Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Extra Half-Mile

As the sky began to spit pellets of frozen water and the light began to wane late this afternoon, I found myself perusing my to-do list and thinking I needed to expedite the process of getting the heck out of Maryland.   I've been on the Beltway in the midst of winter precipitation events, and it is rarely pretty.

It was at that moment, alone in the church, as I took another stab at the report I'm struggling to write for my last Trinity-Bethesda Annual Congregational and Ecclesiastical Meeting, that I saw a young African American man, dressed in large shapeless winter garb, walking around the outside of the church towards the office entrance.  I'd seen him getting off the bus out front of the church about twenty minutes before. 

Oh man.  Random drop in.  Now?

There was a knock at the door, so I got up and went to answer it.  "Excuse me," he said, pleasantly enough.  "Do you know where [such and such address] is?"  The street name was not familiar.  I replied in the negative.  Information is easy in this information age, and I have an iPhone, so I asked him to wait while I searched for it.  But I was out of WiFi range, and 3G was spinning in a fruitless circle, so no dice.

He seemed both earnest and anxious, so I suggested that he accompany me to the church office so that I could googlemaps it.  He did, and as he did, we introduced ourselves, as my dog wagged ferociously at him over in the corner of the office.  "I'm so late," said he.  "I need to get a transcript from the county records office, and the place closes at 4:45 pm." 

It was 4:32 pm.

I searched for the address he'd told me.  It was located in a school in the middle of a nearby neighborhood, down a convoluted mess of suburban roads, a little over half a mile away.  He was never going to make it.  So I showed him where it was.  And I said, you're not going to make it if you walk.  I can drive you. 

So we went out to my van, and he hopped in, and we drove there through some winding Bethesda backroads.   We arrived at the school, and I offered to hang around until he was done and get him back to a bus stop.  He was appreciative, and leapt out of the van to get into the county record office with six minutes to spare.

We chatted a bit as I drove him to a bus stop on a nearby major road, and I learned he aspired to be a recording engineer...which is why he was trying to pull together his application for college. I dropped him off with a cheery farewell.

In the midst of a world where everyone is frantic with the hurly burly of busyness scurrying, I found myself suddenly thankful for my vocation. 

A stranger arrived in a place he had never been, but seeing the church, he had the confidence to seek help there.  I felt blessed with the privilege of having someone who had never met me arrive at the doorstep of my church, with the expectation that in such a place, a total stranger might be willing to lend a hand.

The report?  Well, that could wait for tomorrow.  Seemed less important, somehow.