Usually when you accidentally take someone's seat, nothing special happens. There is the polite exchange when the seat's owner returns and you politely relinquish it with an "I am sorry, I didn't know someone was sitting here, etc." It's not too often that taking someone’s seat leads to something curiously astounding. But that's exactly what happened to me last Sunday.
I was visiting a local church to see their Easter cantata and I arrived a bit early. So I slid into the corner seat of the very last pew closest to the door. If you’ve never sat in a pew all by your self, then it is really hard to explain the feeling. It’s sort of like eating in a restaurant alone. I wish I could say that I am such a confidant person that I wasn't bothered by it, but to tell you the truth, I was a little nervous. I was comforted a little bit when an elderly lady sat down across the aisle. At least now, I wasn't the only person sitting in the church.
Then out of the corner of my eye, I noticed an elderly gentleman come in and greet the lady. They struck up a friendly conversation. A couple minutes went by and I heard him say, "Well, looks like I've got someone sitting in my seat..." He was a tall man and I bet he was probably 6 foot 3 in his youth. His white hair (or what was left of it) was very neatly combed and he had an air of dapperness about him with an honest smile. From the twinkle in his eye, I knew at once that he was a character, so I said "I am sorry, but I did not see your name on it" His smile broke into a grin and he laughed as I moved over to let him have his place. He said, "I have been sitting in this seat for 28 years." "Well then,” I laughed, “I am certainly in the wrong taking it then."
I asked him if he had family that would be coming and he said, no. He had a daughter in Nebraska and two great grandchildren. But He does have two lady friends that, "try to make it every Sunday, except Rose is on vacation in Florida so I don't know if she will show or not...." He asked me where I was from and I told him. He was originally from Maryland and as we talked, my jitters went away and I forgot all about feeling nervous. He was quite the life of the party. Almost everyone came over and spoke to him. He poked fun at the men and made one ladies blush. This one lady swatted him with her bulletin and he laughed, winked at me, and said, "See? I get no respect around here."
Just before the service started, we were talking about the snowbirds (elderly people that come to the South for the winter and then return home in the spring) and I don't know if it was because I was young or maybe because he found me a good listener but, He told me a story about a snowbird couple that sat in front of him all last fall and how they said goodbye the Sunday before and left to go back up North.
He said, "I shook that mans hand and said goodbye and then two weeks later, the wife was in church alone. when service was over, she told me she had come back to tell me that her husband had died from a heart attack on the way home. He didn't even make it out of the beach."
" That's awful" I said. I thought about that wife, now alone without her seat-mate and then he looked at me and said "Yes, that's why you've got to live life everyday like it could be your last and be right with the Lord."
He said this with such humbleness and with all the experience that he has accumulated over the years. It was like he just wanted me to know how precious life is and to treat it like the gift it is. I felt blessed by his words and as we sat through the service (which was so beautiful, I cried) and into this week. I find myself wanting to just live for life's pure sake. To live in faith and never take anything for granted. I want to be thankful for all the special things in my life and always have someone special to sit with.