They faced one another in a booth near the restaurant’s middle section. Both warmed their hands briefly around their paper cups of hot coffee. And then they began, along with the other Sunday diners, to eat their lunch.
Despite the winter weather, the restaurant was full – families with children, jean clad young people, a couple of men in camouflage hunting jackets, middle and older aged people dressed in their Sunday best church attire. Hubby and I had stopped after worship service to grab a fast food lunch en route to another commitment.
When the older couple first ambled past us, I thought I recognized them. At a second glance, I realized that no, I didn’t know them, but they did seem familiar. Seated directly behind my husband, they were in my view each time I looked up from my hamburger to converse with my spouse.
I glanced their way several times, still trying to identify them. The older woman caught my eye and smiled warmly at me. I sheepishly smiled back, a little embarrassed that I had been staring at them all the while trying to place them in the catalog of people I’ve met along the way that’s lodged in my brain. I finally remembered that I had seen this couple in this eating establishment before. He was the whistler.
Once as my family grabbed a bite in this local fast food spot, this gentleman and his wife were seated nearby. All of a sudden, we heard warbling noises that sounded exactly like a bird had somehow entered the restaurant and was serenading us. Instead, it was the quirky man sitting across the restaurant, whistling like a whippoorwill. His amused wife just watched as people turned around, looked at the ceiling, and tried to locate a runaway bird.
I wondered if we’d be treated to some whistling this time. People came. People ordered food. They ate and they left. There was nothing of significance to take note of or remember until my husband and I were finishing our meal. That’s when I heard it. Music.
I stopped chewing and listened. I glanced at the continually broadcasting television sets hanging on the restaurant walls. Melodious sounds were not emanating from there. The music, strangely different, also wasn’t coming from someone’s laptop or an ipod turned up too loudly.
I quickly recognized both the notes being played and the source of the music. Someone was playing a harmonica, and the tune was clear and well-known and directly coming from behind my husband.
My mind sang along to the notes, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to Him belong, they are weak but He is strong. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.”
Those were the words to the melody I was hearing. My husband wore a quizzical look. Others in the restaurant began noticing that unusual music permeated the air. I peeked around my husband and watched as the older gentlemen, who I had dubbed the whistler, played a shiny mouth organ.
His wife just smiled at me as if to say, “Yes, he’s playing a harmonica in the middle of a crowded fast food place. That’s what he does.”
And she nonchalantly continued to drink her coffee. I smiled back at her again in a way that I hoped conveyed that I didn’t think her husband was crazy as her companion launched into an old hymn, “At the Cross.”
“At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light and the burden of my heart rolled away…”
Several people glanced around, many ignored him and his music. Some seemed amused, some didn’t seem to be fazed by it or they were just too astounded to react. Some just hurried up, finished their fries, and departed. But no one said a word to him.
We lingered. We sipped our drinks. I quietly sang in whispers along with the harmonica music and smiled encouragement at the older gentleman. In between his Sunday afternoon praise session, he nodded, then continued his concert. As we gathered our belongings to leave, he played “Grace Greater Than All Our Sin.”
“Grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that will pardon and cleanse within; grace, grace, God’s grace, grace that is greater than all our sin.”
My hubby flashed a smile at the couple as he emptied our tray in the trash bin; I told the gentleman we enjoyed his music; and we departed with lilting notes resonating in our ears, words of truth about the pardoning, cleansing grace of God ensconced in our minds, and joy planted in our hearts.
I tucked this unusual experience away in my ‘things to write about list’ and as I share it with you today in my book entitled Opportunity, I marvel. I believe God sends us joy in places we least expect it. I certainly did not anticipate finding evidence of joy in the middle of a crowded Wendy’s on a Sunday afternoon.
But that’s indeed what unfolded. One older gentleman shared his joy and an unashamed declaration of love for the Savior when he pulled a harmonica from his coat pocket and played his heart out in the middle of a fast food joint during the busy lunch hour rush. Doing so gave him pleasure and most assuredly gave me, his listener, a serving of joy that I took with me to savor for some time to come.
Why did he play songs of faith on his harmonica in a fast food restaurant? I don’t know. I just know that I enjoyed it, packaged it up, and took the experience with me.
Joy to go.
“My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy your ice cream while it’s on your plate.” – Thornton Wilder
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