Tuesday, July 25, 2006

a beach story


We took the day off Monday and went with our friends J. and M. to Harrison Lake (the lake with the sand castle competitions.) To have our picnic we found a small shady spot between two paths just big enough for the four of us (on the panorama it’s just beyond the bluff of trees on the right). M. unpacked her fancy cigarette-lighter-plug-in cooler with its pita breads, cold cuts, cheese, eggplant dip, salad, dressing and cold drinks, and we feasted.

We were passing around the second course -- yellow plums and pecan chip cookies -- and about to make tea when a man with a couple of little kids in tow plunked his blanket and some picnic things onto the tiny patch of shaded grass right beside us, at the same time flashing us a smile, as if to say, ‘I’m sure you won’t mind.’

While the kids buzzed around the things he’d left – he having gone for more we guessed – we discussed that surely he and his gang were only using our bit of grass as a staging place to collect their things before going on to find their own shady spot.

But no. It soon became obvious that this group was fully intending to share that shady spot with us, no matter that it would necessarily be cheek by jowl. And it soon also became perfectly obvious that they were not only a handful. More and more came to join them, their numbers swelling from four to maybe fifteen adults, teens and kids. Their spread-out blankets practically touched our chairs and they jabbered and laughed while the kids ran back and forth to and from the water. The original man connected his portable barbeque to a little propane tank and was soon roasting wieners, chicken and hamburger patties and the lot of them were milling around with buns and ketchup and mustard and mayo.

All the while the four of us sat there trying to carry on our conversation but hardly able to ignore the bustle right beside us and also hardly able to hide our scowls. How dare they just come in and invade ‘our’ tiny space like that!

As time wore on, the tension eased somewhat. I’m sure they sensed our disapproval as they glanced over from time to time. Once one of the Mamas asked us to keep an eye on their things and we said, yes, of course we would.

But this was not a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon. And though I, for one, was tempted to hang out there indefinitely to make the point that moving in on people was not the way to go about getting a picnic site, the need to do something on this beautiful day, plus the shrinking of our own bit of shade as the afternon wore on, soon had M. and me leaving to explore the shops. About twenty minutes later we bumped into the guys as we exited an antique shop. They too had tired of the scene and packed everything into the car. Of course the minute they’d left, the other party had moved in!

So what was that all about?

Rudeness on their part, and selfishness on ours?

Or perhaps it was a cultural clash. Because these people were of a different race, obvious by the color of their skin and the way some of them chattered in their mother tongue or in heavily accented English. Maybe they were simply accustomed to living in crowded conditions and weren’t even aware that we home-born Canadians like lots of room and don’t take kindly to our space being invaded.

Whatever it was, I couldn’t shake the thought, as the day wore on, that here we had also missed an opportunity. We could have been more welcoming, perhaps struck up a bit of a conversation, even just demonstrated by our body language and facial expressions hospitality, generosity, compassion and love. All four of us call ourselves Christians. We could have shown that we've been with Jesus.

There is a test question I sometimes ask myself when tempted to behave badly toward people. It is, 'What if I run into these people again, say in my neighborhood or in church? Will I regret anything I did or said?' I didn't think of that yesterday, until it was too late.

Perhaps if I’d really paid attention to this segment from Monday morning's reading in Streams in the Desert, I’d have done better:

“In the present day there are those who live intermittent Christian lives because they have become occupied with the outward, and center in circumstances in place of centering in God. God wants us more and more to see Him in everything, and to call nothing small...” C.H.P.

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