I just returned from a trip to Ireland. On the first day of our trip our driver/guide encouraged us to chat with the Irish people we met. He told us the Irish liked to meet people and anticipated conversation. “They will give you their time,” he told us.
Those words struck me. It is such a statement of generosity. To stop whatever one is doing. To pause with a stranger. To see that person as someone worth listening to. To listen and respond. To give your time.
We found it to be true. Most people we encountered were ready with a bit of conversation. A family at the next table over in a restaurant shared their celebration with us. A young woman working as a cashier discussed my husband’s JFK baseball cap. (“We claim him too. His mother was a Fitzgerald and the Fitzgerald’s are from County Limerick.”) A hotel manager described the antics of the ram who lived in the field next to the hotel. A bartender in a completely-booked restaurant walked out on the street with us pointing in several directions suggesting places we might try for dinner. An eleven-year-old boy explained the intricacies of rowing to us. No dark revelations. No whining. Just small conversations that conveyed “I see you. Glad that you see me too. You are a human being. Me, too. I am grateful for the chat. May there be peace between us.” The conversation was often punctuated with the word “Brilliant!”
I found myself thinking about the culture I come from. Would anyone describe us saying “they will give you their time?”
I come from a rushed world where human to human encounters generally have some sort of transactional purpose. The cashier at Hy-Vee. The librarian at my local library. The teller at the bank. A bus driver. The Amazon driver. All people who pass by and who in some way serve a purpose in my life. In each encounter, some sort of internal process in me determines how I respond to these human beings who share my day. Do I give them my time?
In the isolation of the pandemic, we discovered how much we needed each other.
We had fewer small human to human encounters, and we missed them. Scientists explain that human interaction creates small bursts of endorphins, the “feel good” hormone. Scripture explains the same phenomena differently. Psalm 139 says, “I am I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” those small bursts of endorphins being part of the wonder. During covid, I was invited to a weekly driveway gathering. Sitting six feet apart, six of us met every Sunday afternoon for conversation. It was a lifeline. We still gather three years later. Still a lifeline.
When I served a local church, I often caught myself swept up in my to do list and the rush of time and failing to really see the person in front of me. When that happened, I learned to check my feet when I was talking with someone. Were my feet pointed toward the person I was talking to, or were they pointed in another direction ready to dart off on some task I deemed more important than the person in front of me?
Jesus sat down at a well and struck up a conversation. He looked up in a tree and invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house for supper and conversation. Nicodemus knocked on the door late at night, Jesus opened it and welcomed conversation. We write well-researched sermons about what Jesus said to the woman at the well, who Zacchaeus was, and the freedom of the Holy Spirit that blew Nicodemus to Jesus’ door, but maybe we miss the first gift. Jesus gave them his time.
We use the word “spend” to describe how we use money. We spend money. That’s the same word we use for the way we use time. We spend time. According to lyrics from the musical Rent, there are 525,600 minutes in a year. As we spend those minutes, do we squander or invest? Share or hoard?
The Irish give them away. It’s a generous thing, don’t you think?