For several years I have been called “Honey” and “Sweetie” by the ladies pumping gas at the local service station. I guess I should be offended, but this is how they address every customer—men and women, old and young. It has nothing to do with my good looks. There is no hint of harassment.
I like it. The ladies often look tired but are cheerful anyway. There is a goodness and perhaps quiet heroism in their good cheer. The years, many hard I suspect, have creased their faces, and their ages are hard to guess. They are like those hardworking waitresses across America who ask, “What can I get you, honey?” and with those words make a diner feel like home.
These ladies at the pumps deserve a medal for calling humanity “honey.” There is nothing sweet about most of us, especially when gas is over five dollars a gallon. I lack the gentle affection for humanity that they express all day long. In this area, they are my teachers.
But I am learning. I am too tired and life is too hard for me to judge anyone, young or old. Yesterday, I talked to Joe, my mechanic, who explained that in the last couple years his son and his sister died, and more recently his wife died. He had just undergone treatments for a tumor behind his eye. He then said, “But God has given me a good life.” I could almost hear Jesus saying, “This day you will be with me in paradise.” Without much theology or church, Joe had faith. I didn’t call Joe “Sweetie”, but it was a sweet moment.
As the afflictions of growing old batter me, and the deaths of friends and family encircle me, I feel the affection for others that survivors feel toward each other. We see this bond among those collapsing at the end of a marathon or those piling out of a lifeboat that just made it to shore.
About once a week, I take two meals to a childhood friend down the street. We eat together. We survived Myrtle Point High School and Myrtle Crest Junior High together. He gets around with a walker these days, even though he is my age. I am not sure why, perhaps it was a boy thing, but in junior high we called each other the most insulting names we could think of: butt-breath, maggot-head, and worst of all, the name of a science teacher we disliked. My farewell to him is likely to be, “Well, good-bye butt-breath, I will be praying for you.” This was our old-fart way of saying, “Bye sweetie!”
I heard someone complain about the ladies at the pump: “Why are they calling me honey or sweetie? They don’t know me! I am not their honey!” This is a reasonable response, I suppose. And it would be, perhaps, more justified if it were men calling women “honey.” However, I think it misreads these ladies. I prefer to celebrate this affection for people—this affirmation that there is something sweet in being made in the image of God.