Over the Easter break we made it over to next to the M6 in Preston. While there, we went into the cafe, and the place was heaving. I spotted a table, and took the two boys over to sit down whilst Anne-Marie was finishing up paying. The table was just being vacated by a young family which had made it more a disaster zone than my clan does; not that I particularly minded, but it wasn’t something I could put right with a tissue, so I went to find someone to clean it down for me – one lady working really hard trying to keep up with the demand for clean tables.
She came right over and started cleaning for us whilst we watched, and, as I do, I chatted with her whilst she worked, and enjoyed being sarcastic with her about young boys who may or may not deserve ice cream, about how business had been over winter, and I sympathised about how busy they were that day. I try to chat with people often deemed as ‘service staff’ – those people who clean, stack shelves and so on – simply because I think that they are treated poorly by many people, ignored at best, at worst abused. I talk to them all, or at least smile to bring a little light into the day, dog collar worn or not. Such folks work long hard hours, are human beings with lives and families, and actually keep the country moving, yet are paid nothing compared to those who employ them. A few minutes later Anne-Marie arrived back with the drinks and asked me if our cleaner wasn’t a friend of my sister. The next time she passed, I asked her…and indeed she was! Rather nicely she did remark on how my brightening her day was now explained, since she knew all about me from the rest of the family.
A few minutes later we walked over to the adventure play park to sit freezing while the boys attacked the sand-moving-swinging-running-jumping equipment. Then I had to swing the boys on this kind of over large sit and swing in a big circle contraption, built for two. While they were on, a couple of girls showed up next, and a young Muslim lad followed, probably about 10 years old. The lad asked me if he could go next, and I pointed out that the two girls were next, but it was all his after that.
Well he stayed, and after I had given up swinging Byron and Reuben around (boring dad), he swung them a little for me, quite unexpectedly. Then when the boys got off he followed me…and said to me, “Thank you, a nice dad and nice boys.” I hadn’t expected that either. I saw his own dad coming over, traditional dress, and daughter in tow. With his words the lad had blessed me as much as I had blessed our cleaner.
And just for a moment, the world that we watch being horrible to one another, filled with threats and counter threats in personal ways and at international levels, where justice is warped and the vulnerable abused, just seemed to work. Where it didn’t matter about race, or social class, but where complete strangers could bless one another. And that is how it should be.
Andy Gray is a church of England minister who specialises in putting church in different places, like coffee shops. He is married to Anne-Marie and has two sons, 7 and 11 years old, a dog and a pet mouse. He is also an artist and you can see his work at www.onegraydot.com.