connecting inside the lines
It was 9 p.m. and my last client had left my office. My family was in Mexico on a week long mission’s trip and a bulk of my friends were away for spring break. I was taking this week as a writing and working time, peppering these tasks with small outings alone. Tonight, for me, was going to be “Ticket and Beer Night.” Portland’s new MLS team had advertised a 3 hour window from 7-10 that evening when individual tickets would be sold and it was also the 25th birthday of my favorite, locally made beer. My plan was to head downtown to the soccer stadium, snag some seats for a few matches, then head to the pub for a pint of Ruby.
I got to the area near the stadium at 9:23. I parked and began walking, in the cold night air, to the stadium four blocks away. When I turned the corner I saw a news truck and then...the line. Only 30 minutes to closing time and the ticket windows were besieged with people. I followed the line around yet another corner and deposited myself firmly at the back of it. The couple in front of me said they’d been watching the line all evening from their apartment and that it was moving quickly. They’d only just joined as I did. The college student behind me had followed me from near my car. Several folks joined in behind us but bailed within the first thirty minutes when we moved less than five feet.
It didn’t take long before the few of us at the end of the line began talking. One gentleman walked to the front of the line for us to see if they were going to close the windows at 10 or serve all of us willing to wait. Another crossed the street to smoke so that he wouldn’t impose his smoke upon us. A woman needed to run and get cash and we held her place in line. None of us had expected a line at all, let alone one as long as this one was so none of us were prepared for the 42 degree temperature, punctuated with raindrops and wind.
As we rubbed our hands together to stay warm we shared stories of other times we’d stood in line. The couple and the college student spoke of waiting in lines for music festivals in other parts of the country and learned that they had all lived in Iowa. The single woman debated endlessly if waiting was worth it and asked us all what we thought of so called “convenience charges” leveraged by ticketing companies for online orders. She threatened to leave the line every ten minutes, claiming the online fees weren’t so bad, but never did actually leave because, how could she? How could any of us? We were making a story and it was a good one. Five folks, together late at night, downtown, unprepared for cold, unknown to each other, and yet captively waiting.
At first each of us looked to our phones as we stood awkwardly with others in line. We sent texts, periodically looking at our phones and mostly down at the ground. As the waiting went on, however, phones were put away. Even when messages indicators sounded, no one looked. We joked about how cold we were and took turns getting discouraged as more and more games were announced as sold out. At one point I expressed a feeling of futility at the seeming un-moving nature of the line. “You can’t do that” the young man behind me expressed, “you’ve been the encourager this whole time. You cannot turn on us!” It was true, I had been a voice of “this is so fun” and now I was encouraged by him. In being willing to notice and comment he had blessed me.
Hungry and thirsty as the clock rolled around to 11:30 we began discussing our favorite restaurants, comparing the consistencies of various vegetarian gravies in town. We joked about one of us running off to find coffee for all of us and then decided against it due to an obvious lack of bathrooms.
The “young man,” we didn’t exchange names until four minutes prior to our all buying tickets and heading off into the great unknown, disclosed that he’d been in the armed forces as he recounted how he had come to live in Portland. I thanked him for his service. He thanked me for the paycheck. I paused. Having thanked many, many individuals in the past who had served our country, this was new to me. I had never been thanked in return. It endeared me to him greatly. The young man of the couple reported that he is currently working in an oncology/blood-brain barrier lab. He is applying to medical school. His partner, a young woman of around 22, works in a frozen yogurt shop and will begin graduate school in elementary education in the fall. The single woman works as a software consultant and went to high school where my uncle teaches. She may have had me as a guest lecturer at some point. Go figure. Our stories were being told step by step as we moved, and didn’t move, in line. In waiting together, we were connecting.
More waiting, more moving in place, somewhat frantically, to stay warm. Time passed. I noticed something. We were becoming a five-some. As the news anchor set himself up to report on the story for the 11:00 broadcast we responded together, as a group, that we were not particularly hip to being interviewed. Those in line ahead of us scrambled, as the rain set in, to get under the cover of the awnings and we five knew we wouldn’t all fit so none of us tried to get under. It was unconscious and yet we were functioning as a group. As we moved closer and closer to the box office window we didn’t seem to count time as obsessively as we had before. It was 1:00 a.m. but we were now connected and we knew it was ending.
We exchanged names quickly as the first of us was called to a ticket window. We expressed hope that we’d see each other at the matches. Two more were called to a window. And then, it happened. We were all dispersed and became focused on our individual purchases.
I bought my regular tickets and then made my way to the cash only sold out/obstructed view line. There was one of my line-mates, purchasing tickets to a different sold out match. As I paid for my tickets he patiently waited and then, it happened. We, in the waiting-in-line-together-for-a-long-time-so-we-care-about-eachother sort of way, realized we’d made a connection. Having realized we were parked next to each other and walked to the line almost in unison, we walked back to our cars together. No longer bonded by the line, this gentleman was making sure that I got to my car safely. I was grateful and knew my husband would have been so as well. It was 1:10 a.m. and I was a single woman, alone downtown. He, at least 15 years younger than I, cared that I was safe.
This experience matters to me. A lot.
Today, five days after my experience in line, I was downtown and near a restaurant that one of my line-mates had declared to have the best french fries in town. As soon as I realized this, I ducked in. I ordered. Exactly what she suggested as fabulous. I felt excited to do so, aware that I was leaning into a special bond made in the middle of the night, in the cold, between people who would, apart from this silly circumstance, never be connected. As I sat at the counter, alone, I chose to think of her and of her partner. I also held the other two of our line-mates in mind and offered prayers on their behalf. Oddly, I missed them and wished that they could be there. I wished that I had gotten their full names and contact information so that I could have shared that I’d visited the restaurant or possibly even have invited them to join me. I felt silly about this for a moment and then decided not to. Why not miss them? We had shared several hours of meaningful and fully focused attention. This is more than I share with many of my closest friends these days and that matters to me. Why not hope that I might be able to minister to them in some small way simply by taking their recommendations seriously, by letting them know that their words and thoughts matter? Why not?
We matter. We do. To ourselves. To each other. In being intentional about this we benefit. Why not lean into this? Why not?
My hope is that I will let this experience shape me. I want to cherish the moments when I encounter another. I want to let them impact me fully in whatever time we share. I want to honor them. Internally and externally. Let them matter. Fully. Maybe even get their number. So that I can invite them to share my fries.