nicholas hopkins

Chuckle of God

Tonight, things just weren't going well.  Actually, it started long before tonight.  The car I bought last year was supposed to be a reliable, used import.  It turned into a money pit that has cost almost as much to keep running as it did to buy.  Finally, one day last week, it beckoned to an innocent Ford Escort.  As I was traveling down the road, my little import dared the Ford to dash into an intersection.  The Escort, being offended at the taunting, took the dare and bolted.  The only problem was that I was in the middle of the intersection at the time.

Today, the Escorts insurance company formally accepted liability and the rental I've been driving since the accident decided to celebrate by getting a flat tire.  Naturally, I was on my way out for the evening.  After some quietly mumbled phrases, a quick tire change, and an equally quick clean up, I decided to cancel my plans for the night and just go home.  On my way, the gas gauge reminded me that cars will go much further if they have fuel.  More mumbling.  I needed gas, but first I needed cash.  Having just balanced my checkbook a few hours earlier, I knew that I could withdraw just enough money to live on for the next few days and still make all of my current bills if I used some Christmas money and carefully timed the delivery of my checks.

Just as I was pulling into the credit union to hit the money machine, a car pulled in right in front of me.  More mumbling.  Typical.  Why?  Because God hates me,... that's why.  I'm not sure what I did to tick Him off, (it's not as if there are no choices,...) but He's obviously ticked.  The car, the wreck, the hassle, the flat tire and now more people in line at the money machine. 

I waited (almost) patiently in line, got my money and was reaching for the handle on my listing rent-a-car when I heard someone calling.  I looked up and saw a man scrambling through the low shrubbery.  Partially blinded by the lights I could only tell that he was short, probably in his forties, but not beefy enough to be a physical threat.  As he moved into the light, he called out "Sir, can you spare enough for my wife and I to get a sandwich?  We're livin' in a tent over there behind the park, and we're just strapped.  I'm not kiddin' sir, have you got enough to spare?" 

I'm ashamed to admit that my first reaction was a sort of frustrated, impatient, cynical one.  I thought of the guy I had run into the previous week.  As he had stumbled off with the few dollars he had asked me for, I got the distinct impression that it wasn't going to be spent getting him to the job he talked about, so I was a little hesitant to fall for another story. 

This man seemed different.  Something about him told me that he absolutely hated asking me for money.  At the same time, I really could not afford to give him one of the bills that I had just withdrawn from the money machine.  Still being a little hesitant, but not wanting to tell him why, I asked him where he would be in ten minutes.  He pointed to a nearby park pavilion and I told him I'd meet him there.

As I drove away, I mumbled some more about what a sap-head I am.  Actually going to get change for some guy that was probably just going to hit the liquor store at the corner, or worse yet, meet me at the pavilion with a few of his buddies.  Leaving the store, I thought briefly about just going home.  I'm not sure which catechism session it came from, but I was reminded of a Gospel passage about turning your back on strangers.  Then I thought about the look on that mans face as he moved out of the shadows and into the light, asking me to help him get a meal.  If there was even a chance that this guy and his wife really needed the help, I figured it was worth the little bit of money I could give them.  Besides, I have enough trouble sleeping, I knew that if I just drove home, I'd be up half the night trying to justify it to myself.

Pulling into the pavilion, I began to feel embarrassed at my earlier callousness; I could see him sitting alone in the dark at the picnic table.  I got out, walked toward him and shook the hand he offered.  The look in his eyes conveyed both his surprise at my arrival and a very humbling gratitude.  His chin quivered and his eyes flinched as he accepted the help.  I wished him luck as our eyes met.  He hesitated, thanked me and began to walk away.  After a few steps he stopped, turned, and I could hear him struggling to say "Hey,...God bless you, man."  I was at a loss myself and could only say, "God bless you, too."

On my way home, I couldn't help but think that I made the right decision.  In fact, I tried to think of more that I could do to help the two of them.  As I pulled into my parking spot, thinking of things to do, I turned off the car and opened the door to get out.  I was suddenly reminded of my thoughts at the credit union, just prior to meeting the man from the park. 

I sat there for a full minute at least, thinking about those earlier unspoken words.  I thought about keeping things in perspective and I thought about whether or not this whole evening was a not-so-subtle message about those thoughts.  And in the whispered voice of the wind through the pine trees, I heard the soft, loving chuckle of God.  Perhaps He doesn't hate me after all.


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