I did a dumb thing the other day. No surprise there; I am frequently careening from error in judgment to error in judgment, smooth and round and relentless, like a big pink pinball. This was, even for me, an exceptional moment in dumbness.
My car was in the shop, awaiting pickup. The mechanic is not quite two miles from my office. Thinking the walk would Do Me Good, I declined a coworker's offer of a ride, and set off on foot, toting my laptop and a bulging LL Bean canvas briefcase so that I wouldn't have to double back to the office after picking up my car. The bags weighed at least twenty pounds between them; I looked like a Sherpa in short pants.
About a half mile from the office, I realized that my briefcase had come partially unzipped, and items -- my GPS device, a bank envelope containing cash and my driver's license, my iPod headphones -- were tumbling into the weeds on the shoulder of the Beltway 8 feeder road. I dropped to my knees and gathered up my belongings, cars and trucks whizzing past at NASCAR speed.
"Well, that was a close call," I thought, and continued my trek to the automotive center.
The next morning, while brushing my teeth, my heart raced and my hands went clammy with the realization that there had been three Blockbuster DVD rentals in my bag, and they weren't there anymore. "You probably left them on your desk," my wife reassured me.
I hadn't. They were gone, three rented DVDs, lost somewhere in the wilds of Pasadena. I called Blockbuster and explained the situation. I would have to pay for them, of course, to the tune of something like sixty dollars.
The expense is bad, but the embarrassment is worse, the admission that at 47 I am still not completely trustworthy with a simple assignment like returning a couple of movies to the video store. It is a good thing we live in a warm climate: I do not know if I could endure the necessary humiliation of having my wife pin my mittens to my jacket.
I retraced my steps. Nothing. Then I did something that I almost felt foolish doing. I prayed. I prayed for help in finding lost DVDs. That seems a silly thing, even for a believer: planes are falling out of the sky in Russia; earthquakes and volcanoes imperil lives and rend the planet; wars and rumors of wars fill the earth. And in the middle of the tumult, I approach His celestial throne, with my request for assistance in finding a lost copy of "Sherlock Holmes".
Silly. But I did it.
And within a couple of seconds, I got this feeling: "Go down the street and ask the guys at the "Inspector Quick" car service. They know something." I went down the street, and the man I talked to looked at me like I had marmosets crawling out of my ears, but one of his co-workers overheard us, and he told me that he had seen some guys in a City of Pasadena work truck pick up something that might have been DVD cases that morning, right in front of their shop.
Well, that was it. The DVDs were in the Pasadena landfill. Then I heard the voice again, "Drive over to the Department of Sanitation. Ask them." I did it. And the man on duty looked at me like I had marmosets crawling out of my ears, but he took my phone number and said he'd ask around and call me.
He never called. I got up this morning, resigned to having to pay Blockbuster for the lost videos.
As my wife and I offered a prayer, the voice once more popped into my head: "Offer thanks for the inspiration you've received. Be grateful, even though you didn't find what you were looking for. Then call the Department of Sanitation." I did as I was bidden, offering thanks for the inspiration. On my way to work, I called the sanitation people.
"Oh, yeah," the man said. "I remember you. Say, what were the titles of those movies?" I told him. He replied, "I was just testing you. You passed. They're right here, on my desk. Come down and pick them up."
God isn't a genie. He isn't our Celestial Butler, or our Divine Detective, or our Omnipotent Valet. He is our Father. And He is there. I am very quick to doubt that, to convince myself that He is far away, and I am too small, too weak, too venial to merit His attention or His love. In this moment of carelessness, this loss of something trivial, He chose to lead me, guide me, and walk beside me. He chose to tell me, with perfect gentleness, "I am not too busy for you." (The scary part, of course, is that these insights do not come cheaply. I am now under a greater obligation to serve, to show compassion, to love, for I have felt, in the answers to this silly little request, enveloped by Love.)
The miracle is that He is there for all of us, with the same love, with the same attentiveness, if we would only humble ourselves and listen.