Friday, March 9, 2012

You love the song, but not the singer

Standing in line is a sport of which the Brazilians will surely champion at the forthcoming Olympic Games in London - followed up a close second by the host nation (although it will officially be called Queuing, to the bafflement of the world).

Lines begin to form outside banks and lottery shops before sunrise and soon start to spiral round city blocks. Mothers with small babies in arm, older folk who really should not be forced to waste their golden years staring at the back of someone’s head. It’s surely one of the sadder characteristics of a developing nation: just as a love of paperwork marks any good bureaucracy, more paperwork means more waiting in line (even in the internet age). It’s a scene only witnessed perhaps in the First World upon the release of a new consumer product by Apple.

So many people are cutting the line in front of me that I find myself shuffling backwards. Standing in line anywhere here is an exercise of patience and grace.

“I’ve got grey hairs,” I lean and whisper to the lady behind me, “Does that mean I can join the express line for old folks?” She smiles, wearily. 

Another lady joins the line a few positions behind me, her mobile phone blasting us all with what they call “Happy” music (the English word is used) - a kind of Brazilian style of rap. A distinctly unhappy word for her sprung to mind, which I reinforced with a withering stare in her direction. It was another one of those moments when I got annoyed with myself for getting annoyed (when no-one else seemed to bat an eyelid).

São Paulo is a city of mobile phones with sprightly-sounding carriers such as Oi! and Vivo! but nobody ever seems to use them for their intended purpose*. Even the poor have the latest (i.e. knock-off) models, but use them solely for music and gaming. Nobody ever seems to actually make or receive a call. I can’t remember the last time I heard a cell phone ring in a public place.

The early morning sun was already searing my face and a young girl and an old lady take shelter in the shade of a parked truck. A man appears and begins to hand out leaflets to those trapped in line. When he gets to me I don’t even look up and he just stands there, holding the pithy leaflet out like a demented ticket machine. He then pushed the paper further forward, blocking the screen of my Kindle. I look up and he says cheerily God bless you!”. “My blessing is here, I reply, tapping the screen with my finger (I was re-reading Surprised by the Voice of God by Jack Deere - a brilliant work).

At that moment I thought: what would speak more to these people about God’s love and his provision? A cool cup of water, a sheltering canopy that was paid for by the local church or a wordy tract. I suppose the man was well meaning, but I know which one I’d have preferred.

*I think there’s a metaphor to be exploited there somewhere, but I’m too tired from waiting in line.


Anonymous said...

I agree about Jack Deere. I thought Surprised by The Power of The Spirit was even better. Finally, there are true stories of miracles happening even in the UK!!! OK they were a few years ago. If you don't have a copy, I'll lend you mine.

Don't know of a metaphor, but Matt 25:35 doesn't say 'I was thirsty and you gave me a lecture'.

Keep making a difference.

Luke said...

Sounds like a deal. Maybe M could post it to me?

You're brilliant, Brian!

Camilanini said...

Unfortunately here in Brazil we have to wait in line for everything, even when someone is dying. You are lucky to have a Kindle to better utilize your time.

P.S: People don´t use the cell phone to make calls because the price of the minute is absurd and it´s better to send SMS.

Luke said...

I guess that means there is a real possibility of being late for one's own funeral!

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