Published in the Rains County Leader on August 4, 2022:
David Perkins and I often meet by the water hose early in the morning when I’m watering my skimpy flower beds and he’s giving his very successful garden a drink. Depending on whether we’ve had our coffee or not, we sometimes have some interesting – but not very deep – conversations. One day last week we talked about seating at the Senior Center.
I don’t remember how the conversation began, but we discussed the fact that some people are very territorial about their seats, and as the lunchtime crowds increase, latecomers sometimes find their seat of choice already occupied. This situation is usually met with good-natured joking, but several years ago there was a bit of a conflict.
Two men who shall remain nameless claimed the same seat, and one day the good-natured joking erupted into a not so good-natured argument. The seated man ended by saying, “Well, I don’t see your name on it.” Not to be outdone, the second man arrived extra early the next day and taped his name on the chair. Of course, the label was removed and a more mature compromise was worked out, but people do have strong feelings about where they sit.
Another interesting seating phenomenon at the Center is that, on Bingo days, people often take different seats than their lunchtime choice. Based on no specific evidence other than my own opinion, there can be several reasons for this. For one thing, some players like to play as many as eight cards at a time, so they need to sit at a relatively empty table in order to spread out. I’m sure there is also a bit of superstition involved, with players believing that a particular seat is luckier than another. In addition, some Bingo enthusiasts don’t stay for lunch, and some diners don’t like to play games, so different social circles have developed for each event. Whatever the reason, the game of the day is often Musical Chairs without the music.
People are creatures of habit, though, and the possessiveness of seating is an observable fact in many social settings, especially in churches. It is the shame of church members that visitors are often nervous about choosing a seat for fear of sitting in someone else’s place – but we all have our preferences nonetheless. Some prefer the back seats because the music is too loud or they like to slip out quickly after the service, while others like to sit up front because they can hear better from that vantage point. Whatever the reason, a change in position can at best cause confusion.
We have a well-loved young man in our church who is nonverbal but has no trouble making his opinions known. One morning he decided I needed to sit in front of him, so I accommodated him. The couple whose seat I took sat one row closer to the front, and the gentleman who usually sat there sat across the aisle where I usually sit. The young man’s mother was embarrassed at the disorder her son had caused, but we all laughed at the situation.
Another place where seating can be an issue is in school. Although most teachers assign seats, usually alphabetical order by last name, every student has a seating preference – and every adult can remember why they loved or hated a particular position in a classroom. Front seats are necessary for those with poor eyesight, and back seats are preferred by those who like to sleep in class. Students who like to meet a sweetheart in the hallway between classes hope to sit by the door, and daydreamers who like to stare out the window want to sit on the other side of the room.
In one of those conversations with adult children where parents learn secrets that have remained hidden for years, I learned that my son had a favorite seat in a specific place for reasons of his own. When he was in his late teens, our family of three spent some time in family counseling. The counselor’s office was set up like a living room with comfortable chairs, and I noticed that we always sat in the same seats. One afternoon I suggested we switch up to give us a different perspective, and let’s just say that my idea was not received favorably. I’m sure there were deep psychological reasons for our choices, but Christian told me years later that he liked his seat because it was by the window. Like the daydreamers in the classrooms, he liked to stare out the window so he didn’t have to pay attention to what was going on.
Confusion and even arguments over seating are not a modern phenomenon. Scripture tells us that the mother of James and John caused ripples among the disciples and gained a rebuke from Jesus by asking Him for special seating for her sons in His Kingdom. And in a parable about humility, Jesus told His listeners not to take the best seat at the table because they might be humiliated when they were asked to move. My daddy used to say it didn’t matter what you called him as long as you called him in time for dinner. Using his reasoning, I guess it shouldn’t really matter where you sit as long as you get a seat at the table.