Yesterday on my break at the computer store, I walked over to Barnes and Noble to get a cup of coffee, which might be described as my regular routine. The line was about five deep when I got there, which didn’t bode well for my fifteen minute recess, but I decided to chance it since everyone in front of me looked like they were in line by themselves, save the mother and daughter at the front of the line. And they took a long time. I was far enough back that I couldn’t hear what they were doing, but I will own up to becoming a little impatient. They seemed to finish ordering and the woman at the cash register stepped away to take something out of the oven. The mother called out to her. “One moment,” said the server. “I don’t want to burn this sandwich.”
When she returned to the register, the mother and daughter handed her something and talked for a moment and then went their way. The serves seemed nonplussed. We all moved up in line. The woman who was next ordered, got her drink, and held out her credit card. The server said, “Oh — the people in front of you paid for you. There’s no charge.” The customer stood stunned for a moment and then began looking around, as we all did. Though we had all been looking at them while they took their time — or our time, I guess I should say — none of us could recognize them. The next person stepped up to the same good news. Evidently, the two had left a fair amount of money. When I got my coffee, the server said, “I’ve heard about this happening; it’s just never happened to me.”
I walked back to work thinking about the mother and daughter: how they had waited patiently to implement their plan, how they had walked away without waiting to be noticed, how they had built a memory, how they had been willing to let a little thing be enough.
One of the Bible stories etched indelibly in my mind is that of Esther. My father loved to tell the story because of the punchline when Mordecai compels Esther to stand up for her people:
“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (4:14)
Most any telling I have heard of that story swings on our being aware of our moment to be a world changer. I love the story and it has always left me feeling some pressure. If I am supposed to change the world, I’m behind schedule. There is, however, a creative tension in what Mordecai is saying. He starts by telling her deliverance is coming, then he points out the part she can play. Still some pressure, I suppose, and he’s also calling her to do what she can do. In her case, admittedly, the stakes were pretty high. Still, as I played the bookstore scene back in my mind, Esther wandered on to the set and I heard Mordecai’s words in a different light. Who knows that the mother and daughter are in this world for such a time as yesterday. We all would have gotten our coffees without them, and that was their moment to offer what they had, not in a cosmic sense but, somehow, in an eternal one. Who knows whether we have not come into this world for moments such as this?