“I met Him once, you know,” he said to me one day.
A delivery had just been made to the store. It was over 250 pieces, cases really, of this, that, and the other thing. Our job was to price mark the contents. Huh, this was a long time before bar codes and scanners and the stuff they have now. We had to mark the price on everything with stamps and purple ink. You had to cut the cases just so, and if it was soft goods inside, you had to be careful not to cut too deep and all that. I remember one time I was cutting a case of Mueller’s macaroni. It came in cardboard boxes. I was trying to be so darned careful, and my box cutter slipped. Opened my wrist up about an inch and a half. Doggone, those cutters were really sharp. I bled like a stuck pig. Doctor said I just missed the radial artery. Guess that woulda been really bad.
“Met who?” I asked him.
He was pricing the load and I was cutting the cases. It worked well cuz he had the book with all the prices and the price changes. He was really fast, and I had to be just a bit faster to stay ahead of him. We’d talk about all sorts of things while we were working. Wasn’t anyone else around, just the two of us down in the basement. The load came down on a belt and then onto those like roller tables, and one piece would just push the piece ahead of it onto the rollers. Just kept on going. With a big load, sometimes we’d have to put some cases under the roller thing. A 250-piece load meant we had to take some of the pieces off, but that wasn’t too bad.
“Met The Lord,” he answered.
Well, that stopped me…and right in the middle of opening a big case of toilet paper. You cut too deep on one of those and you can ruin a whole lot of paper. Good for me that it was the last cut. I didn’t think I heard him correctly the first time he answered, so I asked again.
“You met who…The Lord…is that what you said?” I repeated.
“Yup…just once though,” he added. “My friend took me.”
Now, I liked this older man – doggoned if I can remember his name though – I liked him because he taught me, a young kid, all about the store business, the retail business if you will. Taught me about how to stock and block shelves. Blocking’s when you bring goods from the back of the shelves to the front so the shelves look well stocked even when they’re not. Taught me how to run a register and how to spot people who were tryin’ to walk out with stuff without paying. Heck, I was sixteen; what’d I know about grownups who stole things. He taught me how to fill out order sheets on certain days and how to tell when something wasn’t going to sell and why it wouldn’t. He really knew the business.
“You care to tell me about that?” I asked him.
“Not certain you’ll believe me,” he said.
“Well, I believe about your friend,” I told him. “And I believe what you said about your ‘friend’ coming to rest on the other side of the bed after you say the Twenty-third Psalm,” I went on. “Why wouldn’t I believe you met The Lord?”
“Probably, because I’m not sure I believed it myself,” he grinned. “I mean, I know it happened because it happened to me, but you might just think I’m crazy when you hear it. By the way, I’m not crazy. My late wife used to say she was gonna have me tested, but we always had a good laugh about that. Come to think of it, I know she woulda wanted to have me tested after that happened…but – and he dragged that word out – she’d been gone for a while when it happened.”
I’d never asked how his wife had died. I knew that it was some kind of accident, but I thought it wouldn’t be very nice of me to bring it up. Might just stir up some memories he didn’t want to remember.
I put my box cutter on top of the toilet paper box, went over and sat down on a couple of cases of green beans and said, “I’m taking a short break, and I want to hear your story. I’ll tell ya afterwards if I believe it or not. C’mon and pull up a case of peaches or something and tell me.”
He looked at me for a minute. Then he closed up the price book, walked a few steps over and sat down. I don’t remember whether it was on a case of peaches or not but he sat and looked right at me.
“Yeah. Okay. You believe me about my friend, so maybe what I’m gonna tell you…maybe you won’t think I’m so crazy after all.”
I just sat there.
“It was about three years after Sarah had passed,” he began. “It was hot for May, more like a day in late August. I’d just finished my prayin’ and saying the Psalm out loud…to no one in particular, just to me…and my friend came to rest. I told you, didn’t I that I said, ‘If you’re from God…”
I quickly nodded my head to indicate that I remembered.
“Well, anyway, this night was a bit different. My ‘friend’ seemed as though my ‘friend’ couldn’t quite get settled. Then I felt a hand reaching and grabbing my own hand…it was weird. Wasn’t like when you shake hands, ya know. It was something different, almost tingly, if you can understand that….”
And again I nodded, this time leaning a little closer.
“Well, anyway, this hand took mine and we sorta started to float right up outta that bed. I was scared stiff, I don’t mind telling ya, but the hand squeezed mine as if to say that things were gonna be fine. I looked back down at the bed and I saw me…I was layin’ there, and it looked like I was sound asleep. I thought to myself, ‘Oh, hell, I’ve died and this must be my soul being taken somewhere.’ I didn’t feel dead. I didn’t think I was having a heart attack or anything like that. Fact of the matter is, it felt kind of peaceful, having my hand in that of something else. We kept floating and floating, going up and up. I don’t remember going through the ceiling or the roof of the house…I just remember the floating and seeing this light of so many colors, I couldn’t even describe them. They were just…well…it was like they were surrounding us…like we were in a bubble of really nice colors. I guess you’d say they were beautiful.”
He had me. I just sat there, absolutely entranced by what he was describing.
He went on. “The colors seemed to get brighter and brighter and the bubble seemed to get bigger and bigger, and then there He was. There was The Lord. I knew it was Him. He looked exactly like I thought He would. He smiled at me for a second, and then He got this funny look on His face. ‘Why are you here?’ He asked me, and I didn’t have an answer, so I just shrugged. ‘You’re not due to be here for some time,’ He said. I felt a squeeze of my hand, and thought that I was in real trouble. The Lord went on, “she must care for you very much to bring you here now.’ That woke me up a bit and asked, ‘Lord, may I ask who she is?’
‘Yes, you may ask,’ He said, ‘but I’m afraid that if she hasn’t told you who she is, it’s not my place to interfere. Let’s just say that she’s part of the overall plan.’
‘Plan?’ I queried.
‘Yes,’ He responded. ‘All things are part of the plan, a plan I’ve created to keep the universe moving.’
‘Am I part of this plan?’ I asked.
‘Most assuredly,’ He smiled.
‘What’s my part in the plan?’ I asked.
He smiled again and said, ‘Now if I told you that, you’d go back and begin trying to live your life in a way that you believe would conform, but that’s not how the plan works. You’ll know when you’ve completed your part in the plan for that’s when I will call on you to come home. This is your home, you know. She made a small error in judgment bringing you here, but she’s young and as I said, she must care for you very deeply. I believe, however,’ and he turned to the being who was holding my hand, ‘that it is time for her to take you back…please.’
“With that, the colors went really bright again. The Lord seemed to fade away, and I felt a slight tug on my hand. We floated. The bubble colors began to fade. I felt myself going down until I saw me sleeping. I could feel me going back into sleeping me. It wasn’t painful or anything like that. I just, well, I just sort of went back into me. I didn’t wake up or anything. I did feel one last gentle squeeze of my hand, and then, then I, I guess I slept through the night. But…I know what happened. I know it just as much as I know you’re sitting there on a couple cases of green beans. I met The Lord. I talked with Him. He said I’m part of a plan, which I guess means that all of us, you, the other people in the store, the customers, everyone is part of His plan. We just don’t know what the plan is, but we know it keeps the universe moving. I tell ya, kid, it was something. Now you got to promise that you won’t tell anyone. I know you well enough, but I’d really like you to promise.”
I promised. Now that I guess he’s gone, I guess his part in the plan is gone too. I mean, I guess he did whatever he was supposed to do for the plan, but it does make me wonder, “What’s my role in this plan?”
Yup, seems strange to me, too.