By Ted Furlow
I rolled up to 74 this October, and while it’s not a landmark year like 75 or 80, it is a moment to stop and think. When I was a young boy, I recall that my mother and sister used to talk about the wonderful, chatty sharings in women’s powder rooms. I thought that sounded interesting, but the resident family alpha male, my father, had a different take on the topic.
So, for most of my life, when I went to the restroom I followed his masculine protocol of not looking around or talking. The obvious rule was to stare straight ahead and keep your comments to yourself – stay in your lane. My father was a rules kind of guy, and there were rules for everything, including the restroom.
Recently at a lunch, I had an occasion to use the men’s room. As I have grown older, quite contrary to my father’s dictums, I have begun to appreciate restroom conversations between men of a similar age. Men can say the darnedest things at these times, not bathroom doggerel, or crude jokes, but tidbits of wisdom and revelation that come with age, well sprinkled with laughter. On this occasion I met John, a sixty something, casually well-dressed man of African descent. John had a wonderful sense of humor, and we spent five minutes talking and laughing about sports, the world, and the vagaries of no longer being young. As I left the restaurant, I stopped at John’s table to shake his hand and thank him for our short moment of restroom repartee. John was a veritable youngster for us septuagenarians, but his grip on life and his insightful humor left me with a smile on my face.
There were many times when I thought I would never make it this far; I had lived an interesting younger life that was not marked with common sense and have on multiple occasions come close to the end game. I’m grateful but unsure how I survived this long. Does God just have a wonderful sense of humor, or does He just enjoy laughing at my feeble antics of living? While the “how” of my survival has always been in question, the “why” has become much clearer to me in recent years. God has plans for me, and I think that one of them is talking to people like John.
Moments of spontaneous interaction with others, touches and acknowledges their humanity. Our Hindu brothers and sisters, when greeting one another, will hold their hands together at the palms with fingers up and say “Namaste,” acknowledging the divine in the other person. What a wonderful practice! I know it’s simplistic but consider the errors of “stay in your lane,” “life is about me,” and “others just share my space.” To believe that it is our world, and that others are just visitors, is not only poor Christianity, but the antithesis of what we hold dear as Catholics. We are called by faith to seek the divine.
Personal interaction is a work of mercy, it is sacramental, and it is a calling by Jesus in a grace filled moment to reach beyond our grasp and touch the inner spirit of another. Consider how Jesus talked to everyone, the widow, the leper, the woman at the well, the rich man on the road. The list is impressive as Jesus teaches us a lesson about community, to seek the divine by engaging the poor, the disenfranchised, the outcasts, the ill and the common. We can do no less.
Reach out and touch someone today.
Ted Furlow is a retired former Director of Pastoral Planning for the Diocese of San Bernardino and continues in marriage preparation ministry in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.