Several weeks ago a couple came into the store with visible signs of severe melancholy. They were in their early fifties and exuded the qualities of "common folk." Wrinkled skin. Plain clothes. They possessed a kind, gentle demeanor that was quietly disarming despite the unpleasant odor of cigarette smoke leaking from their skin. They were looking for books on grief, as their 23 year old son had recently passed away after a sudden illness.
Knowing a thing or two about books on grief, I took them to the Self-Improvement/Psychology section. After prying and finding out they were people of faith, I then showed them some Christian books that I had found particularly helpful. Over the course of the conversation the gentleman slowly drifted away from us to wander aimlessly around the store. The wife took this opportunity to tell me that he was taking it extremely hard. His son was also his best friend. Since the death occurred just two weeks before, he had suffered two heart attacks. About the time she told me this, her husband walked up to tell her he'd be in the car waiting. As he walked off she looked at him with greater love than I think I've ever seen come out of two eyes. She looked back to me with a tear tricking out and sighed, saying "I just don't know if he's going to make it."
I comforted her as much as was prudent for a retail manager. She was quiet for a few moments then said, "Since I'm a Christian I probably shouldn't be asking about this, but what do you know about Sylvia Browne's books?"
These are the Great Dilemma moments in the business I'm in. Do I tell her what I believe to be true and risk her walking out of the store without ever purchasing a book, or do I fudge the truth to increase the likelihood that I'll have a job this time next year?
I took the middle road and told her I believed that many people have probably found Sylvia Browne to be very helpful. Personally, though, I suspect that her message is one that avoids the hard reality of grief and seeks instead to skip right to the good feelings of assurance and peace. I was honest and told her that I thought some of the other books I had shown her would be more difficult to get through and wouldn't immediately alleviate all the crap of grief, but in the long run they provided a much healthier way of facing her son's death head on. She thanked me, took one of the "better" books and headed to the front to check out.
It was past my time to go home, so I headed to the office to drop off my name tag and pick up my phone. My heart sunk on my way out as I looked down the aisle to see her in the New Age section holding several Sylvia Browne books.
I've experienced something this weekend I haven't had since I was a child-- A toothache. My gums are sore around the area where I have a porcelain crown, and I suspect that food worked it's way up there and the resulting pain is from an infection of some kind. It is debilitating to have such pain, as all the focus and energy in your body is concentrated to the one place that is hurt. I mentioned it to a friend this morning at church, who told me to get garlic supplements. She said garlic has something in it that helps eliminate infection. Normally I've very leery of herbal remedies, being a Republican and all. That stuff is for kooks, and my loyal friends and readers who live in Austin. But you can bet your molars where I made a beeline to after lunch-- Right to the Herbal Remedy section of H-E-B to purchase a bottle of garlic pills.
In seeking to be more understanding of the worldviews and beliefs of others, we remind ourselves that we are all in the same boat. At times pain grips us and we reach out for whatever can immediately soothe. This grieving couple was desperate and they chose Sylvia Browne to be their minister. I'm saddened for their choice, but I cannot fault them.
Jesus may be the answer, but maybe he allows us to be a little Socratic in figuring out excactly what that means.