We stood there together, admiring the lovely table and chairs. They were high-quality pieces of furniture, solid wood and polished to a high shine. They were nothing like the cheap castoff furnishings, salvaged from curbs and left behind by previous tenants, that filled our home.
“They’re antiques, family heirlooms,” our hosts told us. Both husband and wife smiled with satisfaction and obvious affection for these treasures, which had made their way through time and found pride of place in their home.
They graciously invited us to sit and enjoy a meal in this inviting room full of fragile things. Maybe you can see where this is going.
We were in our twenties, still newlyweds. My husband was attending seminary and serving as a youth pastor at a small church, and I was early on in my editorial career. Our hosts, a middle-aged couple from the church, had invited us over for a meal. Maybe they wanted to get to know us better; maybe they knew how hard it can be for young people in seminary to come up with money for food. Regardless, they had opened their home, the kind of extremely tidy place that can be achieved only by people with several childless decades under their belts.
In my memory, this antique table and chairs sat at the center of the house, glowing with an ethereal shine. But I think that’s an embellishment of creative hindsight. In fact, I probably wouldn’t even remember the furniture if it weren’t for the tragedy that took place.
The meal was served, and we settled in and grew comfortable. Soon my husband grew a little too comfortable and, without thinking, indulged a bad habit. He leaned back in his chair, far enough to lift the front legs off the floor…
Have I mentioned my husband is a particularly large man, just a few inches shy of seven feet? He’s a lot to put in a chair.
It made a terrible sound and an even worse sight–that beautiful antique chair broken and useless.
My husband and I both apologized profusely. Offered to fix the chair. Offered to pay for the damage. Offered to buy a new chair, knowing it couldn’t really be replaced. That chair had survived generations in the care of one family. Ten minutes in contact with our family, and it was toast.
Our kind hosts were obviously heartbroken. But they dismissed the incident and insisted they would have no problem repairing the damage. Then they stretched grace as far as they could. They actually pulled up another of the antique chairs and invited my husband to sit in it.
I’m glad to report no more chairs were harmed in the making of this anecdote.
But one was more than enough, and to our hosts that chair represented so much more than a place to sit, even a lovely one. It was a connection to generations past, a bit of roots visible above the ground. Yet for them kindness took priority over the priceless chair.
They knew we couldn’t replace the chair; no one could. They also knew we couldn’t repair it to satisfaction. So rather than seek punitive damages, they basically handed my husband the opportunity to break another one. They chose people over possessions, hospitality over something they loved.
Sometimes we have to make that kind of choice. In fact, we face far more of these choices than most of us realize. People screw up. They get in our way. They slow us down at the worst possible times. They make the dumbest decisions. They break our stuff. They change our plans. They need something from us. And accommodations are always costly.
The fact is, other people don’t always value what we value as we value it. They don’t always tread carefully. Sometimes they cost us. If we value people, we’d better hold loosely to our treasures and our plans and be ready to love others, even if it costs us something we love.
After all, people can’t be replaced either.