Sometimes I wake up feeling terrible. Not a physical kind of terrible, more a doggedly negative state of mind. On these kinds of mornings, getting dressed, washing my face and making my morning coffee all seem like momentous tasks. They shouldn’t, because I have a good, privileged life, and the shame that I feel so heavy anyway makes it all that much worse.
Everything went wrong
Yesterday was one of those days, and as the morning wore on, I was running persistently late and seemed to be doing everything wrong. I’d almost overdrawn my checking account, I went to the UPS store but needed to be at the USPS to send my package, I’d skipped my coffee altogether and was unreasonably furious at everyone else on the road that morning.
It was almost noon when I decided to duck into a beautiful cathedral situated conveniently close to my house. It’s open for visitors on weekdays, and I stop in occasionally to pray. They have a fair trade coffee stand in the lobby that is sometimes open too, and if nothing else, I knew I really needed coffee.
On my way in, a young man was leaving the building. He was carrying his belongings on his back and his shoes were worn. I didn’t make eye contact.
The cathedral was it’s usual massive, imposing self, made a little more so because the sky outside was overcast and the light falling through the towering rows of stained glass windows was gloomy. I made my way to one of the alcoves off to the side where a daily devotional was set out in front of a small altar and softly glowing candles.
I did not feel holy or righteous or anything but a complete, quiet failure. How could I ever hope to live a life of meaning before a God who loved the world so much he gave his son, when my morning consisted of nothing but a seemingly inescapable string of small defeats and negativity toward everything and everyone? So that was what I prayed about.
When I left the cathedral, there was a woman with a friendly face and dangling earrings at the coffee stand. She was talking to another visitor about the young man I’d just seen leaving. I overheard her describing how she’d given him a cup of coffee and listened to his story.
He’d told her he’d been displaced by the hurricane in Texas, and he’d said to her, “You’re the only person this morning who’s treated me like a human being.” Her eyes watering with emotion, the woman at the coffee stand said “that is exactly what we are here to do”.
When the other visitor left I introduced myself to the coffee stand lady. I explained that I am not Episcopalian, but I come sometimes to pray. She beamed at me.
I then explained that I work for an organization that has resources for people displaced by natural disaster, and that we might be able to help the young man. She started to cry as I wrote down my information to give to him. “This is what God does,” she said, and she hugged me.
And I realized as I walked out, tracing the same path the young man had taken when I passed him on my way in, that if I hadn’t woken up sad that morning, if I had been on time and was better at math and had not nearly overdrawn my checking account, or had stopped for coffee or gone to the right postal service, or not stopped at the cathedral because of the shame I was feeling, I would’ve missed that encounter altogether.
Sometimes I feel like my days are a walk on a tight-rope, and if I take a miss-step everything will fall apart and I’ll prove myself a failure. But I am convinced that nothing could be farther from the truth.
Because I am not balanced precariously on the brink of defeat. Rather, I am fully and eternally held and redeemed, precious and meaningful by design. No dark internal monologue, mistake, lack of caffeine, hurricane or inhuman treatment by other people, can ever take that away.
Christina Jones is recuperating from graduate school by watching far too much TV and ignoring the many very good books waiting to be read and re-read on her shelf. She recently moved to Spokane, Washington where she works for a non-profit that prepares for and responds to natural disasters. She is usually running late and has a background in international relief work, and has become very good at sprinting through airports. When not watching TV, working or running through airports, Christina enjoys Latin dancing, solitary evening jogs, old buildings, too much ice cream and long conversations with good friends.
Christina Jones’ previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/christina-jones.html