I was lying in bed one morning at 5 being thankful that I did not have to go to work, when I heard music playing.
I was awake enough to know that I had not died and gone to heaven, and I didn’t think the symphony-style notes were likely to be playing from any of my neighbor’s speakers at 5 am on a Saturday. This left two distinct possibilities, both creepy: A) someone was in my front room playing my organ or B) someone was ringing my doorbell, which plays Mozart.
I lay frozen for a moment, then summoned the courage to roll over and turn off my fan, which provides just enough white noise to muffle sounds.
In the silence that followed, I heard the music again. Definitely Mozart.
I got up–nervously–and went to the back door where I peered through the peep hole. No one. I debated not going to the front door, but now I could hear someone pounding and it seemed unlikely that anyone would come knock on anyone’s door at 5 am unless there was an emergency. My neighbor Jen had come to my door once very early, but that was because she had seen that I was awake, getting ready for work.
I walked down the linoleum hall to my front door and shouted, “Who’s there?”
“Jenny,” came the muffled smoker’s voice.
I threw back the deadbolt and opened the door.
She was there engulfed in her windbreaker, gaunt face beneath unkempt hair. She began to speak hastily, as she always does.
“I’m sorry to wake you up,” she said. “But I really need some coffee.”
She said she wasn’t feeling well.
I debated a speech about waiting until daytime to ask people for coffee, but I just let it go. I walked to my kitchen, poured some grounds into a Ziploc.
I retired to my rooms, shaking my head in disbelief.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Why would you go out in the cold at 5 for coffee? Why wouldn’t you notice the day before that you were running low? How long did she stand there in her rumpled clothes? How can you have no respect, no shame, no appreciation for the things humanity generally cares about? Was there any common ground with her and reality?
She came a few days later asking for a gift card because they were hungry. My sister was still at my house, and I was cooking, so I told Jen I would bring food down to them. She seemed unhappy that I was bringing food instead of giving her the gift card, so I assumed she had found a way to turn Subway cards into cash.
I packaged up the meatloaf and collard greens and bread I had and my sister and I carried it down the sidewalk. I pounded on Jen’s door several times with no answer.
“That’s too bad,” my sister said.
But then I heard a voice inside and Harvey, Jen’s boyfriend, came to the door.
He opened the door, and it was as if we had been knocking on a coffin, and he was opening the lid for us to take a peak. His clavicles stood up sharply beneath his skin, thin hair hanging loosely around them. His ribs were clearly countable. He wore no shirt, but had thrown a poncho-type fuzzy vest around his thin frame.
“I’ve been sick,” he rasped.
“Well, I’ve brought you some food,” I said. “I hope you like collard greens.”
We walked away subdued.
“I wasn’t prepared for that,” my sister said, the specter-like man stamped on her mind.
“I never wanted to live a boring life,” I said. “Although sometimes I could handle a little less uniqueness.”
But sometimes when the brokenness becomes so intense that it knows no rival, that it breaks every mold I have ever mentally poured, I stop and think.
This is too weird to be anything but the call of Christ. Christ has called me here, at this moment. I have no idea what to do, no plan, no frame of reference other than to try to be like Christ.
I don’t even always know what’s right! I know you shouldn’t always give to beggars. I know you shouldn’t always let abusive, manipulative people run over you. But, judging by the life of Christ, sometimes you should give to beggars, and sometimes you should let abusive people run over you. So I think there is only one rule that will always rescue when we stand on the precipice of the unknown…look up, look up, look up…
God please show me what to do, please help me to do what Christ would do.
“I think everyone who follows God ends up living on the edge at some point,” I told my sister. “Because God takes us to a place where the rules no longer rescue, where we cannot function without His voice anymore.”
The Thanksgiving holidays passed and I dropped my sister off at the train station. She mentioned my gaunt neighbor again, as if he were branded in her memory as a symbol of Elkhart depravity.
A few days later, on the first day of December, I turned on some Christmas music and put out my pine cones and a few pieces of greenery. Then I headed off to the post office to get some mailing materials.
As I drove under Jen’s house, I saw a flash of color from the upper story window. I braked and peered through my passenger’s window, and looked up.
At the top of a string of multicolored lights, there glowed a Christmas wreath.
But thanks be to God who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.
For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.
Who is sufficient for these things?
II Cor 2:15-16