For generations, people-watching has been a common pastime, from a husband, who prefers to grab a Dr. Pepper, sit on mall bench and quietly enjoy the people-parade while his spouse shops, to our maternal grandfather who in his retirement years in the 1930’s and 40’s chose to sit on the courthouse steps to watch people coming and going. We grandchildren are pretty confident that Granddad carried his whittling knife and a piece of wood as well. He was always busy and interested in people.
In the 1950’s, when Jim and I were students at Chicago’s Moody Bible Institute, people-watching comprised our affordable Saturday night dates walking down Michigan avenue around fancy hotels. From a good vantage point on a motel bench we watched limousines and taxis picking up and dropping off tuxedoed men and beautifully gowned ladies. Some Saturdays we’d walk further to take advantage of the free balcony seats at the Boston Pops where mesmerized, we’d watch and listen to the awe-inspiring orchestral classical music.
Beach lovers are attracted by the ocean but many especially enjoy watching swimmers, waders, surfers, children digging in the sand, the gaily--suited promenading around the beach, fishermen waiting patiently, and bikers/walkers crowding the boardwalk. With joy, I remember those days.
Years ago, when frequently at airports, we enjoyed watching travelers being greeted by those who had been waiting or those bidding goodbye before boarding. When I travelled alone to speaking engagements I carefully people-watched to connect with the unknown person picking me up.
After Jim and I retired, one Monday we arrived at the mall before stores opened to discover that groups of senior citizens, after an air-conditioned walk, assembled around tables in the food court to visit, watch people and have lunch. We saw several of our retired friends who invited us to join them, and we thought we might some time, but we never did. People watching is not only a popular pastime but occasionally opens doors for unexpected purpose and spontaneous ministry.
This People Watchers topic popped up as Mac and Eileen and I were chatting on the phone about Jim and symptoms afflicting him before we knew the root cause. I shared how I first noticed a difference in his gait and tendency to catch his foot on a chair leg. “I began to watch him closely”, I said. “At church, during his last couple of weeks, he continued to give the announcements, prayer requests, the opening prayer and assisting our Interim with communion. Jim was standing by the communion table waiting for the ushers to return with the plates when I noticed that he appeared a bit unsteady on his feet from where I sat on the 2nd row. Being afraid that he might topple over, I quietly made my way to his side, took his left hand and whispered “please come take communion with me.” He willingly accepted my suggestion and sat down without question or resistance. Unbeknown to us, that would be his last service. “That would be a good blog”, Mac said. “You could call it people watching”, Eileen added.
Mac mentioned how Eileen’s loss of sight has not gone unnoticed by their church family. Prior to her loss of sight, Eileen was very active, singing in the choir, serving on the Deacon board, etc. “If Eileen ever missed singing in the choir, I would hear about it.” Mac said. “People just enjoyed noticing Eileen. Rather than the people getting used to her not being present and forgetting about Eileen because they do not see her anymore, they enjoy hearing about Eileen when I mention her in offering devotionals. And when they greet me, they always ask about her. In fact, it seems that she is more popular now than before. Actually, the congregation has put Eileen on a sort-of- pedestal”. “All of this is very encouraging to me”, Eileen chimed in sweetly.
“People watching reminds me of the people who watched Shirley and Allan”, I said. They agreed that their story would be good to include. (I’ll finish our phone call after I share Shirley and Allan’s story).
Before I tell the story, I want to give a little background about our sister, Shirley, and Allan. They both had raised large families and been married for nearly 50 years, but lost their mates to cancer after being caregivers. When Ralph was receiving treatments, they realized how much they needed information and encouragement, so they began Cancer Connection support groups which focused on not only helping cancer victims cope but offered an encouragement group for mates after battles were lost. After Ralph died, Shirley was so committed to continuing Cancer Connections that she continued the group for several years with assistance from church friends. One afternoon the spouse of one of the cancer patients who Shirley had encouraged for months before her death, wanted to sign up for the encouragement group. That’s how and when they met. This story was written by Allan’s niece.
I love the stories about Allan and Shirley. It’s impossible not to grin when you think about how smitten they were with each other and how that feeling continued to grow over their years together. One of my favorites was a time I went to visit and there were flowers on the kitchen counter. I asked Uncle Allan if he’d bought them for Shirley and she told me that no, the staff of a local business gave them to them.
Allan and Shirley walked every morning to get their exercise, holding hands and talking along the way. Apparently, the staff would stop what they were doing at 10:30 every morning, gather to look out the window and watch Allan and Shirley walk together across the little bridge. They said it brought them so much joy to witness their obvious love and affection for each other that they wanted to meet them, give them flowers and thank them for making them smile every day. How beautiful is that? P.
Before our phone call ended, I said,” Oh, I just thought of another example. “Before the communion incident, after the close of Adult Sunday school, I followed Jim into the men’s rest room and a lady friend instinctively knew something was awry when I exited without him, evidently looking a bit distressed. She asked if I needed help. I answered, “Whatever Jim has, it’s causing incontinence. I used the extra that I brought”. She opened her purse and gave me her backup supplies. Had she not been watching us closely; I don’t know what I would have done.”
“You need to share that, too,” Mac urged. “That would encourage a lot of people who are going through the same thing. Or at least prepare them for what they can expect.” So, after much contemplation, I decided to follow Mac’s suggestion.
I am grateful for the medical staff that expertly watched out for Jim. The head nurse and her brain-tumor crew knowing how important it was for Jim to get home for his last few days to be cared for his family and Hospice expended unbelievable effort to secure a transport to deliver him to his home on the very day that we were informed that we could not come back to visit him.
The ministry of helpfulness is pertinent, relatively simple and open for anyone who is not only willing to be people watchers but also to lend assistance.
Just like the Lord watches over us, his children, he wants us to do likewise for others.
He…will watch over his flock like a shepherd. Jer. 31:10 (NIV). For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous. Ps. 1:6 (NIV). 3. He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber... 5. The Lord watches over you-the Lord is your shade at your right hand… 8. The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. Ps. 121:3,5,8 (NIV).