I had a dream last night that encapsulated a few little moments that shaped my life. Awkward, embarrassing moments and disconcerting ones. Here are a few examples of some true stories from my past:
A Moment of Extreme Hypocrisy
After becoming a believer during my sixth grade year and spending a Summer with my uncle learning about my newfound faith, I came back to school my 7th grade year ready to share my faith with my friends. Overall, I did a decent job of embracing my new lifestyle and I, generally, had more hope and joy in my life than I did previously. But I was still a punk kid. Without any cash.
After spending a number of minutes sharing the Gospel with my classmates at the lunch table, I was extremely thirsty. Not having any money and being too proud to admit it, I walked through the lunch line, grabbed a chocolate milk, and walked right out toward the table I was sitting at. I was busted. A male teacher in a loud voice called after me: “You had better be paying for that!” I quickly feigned a lack of a quarter and every intent to borrow one. After a friend coughed up the requisite coin, I walked back and paid for my milk before making the walk of shame back to my table. I have no idea how I avoided a trip to the office. I have never stolen anything since. I have also struggled to share my faith openly due in part to that moment. It took maybe a minute for the entire scene to play out, but the humiliation, hypocrisy, and potential impact on my friends has stuck with me like a sore that refuses to heal.
A Moment of Helplessness
Another day at lunch during my seventh grade year, I noticed a kid sitting by himself. I can’t remember his name and I’m not sure I spoke with him before this day or since. He sat with his back to the door of the cafeteria at the end of a table eating one of the free peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that were handed out to kids who forgot their lunch or couldn’t afford one. I’d eaten them a few times. Always embarrassing to be seen with the dreaded PB&J. This boy looked sadder than I’d ever seen in a kid. For some reason I felt moved to sit across from him. No one joined us and it was quiet for a long time. I finally asked him how he was doing. He began to cry as he told me that he couldn’t get his parents to pony up for lunches and that his clothes and shoes shouldn’t be as worn out and filled with holes as his were before he got new ones. He vented. I listened. I remember saying I’m sorry and that he shouldn’t let it make him feel less because his parents wouldn’t or couldn’t fix it. It was then quiet once again as we ate and sat in silence. He was helpless to change his circumstances and I felt helpless in my desire to alleviate his frustration and embarrassment.
I remember bawling that night as my heart broke for this kid. My mother and I didn’t have any extra. We lived in a mobile home and any extra went either to my mother’s vices or to our seemingly never ending supply of ice cream in the freezer. I was never irritated with the ice cream. But I was never starving. Between my mother and extended family, I always had clothes to wear that were functional. And I was never overly cold waiting at the bus stop.
It was 15 minutes with this boy I hardly knew but I made a pact with myself to never ignore others’ pain. I may not be able to do anything about it but I sure wasn’t going to pretend it wasn’t there. I have tried hard since to notice and feel. I try to weep with those who weep and laugh with those who laugh.
A Moment of Embarrassment
I didn’t grow up with a tremendous amount of pressure to excel at manners or the finer points of etiquette. It wasn’t a big focus in our family. I spent most of my childhood in a trailer park, moved in with my aunt and uncle my freshman year in high school, and realized I didn’t really know how to use a napkin or function with a proper place setting in front of me at meal time. I was learning fast but I had a lot of catching up to do.
This leads me to my first “real” girlfriend. She was way out of my league but, for some strange reason, decided to slum it with a low-rent boyfriend for a while. She lived in a beautiful home in a very nice neighborhood. Don’t get me wrong: I was grateful. Loved every second spent around her…except for about three of them. Three really embarrassing seconds. One day I made a comment about the lotion she was putting on her hands smelling good and she said she had too much. The next three seconds were spent watching her awkwardly and nervously without a word reach over and apply her extra hand lotion to my elbows. What do you say when you realize that your elbows were dreadfully dry and white and that your girlfriend has obviously been very aware and (even through this awkward moment) unwilling to say anything about it.
I know what you’re thinking: “She put lotion on your dry elbows? Big deal!” I know. It’s not. But being extremely self-conscious of my lack of class already and having a classy, out-of-my-league girlfriend do something that (in my mind) highlighted it to the nth degree was almost more than I could bear in the moment. I still wonder if I kept a straight face well enough to smooth over the moment. I’m confident she probably hasn’t thought about that moment since and probably didn’t know the inner-turmoil those few seconds created within me. Since then (other than religiously putting lotion on my face, hands, and elbows during the dry Fall and Winter months) I have determined to not only groom myself better but I have made huge strides in my comfort level around all levels of society. I feel just as comfortable at a fancy banquet table as I do my mother’s couch using my lap as a table. My wife didn’t have to be [too terribly] embarrassed by my lack of class due to my frequent moments feeling like white trash as a kid.
These three examples are small things. EVERYONE has stories like this. Everyone can remember being embarrassed or being frightened or feeling joy so indescribable your heart almost explodes reminiscing on it. How often do we take the time to contemplate how these moments have shaped us for better or for worse? How often do we thank God for the little moments that have made a big difference in who we are? Have we marveled at the irony of the power of little moments in comparison to the “big” events that so often just come and go?
I cherish these little, horrible moments. I thank that teacher for calling me out on my willingness to steal. I’m grateful to that boy for opening up to me about his grief and despair. I’m thankful for that girlfriend awkwardly trying to be helpful. I owe each of you…