It's fun to think about table conversations. All the ones you've had. Good ones. Hard ones. Lost and found ones. It’s interesting to think about all they represent. Interesting to think about all that tables symbolize. Thinking back, I've sat around lots of tables in this past week. Different places. Different faces. Different stories. Different learnings.
In this past week I’ve broken bread with friends at work and friends outside of work; with friends (long-time and newly met) at the Women’s Retreat from church; with Brogan’s god-mother, Dorri in Asheville; with the dads of our sons, and with the youngest (still too-tall) son, Sam. I've shared stories that made me laugh so hard that I cried and stories that just made me cry.
Of those conversations, it was the lunch time that I spent in the Egleston cafeteria with Bob that haunts me a little bit. Tuesday afternoon, I was eating by myself (catching a little bit of the Yankee-Red Sox game on ESPN) at a four-top when a gentleman asked if he could join me. He introduced himself as Bob. He said that he was newly diagnosed with cancer. He said he had just had his first procedure of many across the street at Emory’s Winship and he `wanted to check out all the cafeterias. His home was India but he lives in the United States. He explained to me his theology about life’s difficulties being pay backs from past lives. I listened for a time. When I looked over his shoulder to see if the Red Sox were still losing (they were), he got angry and told me I was being rude. I struggled with giving him my full attention. I struggled not saying something rude and blaming it on the Red Sox. Part of this felt intrusive and equal part, from the book of Hebrews, “meeting angels unawares.” I debated politely exiting, decided to stay and then did my best to re-engage.
Bob talked a lot. Throughout the conversation, he told me I was wrong a lot. He over and over explained what was wrong with the world. I was mindful of not wanting to objectify him (older gentleman, new diagnosis, here by himself). And then I wondered why it mattered what I thought about that. He and I were having a conversation about God and love and life. His glass was definitely half-empty, and I was trying to decipher if mine was half-full. We talked and I tried not to argue. He talked mostly and I was aware of disagreeing and wondering. A lot. Wondering about him. Were we being filmed for Candid Camera? Did he do this every meal? Was he Gandhi reincarnated? So many questions…
Out of the blue, Bob asked if there was any water in the hospital that you didn’t have to pay for. We got up and I showed him where to get water in the cafeteria. He continued to talk to me about the life-stages of 1) being awake, 2) being asleep, 3) dreaming and “then there’s a fourth state.” I listened. After a time, I told him I was going back to work. We stood and walked out of the cafeteria together. I watched him walk away and wondered if he was going to disappear like George Burns at the end of “Oh God.” He didn’t disappear. He looked both ways and then crossed the street.
The gospels are full of Jesus’ table conversations. Friends and adversaries. Named and unnamed. Teachers and followers. Stories, timeless and ever-teaching, continue to companion us as we journey through this wilderness. I wonder what Jesus did with the conversations that lingered inside?