Chris, Charlene and I went to the Dallas FanExpo last Sunday. I skipped church to go, but experienced a “sermon” that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Chris and Charlene were waiting in line to get an autograph from Ashley Eckstein (the voice of Ahsoka in the animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars). I was resting my tired legs in the food court and enjoying watching the cosplayers in their amazingly creative costumes when my phone rang.
“Can you come stand in line for us?” Charlene asked. “The line’s moving slowly and we have to be at a photo shoot in a few minutes.”
I went to where they were waiting and took their place in line. Chris explained that the line was slow moving because Ashley was talking to each of the fans as she signed autographs.
I’d never watched “The Clone Wars” and had no idea who Ashley Eckstein was but as I stood there, patiently waiting to give her the item Chris wanted signed, I was impressed. She not only was talking to her fans, she seemed to be taking a genuine interest in each one.
One young lady was evidently sharing something deeply personal, and she broke down in tears. Ashley walked around from behind the row of tables (not a short walk) and hugged her. I had no idea what was being said, but it was clear this young woman wasn’t just an emotional fan. She was hurting and Ashley comforted her.
The next person brought a life-size Captain America shield to be signed. (I’m not particularly literate where pop culture is concerned, but even I know the difference between Marvel and Star Wars!) Why did she want this signed? I was close enough by now that I could see the shield was covered with signatures. Was this a gift for someone who perhaps was hurting? I couldn’t hear what was being said, but I knew it was important to the young woman. Again, Ashley listened patiently and compassionately.
The young lady right in front of me brought two copies of her artwork (nicely done drawings of the character Ahsoka) to show Ashley. She gave one of the copies to her and Ashley asked her to write her Instagram handle on the back of it. Again, the young fan was overcome with emotion and Ashley took the time to talk to her.
My turn finally came. Now I understood why the line was taking so long. I had prepared a short speech (“I’m just doing this for my son.”) so I could get the autograph and get out of the way for Ashley’s real fans.
Then something unexpected happened.
Ashley looked at me and smiled as I handed her the item Chris wanted signed. She asked if I wanted it personalized and I told her it was for my son and he just wanted the signature.
As she reached for a signing pen she pointed to my shirt and said, “What’s that? Are you with the Fire Department?” (I was wearing a T-shirt that had a logo that read: Supporter: Campbell Volunteer Fire Department.)
I choked up.
Struggling to control my emotions (and mostly losing) I said, “No. But they saved my life.”
She put down her pen, smiled, and said, “Tell me about it.”
I melted. I managed to get out the basics of the story without totally falling apart. But it was hard.
I’ve told the story of my heart attack countless times and almost never get emotional anymore. But as this wonderful woman, whom I’d never heard of fifteen minutes before, patiently listened to me as I tried to spill out my story, I was overwhelmed.
Finally she said, “I think I want to give you a hug.” And she stood up and hugged me over the table. “The world’s better with you in it,” she said as I moved out of the way for the next person in line.
Autograph in hand, I went back to the food court to wait for Chris and Charlene.
Still a jumble of emotions, I asked myself, “What just happened?”
After all, I’d never heard of Ashley Eckstein before this. I wasn’t some giddy emotional fanboy getting to meet someone he’d admired for years. I was literally filling a place in line and getting an autograph for someone else.
But my few minutes with Ashley Eckstein blew me away.
Because in the thirty or so minutes I was in line and in the few brief moments that I spoke with her, I experienced uncommon, extraordinary compassion. Ashley treated every person in that line as if they were the only one in line. (I later read online that Ashley has stayed after conferences have closed, just so that no one in line would be turned away.) That’s why the line moved slowly. And that’s why her fans love her.
As I think about that experience, I imagine that this is what it would have been like to be in one of those crowds of people surrounding Jesus, wanting to be healed. “Moved with compassion, he healed them,” the gospel writers often said. I imagine that Jesus didn’t rush people through the line as they stood, waiting for healing. And he didn’t turn anyone away either, no matter how tired he was. And when he looked at them and knew they had a story, I imagine he smiled at them and said, “Tell me about it.”
I can see myself standing before him, telling my story and feeling a flood of emotions, just like I did with Ashley.
Last Saturday I witnessed–and experienced–genuine Christlikeness. I don’t know what Ashley Eckstein believes about Jesus or God, or if she believes anything. I do know that she taught a master-class in compassion that day, and I was the student. I saw Jesus in her. And I will never, ever forget the experience.
Lord, help me to be compassionate. Help me to genuinely care about every single person I know and meet. Help me to be willing to take the time to say, “Tell me about it.”
Help me to be like Ashley Eckstein.