everything there is a season...a time to use a straw and a time to go without...a time to sit across from one another, and a time to sit side by side...a time to talk and a time to sit quietly...a time to be born and a time to die.


Alex said...

Charles, this is a fantastic post. Love the photo.

Preacher Mom said...

Great stuff!

Of course, I don't need a photo to imagine you and Kim in a lively, animated conversation!

Morris said...

Poignant and thought provoking. I've been wondering when you would break the silence on your blog.

I find it interesting that at the same time we are trying to engage Gen-Y, we are still charged with engaging this generation and the ones in between.

What a fascinating time for ministry.