I’ve long coveted the assurance of religious conviction, but my skeptical nature denies me such comforts. I understand the temptations of disbelievers to be swayed by extraordinary coincidence, extreme emotional trauma, and sentiment. Often the birth of a child or a near death experience will do it.
Last Friday a colleague of mine suffered a great personal tragedy. Her granddaughter was killed in an auto accident which also took the life of the girl’s de facto stepmother and put her father and her brother into intensive care with grim prognoses. It constitutes a very tough time for said colleague, and while I know I cannot help with the most important work of hugging and crying and sitting quietly as needs be, I still want to help. Cash can paper over a lot of logistical difficulties in the middle of such stress because the crap part of life never lets up. Whether it’s rushing meals or missing work or making arrangements for relatives, cash can help smooth the way. My means are modest, but I can help a little. Mine is the easy part; I cannot even begin to imagine what a bereaved grandmother must be going through. My heart breaks hard enough at just the thought of it.
Last night (Saturday) at the Quikk Stopp by the Interstate, a regular friendly customer, a local Corrections Officer, concluded the transaction portion of his visit, and rather than bidding each other the cordial farewells we normally do, he paused and looked a little bit embarrassed.
“I don’t mean to be weird,” he said, “but the Holy Spirit told me to give you this.” He pushed a wad of bills across the counter.
I picked it up and stammered and managed to say, “Wow. Thanks, CO.”
He smiled and said, “Christ loves you,” and turned and began to walk out.
“I…” was all I could think to say as I watched him leave.
It’s not unprecedented for shop clerks to receive gratuities. It’s not common, either, certainly not the standard. Maybe around holidays sometimes, after establishing personal relationships. (And of course there’s that occasional bit of “keep the metal” from some customers.) Actual deliberate tips, though, are rare, and usually just a matter of a small bill or two, but this was a day’s wage. This was something special.
A day’s wage is pretty much what I had already resolved to kick over to Comrade First Shift but just hadn’t yet. I’m not procrastinating, I can read the schedule so I know when she’ll be back. Right now she doesn’t need me in her shit. When she returns to her lighter paycheck she’ll also find my little boost with CO’s extra helping backing me up.
What so moved CO to bestow so lavish a gift? Well, he told me already, didn‘t he? It was “the Holy Spirit.” I expect he believes it, and I think I might like to, but for about a half a century now I’ve made a pretty steady claim of atheist materialism — with a generous dollop of Rastafarian Agnostic Sybarite folded in for flavor. CO spends his time around people who are a lot worse off than me. If he wanted to help someone out, and witness the gospel at the same time, I expect he has plenty of opportunities. Of course, working for the state, he may be constrained from proselytizing his charges.
I’m an old dude who works at the Quikk Stopp by the Interstate to keep himself in groceries and electricity and other expensive indulgences. My lifestyle is not lavish, but I’m not particularly suffering. Maybe I’m his mission and he thinks I need the help. Sometimes there are holes in my clothing, and my shaves and haircuts are often haphazard and irregular (because I don‘t care), so maybe he thinks I’m hungry. I don’t complain (about that.) Was my vicarious grief in response to Comrade First’s loss apparent in my body language? Did CO already know about the tragedy and was relying on my presumed character to “do the right thing”? A calculated risk that, but not impossible.
So far I am unable to rule out subconscious reasoning, subterfuge, deceit, coincidence, or psychic manipulation. Or divine intervention. My (poor) understanding of the mathematics underpinning current physical theory opens me to many unprecedented phenomena, but because they are unprecedented, the burden of proof rests on the positive. Of course, I expect CO would remind me that history is replete with reports of miracles, so, so much for “unprecedented”, and I might point out that sometimes you’re dealt a pat hand. I do know that I was emotionally distraught. People who know me tell me I have some obvious tells, and CO has been acquainted with me for at least a couple of years. His trade (security and corrections) calls for a good ability to read people. With inmates specifically I guess he’s watching for violence, but in so doing he’s also learning the emotional language that overlaps with other venues.
I’m no Saul of Tarsus, and I have no conversion to report, but I have a better idea now of what rapture and agape mean. It was a unique emotional rush for me, that confluence of circumstances — sadness, compassion, resolve, amazement, delight. And fraternity! CO is a man whom I’ve grown to trust and respect, and he offered to enfold me in his and Christ’s love!
If I were so wired…