I’m very sick right now, and being sick makes me grumpy. Maybe I shouldn’t let something like a cold make me grumpy, but I also don’t remember asking a cold to hijack my nose, so grumpy I remain.
This morning, around 6 AM, I left my bedroom as I imagine a bear emerges from its den after a long hibernation; grumpy, tired, and insatiably hungry (for hash browns, particularly). My roommates were already awake, silently getting ready for whatever their day had in store, and a teapot sat on the stove, getting warm. I thought the teapot had a good idea, so I stumbled to the couch to get warm as well. I sat for a few minutes, thinking of nothing in particular, vaguely frustrated, and exhausted. Directing grumpiness at a cold takes a lot of energy. One of my roommates, Jake, asked over the whistling of the teapot if I wanted some tea. Yes, yes I would.
I’m not much of a tea drinker, but being sick, I couldn’t resist. Nothing feels quite like a warm drink on a sore throat. Fresh out of the shower, I took a sip and found relief as I expected. Deeper in the mug, however, I found memories that hadn’t been dusted off in quite a while; memories of castles on cliffs, tea, scones, and a kind bus driver from England; memories from Northern Ireland.
I went to Northern Ireland for the first time three years ago for about a week and a half, and again the year after. Both times, I stayed with a group from a local church in the town of Craigavon, in a house that’s older than the U.S.A. by about ten years. That house was full of stories. It had crown molding shaped into olive leaves, fireplaces in most every room, a courtyard, a garden, and a really, really fat cat. On a day during the second trip, we went to visit the ruins of a castle called Dunluce in County Antrim. Dunluce Castle’s history is full of shipwrecks and clans fighting other clans. It’s all very interesting. I had visited the castle the year before, however, so instead of visiting the ruins again, I chose to spend my time in the Wee Cottage Cafe that sat near the path to the castle steps. I only had a few seconds to spare in the little cafe a year prior, and didn’t want to make that mistake again.
I sat down at a too-small table with the two leaders of our group and the bus driver who took us there. The room was warm and smelled delicious. You could hear the conversation of the owner a few feet away, and the sound of cooking just around the corner. The scent of pastries hung in the air, and as plates were whisked away to their tables, I managed to pick up an appetite I didn’t have when I walked in. The bus driver offered to buy us a pot of tea. Seeing his face, I couldn’t refuse. He wore a knowing look that said I should accept his offer. I wasn’t much of a tea drinker, but in that room, with that English man, I was convinced otherwise. He ordered strawberry scones, so I did the same. The scones were nothing like I expected. They weren’t the little one-bite scones in a plastic package I had grown up eating; they were real, homemade scones. I had two plates. After the scones were eaten, my leaders left. I sat across from the English man named Tim that drove buses, and we poured ourselves a cup of tea. Conversations in cafes on cliffs are better with cups of tea.
Time passed as Tim told me about his life. He’s a father, a husband. He’s from a town in England that starts with an E. I forgot the name. I asked about his job. Do you drive buses for the church? Is it your only job? No, he told me. I didn’t quite get it. I inquired as to what he meant. He told me that he drove buses, but his job is bigger.
“I’ve devoted my life to being a servant of people,” he said. Paying for people’s meals, being a good father, showing love to people that feel that they don’t deserve it; that’s the job he’s chosen.
“It’s so much bigger than being a bus driver,” he told me. He said that he thinks we’re all called to be servants.
“You see that lady there at the counter? She owns this place. She doesn’t quite believe it, but she’s a servant too. As she tells me, she’s just selling scones and tea and sandwiches, but I think she’s giving people family that don’t have none.”
I was mesmerized. Life is all about serving others? I knew it was important, but is it really everything? I wanted to hear more. He told me about a man that sits outside, a man that drinks a lot. Tim talks to him a lot, too.
“I’m not trying to give him nothing but a friend.” He told me that’s what Jesus does, and hearing it from his mouth, I believed it more than I ever had before. He spoke of others with tears in his eyes like they were his own children, like he was the one that watched them grow up, the one that watched them learn to walk and saw them fall for the first time. I realized that he wasn’t just talking. This really was his life. A life of acceptance for all, love for all, no walls to keep out the ones he thought were different. Tears welled up in my own eyes. I wanted to serve people like that.
Today, sipping my tea, sick and grumpy, I remembered that day in the Wee Cottage, when I drank five cups of tea with Tim. There was a lot to learn about loving people in that pot of tea, and I’m thankful that the English man sitting at that table chose to share it with the American kid across from him. He didn’t just share a pot of tea with me, he shared with me what it’s like to see people as Jesus sees them. He showed me that everyone is worthy of love. He showed me what it’s like to be a true servant, and more than anything, that is what I never want to forget.