The line is surprisingly short at Starbucks here at the lower-level E gates in the Salt Lake City airport.
Surprising, I think, because the concourse is bustling this morning. And my flight from Eugene had no coffee service, no hot water. Plus, this is Starbucks, synonymous with long lines.
So I queue up with my thermos at the ready.
Annoyingly—at least to me—the person ahead of me is not stepping forward toward the counter. She is talking on her phone. Clearly she is not paying attention. This drives me nuts. She may be all of thirty, and I glean from her conversation that she is a realtor.
She sounds pretty sharp, and pretty confident. She looks, to me, like she is on top of her game. From the drift of her conversation I sense that she is closing a deal.
The gap widens between her and the man ahead of her, who is stepping up now to the counter to place his order.
Some animated dialogue ensues between the man and the barista taking his order. Animated, I say, because the man, bent with age, is struggling to express himself in English. His well-worn backpack weighs down his diminutive frame. I imagine he has just flown in from China.
The young realtor is wrapping up her phone call. I aimlessly shift from one foot to the other. The man who struggles with his English feverishly rummages through his backpack to find his wallet. “It is in here somewhere,” I imagine him thinking. I imagine him starting to sweat.
He glances apologetically at the young realtor and me.
At last he pulls out a dollar, and holds it triumphantly aloft toward the barista.
“This is only one dollar,” the barista explains, distinctly and rather loudly.
The man immediately appears confused. And now embarrassed. He looks uncomfortably toward us again, his eyes communicating his apology.
Without skipping a beat, without batting a well-mascaraed eyelash, the young realtor reaches into her purse and pulls out what I presume is a twenty-dollar bill.
She’s totally on it. She overrides the man’s embarrassment, his moment of inadequacy, and simply makes the problem go away.
While the man peers deep into his backpack in search of more cash for his coffee order, the young realtor waves her twenty into the hand of the barista.
“We’ve got it covered,” the young realtor says.
The man continues to rummage, and now appears distressed.
“We’ve got it covered,” the barista says to him, now holding the wad of change from the twenty in her hand. “Someone has covered it for you.”
I choke up at the sight of it all.
“Someone has covered it for you,” I hear. But what I understand is: The Lord has covered you.
The Lord has covered your shortcoming, your inadequacy, your shame. He has covered you and made you whole.
What causes me to choke up? Is it the unbidden kindness of strangers? Yet kindness, I want to believe, defines the core of our humanity.
What causes me to choke up is this smallness in my heart, the judgments I so cheaply make. Realizing that this young woman in line ahead of me, who is talking on her phone, who is not moving up in the line the way I think she should, this young woman who is smart and on top of her game, this woman becomes the ready channel through whom the Lord bestows mercy on a man who is not at home and who feels embarrassed in his effort to simply pay for a cup of coffee.
“Justice,” I read recently, “is what love looks like in the public places.”
Yes. And mercy?
Mercy, I venture, is what love looks like in the hidden places.
Today I stand in witness to someone else, someone whom I have judged, being a channel of hidden grace.
Mary Sharon Moore writes and speaks nationwide on the nature of God’s calling.