There is a very friendly Venezuelan who works at my favorite coffee shop.
When I first arrived in Oxford, I quickly learned to love this coffee shop. It is tucked in a 700 year old beautiful meeting room, with the best tea I’ve had yet, delicious food, and, perhaps most importantly, it is a two minute walk from the library. I began to notice the Venezuelan in my second week in Oxford. He is a busboy, a master of his job, presiding over towers of tea cups with a look of triumph, and making his striped apron look cool and European.
One day, while my nose was buried deeply in a book about Jane Austen, I looked up to find The Venezuelan standing over my table.
“Are you done?” he said. He had an accent.
“Oh, yes. Thanks,” I said a bit sheepishly, having just emerged from my literary reverie.
“Just… don’t take the teapot!” I quickly added. I think any tea-drinkers will understand my concern.
He laughed, set down the tea pot, and flashed an amused smile. I did something with my face that landed at a mixture between a smile, a grimace, and a look of surprise.
Oh dear. I thought. I think he likes me.
From that point on, I didn’t speak to him for several weeks. I noticed he was always very eager to bus my table, and would always beam with enthusiasm as he did so, which I would respond to by politely grinning, and precipitously hiding behind a book. In my few short years, I sometimes find myself suspicious of friendliness, sometimes with good warrant. And there is a shy part of me that hates to manage the perpetually award realm of social flirtation. Something inside of me says… Can we just… not?
The ongoing non-interactive interactions became a topic of amusement for my friends and me as we all frequented this particular coffee shop. One day, as my friend got up to wash her hands, he introduced himself, and told me his name was Gabriel and that he was from Venezuela; he was in Oxford to learn English. I told someone in my dorm this, and somehow it eventually spread through our dining group that there was a server named “Diego” from Spain who had asked me out. As history becomes myth, myth becomes legend, and a Venezuelan named Gabriel becomes Diego the Spaniard with romantic intentions. There’s a lesson in there somewhere…
I hadn’t been to the coffee shop in two weeks, but today, after finishing a particularly grueling week of three papers, I decided to treat myself to a scone and tea. I enjoyed my scone immensely, and managed again to successfully hide in a corner behind my book, brooking an chances of making eye contact. The coast seemed clear.
As I walked out the door, I heard Gabriel say “hey! Wait.”
I suddenly felt an introverted desire to run away. I had the urge to pretend like I hadn’t heard him. That would be rude, said one part of me, this is going to be awkward! said the other side of me. What does he want?
I paused for a moment, and before I could say anything he choked out “So, you would ever talk with me?” he gestured to a tea table.
I paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, Gabriel. No. I do think you very nice, but I don’t know you very well, and I don’t feel comfortable.”
He smiled his sheepish smile again, and looked sideways at his shoes. When he looked up, he nodded understanding and respect of my decision. Then, I could tell he was searching for words.
“I want to know you. I wish I could know you.”
With that, I took my leave, and he looked resolved. To the relief of parents everywhere (probably especially mine… hi mom and dad! 😉 ) I managed to refuse Gabriel’s request (and PSA, Girls Everywhere, don’t ever EVER give your information to someone you do not know and trust. K? Thanks. Good. Moving on.) preserving both our dignities, but as I walked back, his last words hung in my mind:
“I want to know you.”
What frank, honest words, and how rare. I began to think about the dozens of faces I have smiled into for the first time here in Oxford, the hundreds of hands I’ve shaken, the thousands of words I have exchanged in the forming of new relationships. Life sometimes seems a continual, almost frenetic network of connections. As I pondered, I wondered what it is we seek in these relationships? Do we want companionship? Affirmation? Social status? Knowledge? Romance? In the perpetual river of relationships that life rushes us through, I think we often approach eachother, desiring to know what we can get out of a relationship, and not who. How often do we look at someone and truly say, “What I want is to know you.”
In Gabriel’s struggle to find the right English words, I think he perfectly expressed one of the deepest human desires: to know and be known.
I find in myself a desire to be known, a desire I think is innately present in human nature. We are meant to be known. To me, one of the most heartbreaking passages in all of scripture is Genesis 3:8: “They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” Before this passage, Adam and Eve are depicted as living in perfect relationship and harmony with eachother and with God; they were fully known. After being exposed to sin, humanity has found itself hiding, afraid of judgement. I think we still hide for the same reasons today, because we are afraid of judgement, because we are proud, because we don’t know what someone might say if they truly knew us. But the desire to be known is still there. It’s written in our DNA. It’s how life is supposed to be. I find that desire in me, do you?
Jesus knew that desire. I have always been effected by the words of the woman at the well “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did” (John 4). Or by the Psalmist who says to God “Oh, Lord. You have searched me and known me.” (Psalm 139). What a profound thing it is to be known by God.
But we also desire to be known by our fellow humans. As I look at the life of Jesus, I see again and again, that what changed people’s hearts was the startling reality that the Son of God knew them, their sins and their sucesses, their sicknesses and sadnesses, and He loved them. As I look at how Jesus loved, I am reminded of his call to “do as I do.” I know that in my life that I have been without a doubt most profoundly effected by people who have sought to know me.
I think that one of the best gifts we can give eachother is the ministry of knowing. Seeking people, not for what they can give us, or how they make us feel, but for the pleasure and the honor of seeking to know them. Really knowing them. Know their favorite icecream, their delights and their demons, to know how they feel about their family, to know their favorite TV show, to know the existential question they think about when they lay in bed at night, to know their story. I want to give the gift of knowing.
And, in that way, Gabriel’s words honored me. I will still hide behind my book, the next time I am in the coffee shop, and perhaps bring a friend. But, in the end, I find myself thankful for the compliment, and for the conviction, which he perhaps did not mean to impart, to be a person who truly wants to know and to love others, from a heart that has been known and loved by God.
And with that, I’m off to sleep. But, always remember, friends.
You are known.
You are Loved.
O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know [a]when I sit down and [b]when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You [c]scrutinize my [d]path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
[e]Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O Lord, You know it all.
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.