“You left me hangin’ Mr. B, that’s wrong…”
I was standing in the empty hallway near my office and engaged in a quiet conversation with a 30 something year old male student about his relationship between him and his wife. Just then a class down the hallway went on break and one of my daily hand shakers headed toward us. Now, I am looking into the face of the man as I speak to him some words of hope when from the side comes this hand, extended into our conversation. I looked briefly at the hand shaker, nodded, then turned back to the man I was conversing with and continued speaking. I felt it as the hand shaker walked away, his hand left hanging in the air, untouched. I also heard him say, “You left me hangin’ Mr. B, that’s wrong…” In the blink of an eye the smile and enthusiasm left this guy as he hung his head and walked on down the hallway. We were still speaking when the hand shaker walked by us again, his face showing pain. He didn’t offer his hand this time.
I wasn’t trying to be mean, disrespectful, or even teach the guy a lesson. I was trying to give my undivided attention to this one man who is in pain from his relational hell that he is living. He noticed that I didn’t shake the man’s hand and as more students began to fill the hallways he let me end our 40 minute conversation so I could take care of other needs. My first steps were not back to my desk or to another part of the school. Instead my first steps were toward the classroom where the guy that I, “left hangin’” retreated into. I stopped at the door, stuck my head in the room and caught his eye at the back of the room. He was not smiling and his usual happiness had left him. He also did not immediately jump up and come to the door. But as another student asked me for help and I pointed her in the right direction, I held my stand and looked back to his eyes. He got up and came outside the room where I handed him a bus pass. I apologized for doing him wrong. He repeated how I hurt him. I apologized again and then cautiously took a step further and explained to him why I had given my undivided attention to that student just as I am in this moment to him. As he accepted my apology I looked into his watery eyes and said, “You are a good man.” A painful smile formed and he thanked me and went back into class after I had shaken his hand again.
This man with a family, unemployed, who rides the local bus to school every day and has to ask for a bus pass to help out when he has little money, was not looking for just a hand shake I would venture to say. But what he was looking for, he did not immediately receive and certainly not in the same manner to which he had become accustomed.
What was he looking for?
This morning as I head back in to school, I wonder how he will greet me in the hallway…
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