I sat in the hotel lobby area sipping on my morning coffee, watching the beautiful, golden, early morning light pour in through the glass doors just a half dozen yards in front of me when I noticed him slowly shuffling into the lobby with his walker in the lead. The white hair left on his head trimmed short, once tall, he was now slightly hunched over, the crease from his oxygen line permanently imprinting his face during his sleep, he moved slowly forward. Carefully, he grabbed a complimentary newspaper from the front desk, and setting it on the seat of his walker, for what I assumed was easy transport, he began heading over to sit at the table in front of me. Sitting carefully down, he opened the newspaper and began to read it.
Newspaper. “Huh, those still exist?” I thought to myself as I tried to focus on my plans for the day. It was my vacation and the possibilities were endless. It was all going to be about me for the first time in a very long time. So, God, what should I do today?
My eyes focused on the man in front of me again and the thought pressed in, why don’t you offer to serve him?
“Seriously?” I mouthed silently. Slowly, carefully, not unlike the older man in front of me, I got up and walked over to him.
“May I get you a cup of coffee?” I asked.
Looking up at me, a small smile on his face, he said, “Oh, I don’t drink coffee anymore. I gave it up when my wife got sick 6 years ago and couldn’t drink it anymore. Don’t get me wrong though, I like the taste of the stuff.”
His smile, big and warm, and inviting.
“Oh, wow. I wish I could give it up, but this mama needs caffeine. Can I do anything else for you?” I asked, trying to avoid thinking about how awkward I felt.
While looking down absently at the paper, smoothing it unconsciously with his hand, he softly replied, “Oh, you are sweet. No, I am good. My daughter will be here soon to have a cup of tea with me. You see, today is my birthday, I am 84… (deep breath and sigh) Yeah, my wife and I used to come here together you know, before she died in November. We were married for 65 years. Now when I come some things bug me a bit.”
As his eyes grew misty, so did mine.
“65 years? That is incredible. I am so sorry to hear of her passing.” (I briefly pause, quickly searching for some words that might be ok in this moment…) ”That is wonderful that your daughter is coming! Are you going to celebrate?”
Still lost in thought as he looked passed me, my question seemed to awaken him again to the present as he responded, “Oh, yes. Have you met the bartender that is here in the evenings? Well, she is baking me a cake for my birthday today! Yes, do you like cake? She is making me my favorite–carrot cake with cream cheese frosting! You need to come back today at 5 o’clock and have a piece of cake with us!”
I promised I would while wondering if this bartender was really going to bake this guy a cake. What sort of bartender does that anyway?
That evening I was there at 5, waiting and watching, unable to shake this conversation from the forefront of my thoughts. The bartender appeared, a 60ish lady with a warm smile and short curly hair that was covered with a sparkly green St. Patty’s Day hat. As she poured my drink I couldn’t stop myself from asking, “Are you REALLY giving a cake to one of the patrons today for his birthday?”
With a chuckle she looked at me and said, “Oh! You mean Sam. Yeah, great guy! He loves carrot cake with cream cheese icing so I baked one up for him last night. Today is his birthday!” My shoulders sagged as I realized she even knew his name and it hadn’t even crossed my mind to ask.
I had no words, so I sat and sipped on my beverage and waited. A few minutes later here came Sam rounding the corner into the lobby area and heading straight to the bar. I didn’t hear their words, but I watched. After greeting him and pouring him a drink she left to head into the kitchen area. A few moments later she came out with a humble, but delicious looking carrot cake covered with a liberal amount of cream cheese frosting. As she set it before him with a huge smile on her face I watched as his face lit up too.
I was watching a scene I knew Heaven was applauding.
Humbled, I walked over and asked if I could take a photo for them to remember the moment, and carefully he handed me his cell phone.
Later, the next day, as she hurriedly passed through the area trying to attend to her duties, I put out my hand to stop her. “Thank you for the lesson yesterday on what love looks like.” And with a knowing smile she looked right into my eyes and remarked, “You are very welcome.”
It was the best sermon I have seen in a long time.