Mondays are a little bit crazy for me. The usual Monday consists of teaching all day, followed by a staff meeting after school. Then, after a quick supper at some fast-food restaurant where you select a number rather than an actual food item, I head off to play Dartball until 9:00 pm. I then head home in time to watch the nightly news before I collapse into a coma.
Last Monday, when I arrived at school, I was greeted with a pleasant email from the administration that tonight’s meeting had been canceled. Now, I don’t know about you, but when I get news like that, I feel like I won the lottery! After sifting through the infinite possibilities that were now open to me, my options boiled down to two simple choices:
One, I could go home and share supper with my family. An image of doting children and spouse surrounding me at the table, hanging on my every word as I present the events of my day crossed my mind.
Two, I could go out to a nicer restaurant that has an actual menu without a kid’s meal and enjoy a meal while quietly delving into whatever current book I happen to be reading.
Now, I love my family, but the second choice had a stronger pull. The main reason is that Monday always has chicken nuggets and fries on the menu (when you have children with autism, your weekly menu tends to be both limited and set in stone). I also realized my Wife was out and about as well, stopping at some fast food place in between her meetings.
That being settled, I quickly devised a plan to eat at Boston Market, my go-to place when I want the convenience of a quickly prepared meal without plastic utensils and containers.
Upon ordering my meal, I retrieved my beverage and picked a table. There was no one in the dining room as I said grace, pulled up my book on my phone and began to enjoy my meal.
Very shortly after I started, another patron entered and sat down a couple of tables away. Within seconds of her setting down her phone rang. She answered and did the most mind-boggling action I had ever seen.
She put her call on speakerphone! She then began to eat and have a conversation (rather loudly) with a woman who I later learned to be her sister. In fact, I learned a lot about her family, much more than I was learning about Alexander Hamilton, who my book was about.
The woman was sitting with her side facing me, so although I tried to make contact, she couldn’t see my “evil eye”. I tried making some discreet dining noises, such as clinking my flatware on the plate a little too aggressively and “slurping” my beverage a little too loudly. She ignored me in the way I wish I could have returned.
Before I knew it, I was completely engrossed in her conversation. I learned that the sister had a little boy who was turning seven years old sometime this week. The family party was going to be on Saturday. The menu items were to be brought by the guests and the topic turned to what he wanted for gifts.
The woman in the restaurant was going shopping after supper (which didn’t seem to be anytime soon) and wanted to know what he wanted.
“He told me he wanted a robot,” the sister answered, “from a movie he saw. I think he said his name was HONEYBEE.”
Now, one thing I know from raising three boys in the ’90s and 2000s is my toys. My whole being wanted to shout out BUMBLEBEE, the yellow Camaro or VW Bug from the Transformers movie and television shows. But I didn’t.
There were lots of reasons not to speak up. First, any intrusion I would offer would be rude. I know her behavior was also rude but, as the saying goes, “two wrongs do not make a right but three rights make a left” Second, I just spent the majority of my day “policing” the cell phone use of my students. It is not my job to “teach” correct behavior outside my classroom, although society could use a refresher course in basic common sense.
The main reason I did not say anything is simply because it wouldn’t do any good. The woman was oblivious to her surroundings and any intrusion on my part would jolt her from her protected bubble and force a fight or flight response. She would probably turn the situation around on me, questioning why I was intruding in HER conversation. I would accomplish nothing, other than escalating the situation into something hostile and possibly dangerous. In the current culture, people are getting shot and killed in similar situations, such as minor traffic accidents and other differences of opinion.
I see oblivious people all the time, which reassures me when I do that I’m paying attention. You see them in parking lots, walking out into traffic without even acknowledging the very big vehicle barreling down at them. You see them walking through the aisles, phone in hand as they try to steer the cart with the other. You step out of their way when the are walking toward you, eyeballs glued to a screen. You see them in your rearview mirror as you’re driving, talking on the phone and eating a burger and paying attention to everything except the road. You run into them when they stop suddenly when everyone is heading out of an event.
I’m sure you have your own examples. There are simply some people who live in their own little worlds. They wait in their car outside the grocery store in front of the “NO PARKING” sign. They have a basketful of items in the “10 items or less express lane. They seem like they are applying for a mortgage in the bank drive up on Friday afternoon. Every example can be summed up with one medium size word – OBLIVIOUS.
This is not a new situation. Jesus had to deal with this general indifference as well.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus gets into a discussion with a lawyer. In Luke 10:25 – 29, the conversation is recorded for us.
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
Here was a man who was OBLIVIOUS of people around him. He wanted a list of the people he was responsible for and who he could simply ignore. God knows it is human nature to focus on those who matter to us, but his point is that EVERYONE matters.
Imagine what society could be like if everyone simply looked out for everyone else? How would your day change if consideration of others, including from you, was the norm and not the exception?
When teaching my students, I refer to this concept as “getting outside your head”. I ask them to wonder how they would react if they saw someone else display whatever behavior they are displaying. In the case of the woman at Boston Market, I wonder how she would react if I pulled out my phone and talked with my wife loudly on speakerphone. I have heard it said that behaviors that offend you the most are the same ones you personally have done to others.
I think this is summed up by one of the most quoted sayings from Jesus, from Matthew 7:12: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
This morning, I experienced something that gladdens my soul. While collecting the offering at church, I saw a little girl, likely three or four years old, sitting at the end of the pew. She was watching intently as the plate made its way toward her. She became aware of the fact that people were placing papers into the basket, then passed it on. As the basket came to her, she took it from her mother’s hand and deposited a blank sheet of paper she had in her hand. She then handed the basket to me and gave me a smile that melted my heart. That little one was aware of her surroundings and imitated the behavior of those around her.
Wouldn’t it be nice to see a little more of that?
Let’s Pray: Dear Jesus, please help me to be aware of my surroundings and my neighbors at all times. Let my actions be pleasing and harmless to those around me and let them always point to you. Amen.
If these words have impacted you or you know someone who is OBLIVIOUS, please feel free to share this post on your social media or email!