This past Sunday afternoon, it happened that I arrived at the opera house with an extra box seat ticket in hand.
The San Francisco Opera House has always been a kind of sanctuary for me. It’s been a part of my life since I was four years old, a place where I could immerse myself in music and dance, magic and imagination, art and beauty. It has always been for me a place of respite and renewal of the spirit – qualities a sanctuary should have!
When I went down to the ticket office an hour before curtain, there were still a few people in line. “I have an extra box seat ticket,” I said. There were several excited responses. I turned to the first person in line.
“What do you want for it?” she asked. “Whatever you would find appropriate,” I responded. She held out $25. The original ticket price had been $325. “That will be fine,” I said. Several other people looked aghast and started to protest that they could offer more. I smiled and nodded my “no thank you” to them.
I completed the exchange with the woman and left. “See you in our box,” I said.
When we had a chance to greet each other, she thanked me warmly. She was a retired teacher, an opera lover like me, who usually buys a ticket at the last minute for standing room. “Thank you so much,” she said, “but I have to admit I was surprised.”
“It wasn’t an auction,” I replied. “I wanted to make the ticket available to the first person in line who would enjoy having it.”
We spend a lot of time juggling possibilities about best choices in our mind. Sometimes a random act of kindness is what’s called for. If a friend of mine had been available to attend the opera at the last minute with me – and I had called a couple – the ticket would have been a gift, after all.
Why shouldn’t I make a gift to a stranger?
Later, I realized this event reminded me of the Parable of the Dinner Guest (Luke 14:16-24) which has always been one of my favorites. In the story, when the friends of the man who has organized the dinner cannot show up, he instructs his servant to go out and invite anyone from the street to join him.
I’ve always felt that people generally miss Jesus’ point in telling the story. Yes, it’s a gift to the strangers who were surprised by the invitation, but it’s an even bigger gift to the man who extends it.
I can’t remember an afternoon I’ve enjoyed at the opera more.
In a time when so many both in public and private spaces are pulled in towards in self- protectiveness and suspicion, it’s an even more powerful experience to open yourself to the opportunities a moment may provide.
This is the secret about random acts of kindness. It’s a gift to the giver most of all.
With You on the Path,