Yeah, I know.
We all know that on some level, it isn't surprising. We understand that we need a social base to be healthy. We know that life doesn't happen in a vacuum and that we need each other. Friends, family, our closest relationships need to be invested in... protected... and cherished.
My dad told me a story about his dad, taking him to buy shoes. They would go to George's in Anadarko (a medium sized town in Oklahoma) and be greeted by the man himself.
The heart of George Salamy would be difficult to explain if you didn't experience him directly. He was gregarious. He was larger than life. He was incredibly kind. No one who ever met George would ever forget him.
Apparently my Grandfather knew George pretty well and they enjoyed teasing each other a bit. It would go something like this:
Grandpa: George, I need to buy some shoes for my boy here.
George (focused on my dad as a kid): We can do that! Come on over here...
And they would go through the process of trying on some shoes, with George actively engaged every step of the way.
George: Come look at those shoes in the mirror! Look at the back. You'll run faster in those shoes you know... oh yes, those fit just right. How do they feel?
And he would wait for an answer. George was an absolute jewel of a man.
Shoes selected, and you have to know, little boys love new shoes (especially ones that let them run faster)... the next stage of the process would begin. My grandfather would start bargaining related to price. This is a little bit funny, because it wasn't that kind of store. Like today, it was a small retail place and the price was stated, it wasn't supposed to change and it was a perfectly fair price.
Grandpa: George, wow, I just don't think I can pay quite that much for a pair of shoes.
And the game was on. They would bargain back and forth for a few minutes... finally settling on a price $1 below the original price. Again, hard to describe, but somehow this was 20 minutes well spent.
I suppose that you had to be there. This was a ritual and it was all in good fun... both my Grandfather and, George were highly amused by the entire exchange. My dad was, perhaps, young enough to not fully get it until later - but it's fun listening to him tell the story of Papa Reiss giving George a hard time in his own store.
You know where I heard those stories?
On the way to buy some shoes from George. And I have to say it... as a little boy, I loved going to George's - there was just something about him. He was winsome and fun and kind and I honestly felt like the most important person in the world as I sat trying on shoes with his full attention. I have nothing but incredibly fond memories of going to George's and leaving with a brand new pair of shoes. Even though I'm not a kid anymore (at least nowhere except on the inside of my head) I think I still have a pair of shoes I bought at George's.
And they worked. I ran much faster with a pair of George's shoes than I did otherwise.
On a recent trip to visit family in Oklahoma it occurred to us that Evangeline was outgrowing her current set of human foot coverings and the idea appeared as an actual light bulb over my head.
She needs to experience George.
My folks were delighted at the idea. It seemed so right. Of COURSE she needed to meet George and buy some shoes. What could be more perfect?
George had been slowing down a bit the last few years, not working everyday... but in what seemed to me to be a divine coincidence, he was there - and there in fully Georgely form. We successfully passed the getting some new shoes torch to one more generation. Think about that for a moment...
We are three generations of people, touched by the simplest of exchanges: the buying of a pair of shoes. Tied together by the grace and heartfelt hospitality of a single man, George Salamy.
I heard a few days ago that George had passed away. I experienced a simultaneity of grief that this lovely man was gone from us and a feeling of happiness that I had known him, remembering his heart and being thankful to know him even as simply as I had. I've been thinking about what made those interactions so memorable. I've been wondering why I wanted to share this experience with my own little girl. I'm not sure it's anything profound, but let me take a swing.
We live in a world of McDonald's and microwave ovens. We live in a world of Wal-Mart, even Anadarko has one now. We live in a world of Amazon and strip malls and the ability to make purchases on the fly on any wireless device that is handy. We have facebook and twitter and pinterest and vine. We take more pictures than we ever have before, even video is a standard capability of our phones. The world is moving really fast and if you're reading this, it's because blogging and social media and the like made it easy for you to get to. As a world, as a nation, as people, we've learned so much - we really have... and I love the little gadgets that surround us (I really do). I appreciate that I can share this with you, without the intervention of killing a few trees and without bugging you directly while you're trying to have dinner.
Our culture would say that the good of a Wal-Mart, in cheaper prices and efficiency of scale benefits everyone, especially the poorest in society. You can buy a good winter coat for $20, I saw it myself a few weeks ago. That's not all bad, right? That if we lose some of the folksy goodness of local small business, it's worth it.
But George knew something that we too easily forget. We need each other. It's not just about the price point. There is a glue that ties father to son and father to son and father to daughter and simple moments of connection and community are some of the most important things in life. These simple things - the day to day things - carry a weight that sometimes we take for granted.
I believe with all of my heart that George knew Exactly what he was doing: investing in a moment that would pass from generation to generation.
And he brought his A game to those moments. His simple attitude of joy and love brought light and life to those moments and I'll miss getting to see him again to buy shoes that were so much more than shoes.
They were laced up, leather bound, rubber soled moments of community, of the sort that the New Testament talks about. George tied into something wonderful, a sense of doing life in common with the people that crossed his path.
As I think about the coming chapters in my life, I pray that churches like the Surge will re-discover this kind of connection and community in a culture that desperately needs it. I certainly hope so. We need to find real relationships... and getting together regularly is a great way to provide opportunities to invest in each other's lives.
As a faith community, over a meal, or even in simple ongoing friendship, we should take a moment to celebrate some new shoes - or look to give a little girl a dollar out of the till so she could buy some candy later. I'm not saying he was perfect, but there is something of incredible value that George simply got right.
I'm very glad that my little girl got to meet him.
If you would, take a look at the photo at the top of this post... and join me in deciding again to spend a great moment with someone as soon as you have a chance.