I hope you all will take this essay I wrote by way of an apology for not posting lately. This is a deeply personal essay I wrote for one of my classes, and I’ll share it with you here. Those of you who wrote me wanting to know where I was and if I was ok, thanks for the concern :) Actually, no, I haven’t really been “ok”, I’ve been stressed pretty heavily and busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest, but I’m hoping to get things back under control very soon. Please take a small part of me as my apology to you.
I met God one day. He wasn’t much to look at, if truth be told. He’s short, about 5’4” or so with wild unkempt brown hair, a ragged bushy beard and a timid demeanor. It took a lot to get him to talk, kind of like coaxing a scared rabbit to take a bit of food from your hand. He was cold, wet and hungry. He needed comfort and compassion, and in the process he saved my life.
Life wasn’t treating me particularly well. The economy had crashed, leaving me to deal with the loss of my job of six years as well as my entire way of life. When my job disappeared, my newlywed wife left as well; it seems all my time at home cut into her affair with an ex-boyfriend. All my friends also lost their jobs and left the area. My family lived back in the Midwest, and I had virtually no emotional support. I could no longer afford the house I bought for myself and my new bride. I had very little idea where I could go or what I could do.
None of these events in isolation were particularly devastating but taken all at once they became a heavy load to deal with. I got a first hand look at real depression and the realization of just how black life can become. Dogged determination and stubbornness kept me going each day. Every morning I’d dutifully drag my sorry self out of bed, go through the motions of living each day and pray for some sort of reprieve. I had a part-time job at least, a few hours of the day to get a small taste of human contact. I worked as a barrista at a small coffee shop, serving coffee and a forced smile to all my regular customers.
The night before I met God was particularly black. A storm raged outside and the rain whipped against my windows. I remember standing in my home office, staring out the window, unable to see the orange trees right outside. My orange trees always comforted me; they symbolized my California dream. Not being able to see them made me wonder just how much of my dream I had lost. I felt bereft of everything, empty and wrung out. I felt my emotional anchors rip loose as I finally gave in to that roller coaster drop into deep depression, the pit that had been tugging at me for the past year. I finally gave in and gave up.
Have you ever wondered what death might taste like? I pondered that question as I found myself sitting on the floor of my office, my .38 in my hands. I didn’t really remember taking it down from the closet shelf, didn’t really think about it as I turned the shiny pistol over and over in my hands. Relief, respite, and defeat were my only thoughts. Tears streamed down my cheeks as I apologized to God. Sobs wracked my body as my dog snuggled in my lap trying to comfort me. I said goodbye to him that night, my tears wetting his fur as I hoped he’d be able to cope with losing his daddy. I would miss him terribly in whatever life I was headed for next.
I put the barrel to my lips, wondering if I’d taste the lead of the bullet as it smashed through my teeth. I wondered if I’d have time to feel the pain, and I worried about staining the carpet. I hated the thought of leaving a horrible mess for someone else to clean up. Funny that even at my blackest moment the mundane details weighed heaviest on my mind.
Huge consequences often hinge on small decisions. We can spend all the time in the world planning out a course of action, only to make a snap decision that changes our future. That night, as I sat there in my office kissing the barrel of a .38 pistol, I felt overwhelmed by exhaustion. I was just too tired to pull the trigger; too tired to meet my maker. I wanted to be rested when I plead my case to God. I carefully placed the pistol on my desk, scooped my dog up in my arms and went to bed. “Tomorrow,” I said to myself. “Tomorrow I’ll go home.” Besides, what was one more day? Nothing but a day to say goodbye in my heart to everyone.
Morning came early. My alarm clock screeched me awake at five a.m. and I stumbled through my morning routine. I thought to myself, This is my last day, after today I can rest. That mantra carried me through the morning as I went through the mundane tasks of opening the café; unlocking the safe, brewing the coffee, baking the bagels, and counting out the cash drawer. The chilly day and the storm no longer held power over me. My decision had been made and I drew comfort from the knowledge. I knew I’d meet God that day; I just didn’t expect him to come walking through the door.
I glanced up as I heard the bell on the door chime. My early morning regulars came through the door, streaming around a man who parted their path like a rock parts a stream. The man, obviously homeless and afraid, stood in their path as the water dripped from his old army jacket and pooled at his feet. I saw a look of quiet desperation in his face as our eyes met, and I instantly knew he felt like an intruder on civilized society. He turned and bolted out the door as I turned to make the morning lattes for my regulars. My heart leapt out of my chest and followed him as he fled. I felt connected to this man somehow; I felt as if our mutual despair connected us somehow, and I couldn’t bear to see him cold, alone, and afraid.
I’ve always been taught that charity should be an intensely private thing, never to be trumpeted or bragged about. I made no explanation to my customers as I left them standing at my counter; I was just concerned he would escape. I took a hot cup of coffee with me as I headed for the door and hoped I’d catch him before he disappeared. Somehow I managed to catch a fleeting glimpse of him as he turned into the alley beside the café and I caught him, pressed the steaming latte into his hands, and almost bodily dragged him back inside. Once inside, I took his coat from him, made him sit down and plied him with day-old cinnamon rolls. My admonitions finally overcame his protestations, and I could see the relief spread across his shoulders as he sat by the window, silently eating and watching the rain.
I’m not sure when Albert left the café, but I do remember talking to him in between customers. I found out his name, wheedled a little of his life story from him, and gave him the simple respect one human being deserves from another. I treated him as I would want to be treated, without pity and with a quiet dignity. I didn’t really notice he had left until Mr. Porter, one of my favorite regulars, came over to pat me on the shoulder. His look said it all; pride and respect shone from his eyes. I felt embarrassed, charity should be private, but I respected the opinion of the man and his approval struck me deeply.
The rest of my day passed uneventfully. I cleaned the things I’d dirtied, filled the containers I emptied, and said the things that needed to be said. End of shift rolled around, my replacement took over, and I quietly drove home. I stopped to pick an orange before I went inside. My regular routine took over: bills to pay, animals to feed, dishes to wash. Finally, bedtime rolled around and I crawled under my quilt, tired and ready for rest. My dog curled up in my arms, and my cat took up her usual spot, draped across my feet, purring gently.
Just as I started to slide over the edge into my dreams, a sudden thought hit me. I sat bolt upright in bed as the realization of a task left undone blazed across my mind. I could see the pistol waiting on my desk; I could hear it calling to me. Strangely, at that instant, I also saw a face in my mind; I saw the face of Albert as he said to me, “I was hungry and you fed me.” I saw God in his eyes, and I knew he loved me. I felt him reach out to me and fold me into his arms. Tears sprang to my eyes as a wave of relief washed over me. I knew my depression had ended but not in the way I expected. I laughed gently to myself as I drifted off to sleep, a quiet “Goodnight, God” on my lips. I had hit bottom and bounced. I was on my way back up.