There are times when you just know. Beyond a shadow of doubt, you know: This is why you are here.
This moment. This person.
The Lovely Lady had first crack at her today. The lady, like many others we see this time of year, is struggling with acquiring a musical instrument for her aspiring band member. No money. No knowledge of what constitutes a good instrument, nor how to tell if it is in good condition. No one she can trust to be honest with her.
She does have a clarinet in her hands as she enters the music store. She also has a discouraged look on her face. I never heard the full story of how she came by the clarinet, but I do know she wants us to make it play correctly for her sixth grader. She is not optimistic.
“I’m sure it needs a repad. Can you do that for me?”
The Lovely Lady opens the case and looks over the horn, expecting the worst. Since I am busy with another customer, I leave her to handle things by herself. It is obvious she is a little confused, and I expect a call for help momentarily. What I hear is her suggesting the lady is mistaken.
“Well, a repad is quite expensive, but I’m not sure that’s what you need. Let’s wait for the expert.” (She always says that, but it’s not really a good description of my abilities.)
As soon as I can break free, I head for the counter where the diminutive lady is waiting, still with an unhappy visage. I’m prepared to point out the problem areas and make an estimate for the nervous mom. Taking the individual pieces of the horn in my hand one after another, I look for something to point to. Nothing.
That can’t be right. This lady came in expecting big problems. Surely I can find something.
I look again. Testing the sealing ability of the pads, I find no sign of any leaks anywhere on the instrument. The corks are fine. A little dingy, but completely intact. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the clarinet.
I have a dilemma.
The lady came in expecting to leave the instrument with us for repair. She assumes there will be a sizable charge due when the repair is finished.
I’m in business to make a profit. How hard can this be?
“Oh yes, Ma’am. We really do need to replace quite a few pads here. And, the corks—they’ll need to be changed also. It won’t cost as much as a repad, but still, it will take a good bit to get this horn into shape for your daughter.”
So easy. She would never know. It’s what she expects anyway.
The decision is made without hesitation. It is who I am—who we are. Now.
“No Ma’am. The horn is in excellent condition. What? Oh no. No charge.”
You would hardly have recognized the woman who walked out that door as the same lady who had come in moments earlier. A smile shone across her face, the like of which hadn’t likely been seen there recently.
I felt good. I felt bad.
It was almost the same feeling I had a day or two ago, when a girl and her mom had come in to purchase a small item. The lady spoke no English. None at all. Her daughter translated every word for her as the transaction was made.
The two were still in the store when a regular customer of mine walked nearby shaking his head. His eyes shot daggers at the two, as he spoke the words to me.
“I hate that! Why don’t they learn our language?”
Do you know how easy it would have been for me to simply nod my head? Just a nod. No words would have been necessary.
But, this also is why I am here.
I explained to him my admiration for folks who leave their land in search of a better life for their families. Struggling to be at home in a strange place, they walk out of their door into a battleground every day. I will not participate in the hatred of another human being.
I say the words kindly to him, but he rolls his eyes in disgust as he walks out.
I may have lost a customer. I hope not, but I would do it again.
I felt bad. I felt good.
This is why I’m here. It’s why you’re where you are.
To do the right thing. Even when we’d rather do the easy thing.
To show a life that is different because of what God has done in us.
It is how He works in this world—how He has always worked.
I don’t necessarily want this to be why I’m here. Sometimes, I wonder why God won’t leave me alone to make a comfortable living like any other red-blooded American. If that means taking advantage of folks who have their wallets in their hands, so be it. If I have to walk on a few people to gain the approval of others, why not?
And then I remember a God who told His Chosen People that their scales were to be honest, their weights to be accurate, their measurements to be correct.
Thousands of years ago, He made it clear.
The world has one standard: Every man for himself. All is fair in love and war.
God has another standard, a standard which has never changed: Love your neighbor as yourself. Period.
The standard applies in our family life; it applies to our friendships; it applies in our churches. And, no less than any other place, it applies in the marketplace.
The marketplace is where who we really are is on display for all to see. It’s where our integrity comes out of the dark of night, and into the light of day.
It’s where our talk of following a Savior is proven, or else belied, by our walk.
Can I let you in on a secret? I have kept my mouth shut too many times. I have found myself letting folks spend more than they should on things they didn’t need.
I don’t write about the two interactions above to draw attention to my stellar accomplishments, but rather to draw attention to who we need to be—who we must be in our marketplace.
We all fail in our determination to walk in integrity—I, as often as anyone I know.
Grace is a wonderful thing; its beauty is in its resilience. Failures become victories. Timidity becomes boldness.
Selfishness becomes love.
The Teacher spent a good bit of His time in the marketplace.
Doing good. Showing love.
I simply argue that the cross be raised again at the centre of the market place as well as on the steeple of the Church.
I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles; but on a cross between two thieves; on a town garbage heap; at the crossroad of politics so cosmopolitan that they had to write His title in Hebrew and in Latin and in Greek… And at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse and soldiers gamble.
Because that is where He died, and that is what He died about. And that is where Christ’s men ought to be and what church people ought to be about.
(George Macleod ~ Scottish minister/theologian ~ 1895-1991)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.