"Where to sit – our decision can change a life"
"So where should I sit?" A familiar situation: our tray loaded, we pay the cashier and then turn to find a place. An everyday decision - but one with great potential for kindness. And a fascinating story from today's New York Times. Big name US football star Travis Rudolph found himself in this situation while visiting a local school in Florida on a good-will visit with his teammates. Looking around the cafeteria during the lunch break he notices one boy eating alone, well apart from the other students. "Can I sit down here and have lunch with you?" Sure, why not?" And he did. Rudolph did not know this but the 12-year-old student, Bo Paske, has autism and usually eats alone. His mother later commented: "Bo doesn't seem to notice that he doesn't get invited to birthday parties anymore. And he doesn't seem to mind if he eats lunch alone." But this simple decision on where to sit made all the difference to this young pupil. It reminded me of another simple act of kindness but one in a very different context: this time, when not to sit. Some years back two of our granddaughters were involved in the performance of the Czech children's opera Brundibár at the South Bank centre in London. Here we were privileged to meet Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, a leading cellist, and a surviving member of the Women's Orchestra in Auschwitz. She told us that as young Jewish school girl she was not allowed by Nazi legislation to sit on buses even when there were seats available. This had the desired effect, of making her socially excluded. Except one day another young girl, sitting down on a half-empty bus, noticed Anita and very simply stood up to stand alongside her for the remainder of the journey. "Deliberately seek opportunities for kindness, sympathy, and patience." So urges Christian writer Evelyn Underhill. Even deciding whether or where to sit can make all the difference to someone in need, not least in need of our acceptance and attention. Sadly we are all too often locked into our daily routine and yet often it is just one small gesture which can make all the difference. Jesus was clearly known for his tendency to mix with the wrong people, those on the margins, those with little or no social status - "a friend of riffraff" (Matthew 11:19 - Message translation). He would sit down with anyone, including a Samaritan woman with a chaotic social history. The very act of him talking with her was hugely significant. We fail to see how very remarkable these acts of kindness were seen by his contemporaries. So John in his account of this meeting at this well in Sychar writes: "When his disciples came back, they were shocked. They couldn't believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it." (John 4:27). A challenge to us all. To show acts of kindness in Jesus' name. After all it is the very thing he himself would do - and he calls us to follow in his footsteps and where he chooses to sit down.