What A Pleasure to See You
It had been months, and I had wondered about him. When you go out early on the trail, you get to know by sight the regulars. He was easily recognized: hunched over from (one surmised) an injury or disease along life’s way, yet persistent and cheerful, generally looking up and waving at passers by.
It seemed his daily walk began somewhere near my apartment, so I started saying “Good morning, neighbor,” as we passed each other. After a few weeks of that, he replied in a voice that was resonant and deep. I didn’t quite get it. I stopped and he repeated: “The name’s Dale” [I’ve changed it for this blog post]. Again, “The name’s Dale.” We shook hands and I told him mine.
He was better at remembering than I. He’d see me, wave, say, “Good morning, Victor.” But after some embarrassing days, I finally remembered. “Good to see you, Dale.”
And then Covid came, and he was gone. I didn’t know his last name, didn’t know where he lived, didn’t know if he had moved away, or was ill, or for that matter even alive.
Then, last week, there he was. We stopped and I said, “Dale, what a pleasure to see you!” He asked how I had been and, when I inquired, told me he had had a bit of trouble—not specified, and I suspect it was more serious than he let on. But now: “I’m back.” He seemed to be standing straighter than I remembered. He lifted a hand to the sky, already light in those final minutes before sunrise. We agreed it was a beautiful new day.
Ordinary life is full of people like Dale, people whom we see regularly and enjoy light, friendly conversation with. We know a little bit about their lives, and they know a bit about us, but mostly we are just friendly. It is pleasant to see them. We do not exaggerate when we say “What a pleasure to see you!”
All this is true even though we are barely known to each other. These small connections are hints that God plants in our lives of the connections of which the kingdom of heaven is made. Oliver O’Donovan has a lovely line about this. When we are friendly with someone, what we are saying most deeply is: Although you and I are not actually friends in this world, if in God’s providence it should turn out that we became friends, that would not be a bad thing!
We are already beginning to come out from the Covid pandemic. Re-emergence will not be smooth: it may happen on a time-table that is faster than some approve of, or slower, and in any event it will not be an entry into a world that is safe. There will be disagreements about what risks are appropriate to take, and about who are the proper agents to decide about the taking on of risks. But let us not allow such disagreements to cheat us of the joy! The distance between us will collapse, our masks will come off, we will see each other face to face, and our hearts rightly will say, “What a pleasure to see you.”
I didn’t know if Dale was still alive. And then I saw him.
Mary Magdalene did not know Jesus was alive on that Easter morning. And then she saw him. I think what she and all the disciples said that day was: What a pleasure to see you!
Out & About (virtually and otherwise). This Sunday, March 14, at 6 p.m. at Incarnation in Dallas, I will give the spring theology lecture: “The Long Game of Friendship.” This will be both in-person and on-line; register at incarnation.org under “events.”
The following Sunday, March 21, I am to preach at the traditional services at Incarnation: 7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m., all in-person (no sign-up required); the 11:15 is also on F-book.
On the Web. I have an article in The Living Church on the two parts of forgiveness (compassion and absolution) and why Christian ethics does not require us to offer absolution unconditionally. https://livingchurch.org/2021/03/04/ethics-forgiveness-in-three-parts/