I did a book signing the other night at a parish in my area with three other local authors. The arrangements were awesome and the host worked hard to make it a spectacular event – and indeed it was. The room looked fantastic, the setup was perfect, and there were wonderful refreshments including a beautiful cake, fresh fruit trays, goodies of all kinds, punch, and even wine! I think I can speak for all of the authors when I say we were quite grateful for the opportunity.
I’d like to say that a huge crowd of people attended the book signing, but I would be lying. Yet, while the attendance numbers weren’t exactly what we’d hoped for, I can say without doubt that it was the most well-attended book signing I’ve ever done. That’s because it wasn’t how many attended, but rather who attended.
One of the guests was an elderly gentleman – a parishioner – who wandered in, browsed the book tables, and made polite conversation with us. He had many, many stories of his life to tell and was eager to share them with us. It seems that his childhood had been filled with tragedy and heartbreak, causing him to have a rough upbringing. He was a hard-working young man, searching for his way in the world. Then one day he found it. He fell in love with his future wife and once they had married they forged long and wonderful life together.
As she aged, his beloved wife was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. He tenderly cared for her at home for nine years but then it became too much for him. With no other options, he arranged for her to live in a nursing home where he continued to visit her faithfully and take care of her for four more years. After 13 years of suffering with the debilitating disease, his wife died, leaving him alone, lonely, and missing her terribly.
He had come, yes, to look at the books and greet the authors, but primarily he came because he needed someone to talk to. And so we listened for as long as he felt like talking. After some time, he thanked us, excused himself, and left.
Later that evening, our host apologized because he had failed to pack the place with guests. As far as I’m concerned, there was absolutely no apology necessary. Oh sure, it would’ve been great to have had a huge crowd of people attend. Who wouldn’t want that? But I have a theory about these kinds of things. It isn’t always about the numbers; it’s about the people. Whether there were a thousand, a hundred, ten, or just one person, God brought to the event exactly the people he wanted to be there. No more, no less.
It was obvious to me that we were all there for one lonely, elderly man who needed someone to listen to his life stories and his witness of lasting love for his wife. Our first obligation as Christians is not to see to the business of life but instead see to the beauty of life. Every life is valuable and every person has a story. Every aching heart deserves comfort and if we can be instruments of that comfort then we have accomplished a great deed.
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