I was at the pub the other day and I met B.
It started as a mindless conversation. It finished on a much different note.
B – that’s his nickname – has had a long career as a mechanic with the Canadian Military. It’s clear to me that he has paid a heavy price for serving our country and democracy around the world. Never able to be in one place for very long – his service has been about keeping our fleet of aircraft safe for soldiers to keep others safe. In thirty-plus years, he has lived in every corner of the globe, mostly on bases in the middle of the hot spots.
He’s experienced a lot of vicarious trauma. You can see it in his eyes. They speak in the background of his smile.
His smile – that wasn’t an act of covering up so much as an act of hope.
His eyes – they weren’t full of sadness so much as full of a truth that spoke of a sadness they had seen.
He was big on that statement – “Speak truth”.
This is a gift that we can give to anyone. Our longtime friends, our families…. and yes…. even strangers. We are all connected after all. We just need to listen to figure out how.
The conversation turned from mindless stuff to something deeper when I asked a question.
“B. This idea that if you are sitting at the bar, it’s kinda understood that you are up for conversation. Is that, like, true around the world?”
“And the idea of ‘check your weapons at the door’, is that just as universal?”
“Yes. In every part of the world I have been, there are places where it’s understood that if you have differences to settle, you settle them outside. I was in a place in Russia once where there was a lock-box inside the pub where you needed to lock up your weapons.”
And then he shot out something that I was not expecting. A big burly guy with a beer in his hand… a soldier…
“I am a big believer in the arts. I love artists of all kinds. They are the best defense in the world. After that, it’s the diplomats. And if that still doesn’t work, then the bully needs to be told. And that’s never pretty. That’s why I love the arts. They’re trying to tell the bullies to stop and bring people together instead.”
Hmmmm …. that’s when I noticed his eyes. The ones behind the smile.
Listen … just listen…
The conversation continued… for a while actually… about his experiences … until it ended… like we arrived at a pause in a much bigger conversation… where you could a hear a greater, bigger, truth.
His eyes welled up, actually.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t expect to say all that. I guess you got more than you bargained for.”
“Hey. We’re at the bar of the pub. It’s part of the bargain.”
Listening is indeed not so much an art – but a gift.
Talking about nothing. That’s pretty easy. Listening. That’s pretty easy too. Talking about the deeper stuff – not so much. But it’s where the art happens.
So maybe life is really about doing something easy to help someone else do something that’s hard.
Thanks be to G_d.
Rev. Eric Lukacs