Monday, June 3, 2013

The Power of [un]Common Courtesy

     I had to go the library the other day because I had quite a few books due, and a few books that were on hold. Before I left I made sure I grabbed all the things I didn't need out any morethe Shakespeare plays I'd finished reading, the assorted Brahms CD's, the book I hadn't finished but was due back. It was quite a stack, I barely made it to the car without dropping anything.
     When I pulled up to the library I managed to get them all in my armsseven or more books and a stack of CD'sand clamber out of the car. It took both arms for me to carry all of it. When I got up the steps to the door, there was a little boy there, waiting for his mother who was coming out the door. He couldn't have been more than eight, but he looked at me and right away he grabbed the door and held it open for me as I went in.
     That little boy made my day. There are very few people who will notice a girl with her arms full of books and open the door for her, but someone taught that boy well and his sweet courtesy made my day a little brighter.

    I can't remember exactly the number of times that I've had strangers open doors for me, and I'm sure there are lots I don't remember, but those that I do are fairly few. There was a man once at a gas station who opened the door for me and said, "After you, miss," and I remember it because I was having a bad day and he made me smile and lifted my spirits.
     There is something powerful about gentle chivalry and common courtesy, about someone holding a door for you with a smile or offering to carry something for you because your arms are full. Those small acts are powerful because they communicate dignity.
     The man and the boy, they noticed me. They communicated to me that even though  they didn't know me, I had value enough for them to honor me in that way. They communicated dignity to themselves and to me by their actions.
     Courtesy with sincerity and love could be the difference of a good day or a bad day. It can be something as simple as asking someone how they are doing and wanting a real answer.
    I was at the drive-through at Starbucks one night and waiting for my order when the guy at the window took the time to say hello; ask me how my weekend was going. And when I answered, and then asked him in turn, he was glad to tell me that it was  a great weekend so far for him, too, and thanks for asking. I still remember that conversation, even though it was months ago, because his courtesy took me by surprise. He actually wanted to know how my weekend was going. Our conversation was out of the ordinary for a customer-cashier conversation.

     At the dawn of creation, God spoke, and there was light. And he spoke into being all living things except for man. Man he formed himself with his hands, from the dust of the earth; he shaped him and breathed into him life and spirit. He formed man and woman in his own image and gave them life and spirit and choice. He gave them dignity and respect, for they of all the creatures had the choice of honoring or dishonoring his name; of obeying or disobeying his command.
     C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, says that we have never met an ordinary person. Each person we meet possesses an eternal soul and thus has the potential to become a radiant and life-filled creature or a twisted and broken creature for all of eternity.
     We forget these things frequently. People to us are all too often simply a pair of hands and a face. We have difficulty remembering that they are the main character of their story in the same way we are in ours.
     The image of God has a hundred applications, but this one is simple.
Dignity.
Courtesy.
Respect.

May we see people as image-bearers before we see them as servers, cashiers, baristas, drivers, parents, children, workers. May we communicate dignity and respect with our actions. May we give them our smiles, hold doors for them, offer conversation to them, may we carry something for them when their arms are full, may we notice them when they are feeling unnoticed.

Let us today be people who carry the Image with grace, and honor that Image in others. Let us practice the power of uncommon courtesy.

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