Never Had Such a Week
Early last Tuesday morning, I went out to my wife's car to fetch my laptop and discovered that it was missing. Likewise, a pair of swell new prescription sunglasses I'd owned exactly five days were no longer on the dash where I'd left them.
My first reaction was to scratch my head and wonder where I'd misplaced them. I was, after all, mentally fried from a quick, grueling road trip to Maine to pick up my son and a load of furniture and deliver them both to his college. Truthfully, my brain was foggier than a Bar Harbor buoy in an autumn mist.
My next reaction was to shake my head in disbelief as it dawned on me that we had, in fact, been hit by thieves right under our own noses.
My third reaction was to shake my fist at heaven and shout, "C'mon now, God. Cut it out! What did I do to deserve this?"
Losing my swell new shades was tough enough, but the laptop contained almost everything I've written over the past few years, parts of at least three books and several years' worth of these Sunday essays, not to mention some silly poems and a blue million e-mails to and from my kids.
Suddenly, somewhere in the Sandhills, a nearsighted car thief with single-digit handicap and questionable literary tastes was making a beeline to his local pawnshop.
I mean, seriously, I was fully prepared to rise up on my hind legs and shout wild-eyed at God, "Why should this happen to me? I'm one of the good guys, for heaven's sake!"
Not to boast or anything, I would point out to the Almighty, I don't cheat or steal or covet anything anybody else owns except possibly my oldest friend Patrick's secret fly-fishing spot in the mountains. In point of fact, I have so few material desires I'd probably make a half-decent monk (as long as my wife were allowed to visit).
Sunday is my favorite day by a country mile. I love going to church. Old Anglican and Baptist hymns make me deeply happy. So does pottering in my garden - where, you'll recall, one is supposedly closer to your heart, God. As you are no doubt fully aware, I pray every day, sometimes more than once. I rarely say please. I always say thank you.
Not to put too fine a point on these matters, I should add for the record that I love all creatures great and small and aspire to treat all strangers with the utmost kindness, even if they do come from South Carolina.
I take my obligations as a citizen seriously and always vote at election time. I never fudge on my taxes. I love my wife and kids and send money to Public Radio and support a few charities that understand that, for the moment at least, with two kids in colleges that cost 40-K a year, I'll eventually up my pledge and still have pocket change for lunch someday before hell freezes over.
Yes, OK, I may enjoy the occasional glass of Guinness and moderately swear a little from time to time on the golf course with pals, but that's all in fun and most likely just the effect of playing a little too much golf in Ireland, where recreational swearing (and drinking) is the national pastime.
Giving and Taking Away
According to the Bible, I would remind God, his loyal servant Job swore, too - especially after his friends and even his own wife suggested he simply lie down and die after his troubles nearly got the best of him.
You remember Job, the pious and prosperous fellow from the Hebrew Bible who has his life turned upside down after God, of all people, makes a wager with the devil to test his loyal servant's faithfulness. Predicting he can persuade Job to turn his back on heaven and deny God's authority, the devil sends robbers to steal Job's cattle and slay his servants.
Next comes a mighty wind that flattens Job's house, killing his seven sons and three daughters during a family gathering. When Job refuses to denounce God - "The good lord giveth and the good lord taketh away," says Job, recognizing God's supreme authority - the devil unleashes leprosy and leaves the long-suffering fellow literally sitting in the ashes of his formerly very nice life.
That's when Job's wife helpfully suggests it might be better off for all concerned if he were to simply lie down and give up the ghost. Perhaps she's just paid up his life insurance policy.
For the record, at any rate, God eventually takes mercy on his loyal servant and restores Job's house, his cattle, his wealth, his servants, even his family. Realizing Job is faithful no matter what terrible and unfair things befall him, the good lord provides him seven new sons and three new daughters and permits him live to be more than 150 years old and die peacefully in his sleep.
Throughout the centuries, the story of Job has been used by preachers and rabbis to remind both the wicked and faithful alike that a jealous and wrathful God holds all the cards and answers to no mortal man's desires or pleas. It's meant to advise the importance of patience in hard times, to counsel steadfast faith in times of personal trial.
Personally speaking, I never cared one bit for this Bible story. It doesn't seem like something a loving God would do to his most loyal follower. I'm not alone in this view, either. St. Teresa of Avila was once traveling to see her sisters in a convent during a violent rainstorm when her coach hit a bump and bounced her face down into a muddy ditch. Miraculously unhurt, she picked herself up and raised her fist to heaven and declared, "Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!"
In retrospect, my crazy week last week was far more like St. Teresa's flop into the mud than Job's ordeal. But after a certain point, the distinctions begin to blur.
It began an hour before I set off to Maine in my wife's car late Friday afternoon. She drives our family's snazzy new car, a great road car that's never had any kind of issue. Yet an hour before I was scheduled to shove off, she called me to say the "Check Engine" light had come on and she was zipping by Doug the mechanic for a quick check.
As she was doing this, I received notification from my daughter's university that her student loan had failed to show up as planned and the registering deadline was looming in two hours. After that, her mom and I would be charged an obscene additional fee for late registration - even though we'd been assured everything was in order a month ago. My daughter was panicking. Which means I was panicking.
Fortunately, I'm married to a woman who could bring order to a maximum security prison break or a convention of drunken anarchists. While she was getting her car checked out, she managed somehow to get through to the college and discovered they'd made a clerical goof.
The car, meanwhile, turned out to simply have a small idling problem. "Doug says it's fine to drive to Maine and back," she said. "Just try not to get stuck in any traffic jams, or else it may stall on you."
Somewhere around Baltimore, the traffic came to a dead stop. I turned on the radio and learned that last weekend (and this one) are actually the busiest road-travel days of the year owing to returning vacationers and anxious parents taking their scholars to college.
The drive up Saturday took me 19 hours and only a dozen stall-outs, the most nerve-wracking trip I'd made in 25 years. My reward for this juggernaut was a nice supper with my kids at our favorite Indian restaurant and a decent night's sleep by an open window at my dear friend Kate's house beside a saltwater cove.
The weather was deliciously cool in Maine, the night so peaceful. I thanked God for getting me there in one piece and asked one small favor in return: Please don't let the car stall out anywhere between Boston and, say, Carthage.
The drive back took 23 hours, the new most nerve-wracking trip I've made in 25 years. We passed through a monstrous thunderstorm and sat in a dozen major traffic jams and saw at least that many wrecks. In the middle of the storm, a giant limb nearly landed on our car.
At one toll booth in New Jersey, two men were actually slugging it out beside their over-packed mini vans. You'd have thought somebody pulled the fire alarm for the entire Northeast. The car didn't stall once, though.
One Last Surprise
It was nice to pull into our driveway late Monday afternoon after dropping Junior off at school and find my wife waiting to give me a hug and a nice, cool Guinness. We went out and sat on our back terrace garden, where I'm always closer to God's heart.
"I'm so glad you're back," she said. "There's only one small wrinkle."
She explained that the state revenue people recalculated my corporate income taxes from several years ago and decided I owed some more money. They'd been sending the bill to Maine for two years, racking up penalties. They'd agreed to knock off the penalties but wanted the dough before Christmas.
"When it rains, it pours. What else could possibly happen?" I joked, beginning to feel a little like Job, whose ordeal at least had a happy ending plus or minus his 10 kids.
That night, to briefly review, someone swiped my laptop and new sunglasses. Fortunately, I'd backed up nearly everything on my home computer.
Looking back on the week, I've decided this was all just meant to be. Everyone has weeks like this. The rain falls on the rich and the poor alike. I'm no better or worse than any ordinary Job.
I can laugh it off and just move on. But I swear to you that if some guy publishes my novel with his name on it, he's going to have real hell to pay.
Award-winning author Jim Dodson, Sunday essayist with The Pilot and editor of PineStraw magazine, can be reached at email@example.com.
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