Friday, October 07, 2016

The Stranger I Knew

I met Hiep several years ago. Like me, he works out at Chancellor's Family Center. Hiep heard I go to Vietnam in the summers and that interested him as he is from that country. He gave me a standing invitation to go out to eat Vietnamese food so he can practice his English. I'm pretty busy but we have gone out for supper three or four times. There have been two missteps where the times and dates were mixed up due to language difficulties but we survived. Last night was actually supposed to have been two weeks ago but our wires were crossed. Hiep, who is seventy-six, was very apologetic. He's lived quite a life. Back in Vietnam, he was in the army as well as teaching school and working as a mechanic. He met his wife while driving a truck route for his dad. They moved to the US close to forty years ago where they've raised three highly successful daughters. Amazing what you can learn when you simply take the time to talk to someone.

Hiep decided yesterday that we would eat at a well-known Chinese buffet. It took almost a half hour to get there with the 6 PM going home from work traffic. We walked in and were greeted by a young hostess who took us to our table. As we sat down, she asked if I taught at Westbury Christian School. It was pretty obvious that I did, wearing a WCS t-shirt, but it was also obvious that she knew me. She told me she graduated from our school in 2014. I was embarrassed but I asked her name. It was Anh. I should have known but then again, there was no way I should have known. Last night, she was dressed in the uniform of a hostess and I had only known her in her school uniform. Plus, she was wearing glasses and her hair was pulled up, two looks I had never seen with her as a student. As I was filling my plate in the buffet line, I walked over to Anh's station and apologized for not recognizing her. She was so gracious and completely understood. We caught up a little bit and found out she was in her hometown of Saigon in June while I passed through there twice later in the summer. When the waitress brought the check, we found out Anh had arranged for a 20% reduction on my meal with a teacher's discount which I know made Hiep happy as he was paying. We waved goodbye as Hiep and I left the place. I hope our paths cross again- I won't make the same mistake twice.

I've been mistaken for other people before but rarely have I been mistaken for a stranger. Looks change with time but it's been less than three years since I've seen Anh. I'm sure if she was dressed back in her school uniform I would have had no trouble. But that may be the point. We don't stay put. We aren't the same in every situation. I'm sure Anh wants to have more depth to her than being a high school girl all her life. I'll never forget the line in the Waylon Jennings' song, Amanda:
I got my first guitar when I was fourteen,
Well I finally made forty, still wearing jeans.

You know, it's simply life to change as we get older: attitudes, interests, clothes, goals. We have to give people room to grow. A test question today for my eighth graders was this:
People would have thought John the Baptist was odd.
The correct answer, of course, is true. He lived in the wilderness and ate bugs while wearing camel hair and a belt made from leather. I tell my kids John would never get a preaching job today on appearance alone. But do you know what he did? With a sign from God, he recognized Jesus was the Christ and announced it to the world. Would John have evolved in his wardrobe if he had not angered Herod and his wife and died in his early thirties? Who knows? But even John's identity was a source of consternation to the religious leaders who questioned if he was the Messiah or Elijah or the Prophet. He denied it all and quoting Isaiah, simply claimed to be the voice crying out in the wilderness. He wasn't who some wanted him to be but he was who he was called to be. And Anh is simply Anh, even though it took some help for me to comprehend. We all want others to know who we are, even when we are dressed up for work. If she had been only wearing a name tag!

Applicable quote of the day:
Sometimes you have to get to know someone really well to realize you're really strangers. 
Mary Tyler Moore

God bless,
Luke 18:1
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