A slice of humanity

Every few weeks, the wife and I like to have someone else break the eggs. Breakfast out may not be as glamorous as dinner reservations, but it’s a lot cheaper, and the slice of humanity is always more interesting.

During a recent omelet pilgrimage before the last arctic cold front came in, I noticed a little old lady by herself in one of the booths. She had on a winter sweater, jeans that had neatly ironed creases, and a pair of what we used to call “deck shoes” — blue sneakers with white eyelets and laces.

She had brought her book with her. People can make themselves look harried and self-important if they have a newspaper in front of them at a diner. But somebody that goes to the trouble of bringing along a book is a reader, not a poser.

She was having her breakfast and morning coffee. She sipped with two slightly palsied hands wrapped around the mug. She had placed her spoon across the book to keep it open so she could read uninterrupted.

You never know what you will learn from a book. For reasons I can’t quite figure out, I became entranced recently with “Shakespeare’s Pub” by Peter Brown (St. Martin’s Press, $26.99). It’s a history of London as seen through the story of one of its oldest pubs, the George Inn. Or the Saint George Inn before the pub was re-named during one of England’s anti-Catholic rants, something the Brits have to do every few decades since Henry VIII. The most recent outbreak was during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI in September 2010.

“Shakespeare’s Pub” was interesting stuff, especially in that the author is quite certain that Shakespeare never had anything to do with the place. But it makes a good book title.

One of my favorite stories in the book is when Brown recalls the time a body was discovered near the pub. It was the year 1817, and the body was of a beggar in his mid-60s. He had no identification, and the authorities were unable to determine any possible cause of death.

So it was officially recorded: “died by the visitation of God.”

Try to write that down today on a government document and the American Civil Liberties Union — the Westboro Baptist Church of the secular arm — will have a rant as good as any in merry olde England.

Brown writes that “at the start of the Industrial Revolution the way we regarded time itself had changed from something cyclical and constantly renewed to a straight line marked by numbers, timetables and schedules.”

It reminded me of time as it is still taught by the liturgical year, the seasons moving one to the other, matched in Faith and matched in nature. It is striking how much the faith reflects the world as it is, rather than the artificial constructs man has tried to dump on the world to understand it.

Faith builds on nature and never contradicts it. That’s part of the mystery of the Incarnation. And “died by the visitation of God” makes more and more sense when a person thinks about it.

We survived the arctic blast that recently visited the Midwest from Canada. An old Hoosier forecast is if the sun shines bright in the Midwest on a January day, the world will freeze solid in the evening. Hoosiers know that because they know that you learn the weather not by a timeline, but by living it season to season.

Just as a person learns the Faith.

It was time to finish that omelet and head home. I asked the waitress for the old woman’s check, and we paid for her breakfast. We left before she could find out.

Going by those creased jeans and deck shoes, she might have gotten mad at us.

But it’s the least we could do for a reader.

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.