“Excuse me. Are you from Pittsburgh?” the woman spoke gently.
“Lenore is,” Charles replied.
“We heard you talking about Pittsburgh,” the woman said, gesturing to the radiant, bald, younger woman with whom she shared the table.
Of course they heard us. It’s New York. Restaurants put tables pretty much on top of one another.
Lenore Williams had come from Pittsburgh to New York. She arranged to meet Charles Atkins Jr and me to talk about the Presbyterian Church’s Freedom Rising Initiative to address the impact of racism on African-American men.
We met at the TGIFridays in Penn Station. Charles’ son is playing in one of the New Jersey state basketball championship semifinal games tonight. This location made it easy for him to join us and then to get home for the game.
We talked about the work being done by the Presbytery of Pittsburgh and by the Presbytery of New York City. We explored how the presbyteries might support one another and partner for effetive ministry.
Our conversation touched on the city of Pittsburgh. Lenore lived there almost all her life; Charles had recently been there for a meeting; part of my childhood was spent on Neville Island.
After a fruitful conversation, and when we finished our meal, Charles stood to leave for his son’s basketball game. That’s when the woman stood, took the half step needed to cross the aisle in the restaurant and spoke.
“My daughter Erin goes to school outside Pittsburgh,” she informed us. We smiled at Erin who sat with her back to the wall. It appeared she was returning to Pittsburgh. She had her suitcase with her.
“We heard you praying,” the woman stated. “Erin has cancer. We were wondering. Would you pray with her?”
Lenore and I stood beside Charles. Erin and her mother stood. We joined hands and prayed.
We prayed for Erin. For healing. For strength. For courage. For grace.
We prayed for Erin’s mother and family. For Erin’s friends. For the medical personnel who care for her.
When we finished, we realized we had blocked the aisle. We moved so others who had waited patiently, at least outwardly, could get by.
A man stepped toward the exit. Our eyes locked for a moment. He must have been allergic to something in the restaurant because moisture rimmed his eyes, a little bit leaking out of one corner.
The restaurant’s host came from the other direction. He had been a tad grumpy when we asked for more napkins. Now a grin stretched from ear to ear. “Thank you,” he said. “That was wonderful. Thank you.”
Erin and her mother thanked us. Hugs were shared, by all save one person. I did smile a lot and shake everyone’s hand.
We are made from dust. And to the dust we will all return. But until we do, moments of grace will find us. Thanks be to God.