I’m not a total recluse. But, being a widower and one whose social life is somewhat confined, trips to restaurants are few and far between. Looking back on it, I cannot remember what possessed me to be at the restaurant that night. Maybe, looking into the frig, I’d discovered there was nothing there that inspired me to cook. Maybe I was running late and didn’t have time to cook. Maybe I just decided to be lazy. Whatever the cause, I was sitting in that restaurant enjoying a really good meal.
Now, being alone in life provokes some weird habits. Perhaps it was that weirdness that propelled me to read Chris Matthew’s book on Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil on my Chromebook as I consumed the dinner in the corner booth at the restaurant. Whatever the reason, I was savoring the taste of the steak while being fascinated with the book’s main characters attempts to manipulate the media all at the same time.
“Excuse me,” a voice from the aisle side of my booth said. “Do you mind?” He pointed to the seat on the opposite side of the booth from me.
Now, dear reader, the truth is I did mind. I was enjoying the meal. I was enjoying the solitude. I was enjoying the tactfulness of the server who discerned I’d rather be alone. I was enjoying the book’s description of the political struggles of the 1980s. But I lied. “Manners” is what Mama would have called it. “Not at all,” I replied, pointing to the seat across the table while closing the Chromebook.
“You don’t remember me, There’s no reason you would remember me,” he said as he slid into the perch. “But, I remember you. I heard you speak at the Franklin Springs Church of Perpetual Sameness. I’ve always wanted to talk to you after that sermon. If you don’t mind me being frank, I have to tell you that was a really terrible sermon.”
Here’s the thing: I was enjoying the meal, enjoying the book. I was enjoying the quiet booth in the corner of the little restaurant and the discreetness of the server. And now someone interrupts me to critique a sermon. What’s more, my mind raced to remember when I preached at the Franklin Springs Church of Perpetual Sameness; I remembered. I preached at that church one night, count them - one night, back in 1990. Now, suddenly here was some fellow who’d squeezed into my solitude to bring up that sermon. I didn’t remember what I’d preached. I didn’t remember what the scripture was.
“You have interrupted my meal to tell me I preached a terrible sermon?”
“I did; your theology was horrible.” He took my sermon apart point by point, illustration by illustration, giving scriptural references to refute my assertions. He cited theologians who would disagree with me.
I listened fascinated. I didn’t remember the sermon; he did. When his unsolicited review was over, I said, “You know, I don’t know your name. But I do know this. I preached that sermon in 1990. That was twenty-three years ago. If you can remember the points of the sermon, the illustrations I used, and the points I was trying to make, it wasn’t a terrible sermon. It was the best damn sermon I’ve ever preached.”
And then I remembered that Mama said, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.” So I didn’t say anything else until he finally left. It’s called manners.