Over head, I watch the edge of the clear, blue sky growing menacingly dark. A storm is approaching.
After several days of off-season camping in an almost deserted State Park, we choose to strike camp early, with an eye on the weather and an in-town appointment later in the day. Feeling the cold front coming in, causing the wind, my skin rises to meet the front’s chilly fingers in prickly protest to the abrupt change in ambient temperature. The dogs are milling restlessly about our legs as we begin the process of packing.
Diagonally across from our site, a lone, older man has moved in, with an aged, harvest-yellow camper. He, too, is working rapidly at his site while bent over a large, portable grill. With the number of pots he is tending, it would seem that he is preparing a feast. As I pack, I wonder whether or not his extended family is arriving later.
In campground culture, complete strangers often sit down to break bread together, creating impromptu “block” parties, while passing overly full plates of extra food along to neighboring campsites or passersby. This trait or component of camping is one of the things that restores my own feelings that all-is-right-with-the-world-and-God-is-in-the-heavens, even as other manners of people-laced craziness are present in the world.
As I pack, I think, “I do hope that man’s family enjoys his feast.” Even at this distance, I can feel the hole of loneliness in his heart. This hole desperately needs patching. Then, at some point near the close of our packing, I hear the man call over.
“Hey,” he shouts above a gust of hearty wind, “Do you all need something to eat before your hit the road?”
“Oh,” I call back in surprise. “I, um, well, we—” I fumble in response.
Unable to finish my mutterings, he breaks in, declaring, “I bet you are vege—, vege— …”
“Vegetarians,” I fill in the word for him.
“I knew it!” his words explode through the space between us. His exclamation is one of triumph. “I knew yous didn’t eat meat. Well, I’ve got a whole pot of baked beans cooking and green beans, too. The dogs could each have a pork chop to themselves, if you’d like.”
His invitation is sincere, generous and gracious–hopeful.
“I’m not sure that we have the time,” I call back through the whipping wind. The sky is foreboding, and I know what the high winds in this area can do with the trees, their branches and the two-lane roads.
The gust of Grace, extended to our site through the person of this solitary man retreats in despair. I feel so small for having further crushed this man’s fragile heart. We finish our packing in an empty silence, eventually pulling out to head down the road.
There are no broken branches on the two-lane highway on our way home, but a storm of disappointment brews within me. Then, a branch snaps off of the tree within my own heart—for time not spent in properly receiving another’s generous offer of human communion. I must remember that in the spiritual realm of the world there is time. Grace always grants us enough time–to be here for one another.