We hurried into the theater after picking up tickets at the will call window. As we made our way to the ticket taker, a line of men looking more like they were reporting for a work detail than a Sunday afternoon performance snaked in and around to the concession stand. They were out of place in the midst of theater goers dressed in their festive holiday attire.
We took our seats with a few minutes to spare, but not enough time to get popcorn and drinks. Just a minute or two before curtain, the line of men from the lobby, escorted by an usher, stopped at our row. We stood to give way to the men, and the last of them sat in the seat directly to my left, popcorn box and water bottle in hand. They reeked of cigarette smoke, but were clean and neatly dressed. I assumed they were guests of a local ministry to the homeless. Honestly, I was feeling a bit out of sorts about the whole thing, but determined to try to enjoy the performance
As the show began, there was hushed chatter between some of the men, as well as rustling of popcorn boxes. I wondered if they had any clue about theater etiquette. What are the chances – when I bought our seats these were the only two without an obstructed view. Just my luck!
As the lights came up for intermission, I heard a woman directly behind me speak to the gentleman on my left. She asked him to remove his hat, saying that her view was obstructed, then making the same request of the gentlemen to his left. Her tone registered negatively with me – it seemed more of a demand than a request. The men quickly and even humbly complied, even though their hats were stocking caps that didn’t add height to their profiles.
Then men stepped out of the row, presumably to go outside the theater to smoke. My date left for snacks and I was in a position to overhear the conversation that took place behind me. “She deserves to see the show, after all. He must be eight feet tall.” The words were spoken with obvious disdain; as if he had no right to be there. A catch in my spirit reminded me that the words were similar to the thoughts I’d had earlier.
Everyone returned to their seats and the second act began. The production of Miracle on 34th Street continued and finished strong. The crowded theater was filled with applause; when the actor who played Santa took his bow, I heard one of the men to my left say “We’ve got to stand for this!”. People popped up around the theater in standing ovation and then one of the actors called for quiet.
She asked everyone to take a seat in order to recognize a group in the audience. “Please help me welcome our special guests from Veterans Outreach. Gentlemen, please stand and be recognized.
The entire row to my left stood, timid at first, but then tall and proud. Even as I write these words, my heart is wrung right up in my chest with the thought of it. These men, now struggling to find a life, served our country in defense of Sunday afternoons at the theater, where friends and family gather in freedom to celebrate Christmas.
I can’t say that a scripture passage flooded my memory; it was more like God quietly whispered. “I’ve called you to kindness. When you walk with me that will be your default.”
As we walked out into the afternoon, I realized that the seats were ordained. God loves me enough to patiently arrange lessons that will lead me to truth. Kris Kringle wasn’t the only one teaching on kindness in that theater.
“Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it.” ~ Hebrews 13:2 HCSB