I often visit a good friend of mine who is an automobile mechanic in a small town. I observe him working on cars and in the process he has taught me some of the skills needed to work on my own cars. More importantly, he has taught me about working with my hands and the satisfaction that comes from physical labor.
Our pattern is the same every time I visit. After we have been working for a while, we break for lunch and drive to a local restaurant. And it was at this restaurant where I recently saw three women, all about the same age, with three very different stories — and with one thing in common.
Waiting in line to order my hamburger (no onions please!) a young woman in her early 20s walked in to the restaurant by herself. She wore a hardened face which made her look like she was 21 going on 121. She was scandalously dressed and she never smiled. How sad to be angry and alone and only 21! She ordered her hamburger like the rest of us and then waited in line pouting, gazing at her phone.
After ordering, my friend and I proceeded to go outside and sit under a pleasant umbrella to await the incoming 2,000 calorie bomb. After we had settled in, I noticed another young woman who was walking her dog. She, too, was in her 20s and seemed to be very concerned about her pet. To be friendly, I commented to her that I liked her dog. By her response, I realized quickly that she had a developmental disability and that the dog was very much the center of her life.
Her parents watched warily from a distance as she proceeded to tell me all about her dog, where it came from, what its name was, how it got lost once, how much it cost, where it slept at night and how many times it needed to “go out.” She then asked me where I lived and if I had a dog, too. My meal arrived and, although I attempted to break off the conversation, the hamburger was half cold by the time I succeeded.
Finishing the hamburger, such as it now was, yet another family arrived. A young woman in her late 20s was receiving a young child from a man who had just dropped the child off at the restaurant and quickly drove away. From the conversation that ensued, I derived that the young woman was the mother, that there had been a divorce or family breakup, and that it was her day to take care of her young daughter.
I overheard their conversation, which revolved around how dad had treated the child, how her week was, what books she was reading, and whether dad’s new lady friend was nice to her. The child seemed happy to see her mother and she was smiling from ear to ear. Although the mother looked rather drawn, I saw her trying to put on a happy face for her daughter. And she didn’t really eat her food — she just looked lovingly at her daughter.
This is what I saw, but I only saw a small fraction of the reality of each of their lives. What are their joys, sorrows, hopes, dreams and pains? I don’t know. But God knows! And in watching the snippets of these three lives, it dawned on me that God loves all of these people. Not just people in a generic sense that we read about in theology books or hear in the typical banal homily, or so-called hymn.
Jesus Christ loves these people here, in this restaurant, ordering a hamburger, going through their daily lives. He loves them in their joys and sorrows, virtues and sins, hopes and fears. God loves them just as much as he loves me. Even though we perceive ourselves reflected dimly in the mirror of everyday life, God sees us as we really are. He loves us not because of anything that we have done. He simply loves us because he loves us because he loves us.
Perhaps it is worth noting that one additional figure was observed in the very same restaurant that summer day. Outside, under an umbrella sat a middle-aged man with thinning hair, wearing pants and a shirt covered with grease, eating a hamburger with his friend. He looked a little tired, but happy to be outside in the warmth of the noon day sun. I wonder why he looked so pensive. Well, whatever the reason, God probably loves him too. Yes, definitely.
Fr. Girotti, who serves as vicar for canonical services and associate moderator of the Curia for the Diocese of Green Bay, is author of “A Shepherd Tends His Flock.”