God may not always be obvious, but He is there:
discernable, knowable, reachable, dependable, and ever knowing.
Sometimes God is so obvious that He is invisible to us, like the noses on our faces. Make sense? He is so always present, that we don’t always perceive Him. I discern Him in the Eucharist: body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. I know Him through the Bible, written by those who spoke to Him face to face and were inspired and directed by the Holy Spirit. I reach out to Him and depend on Him in prayer. I welcome Him when I welcome a fellow human being into my bubble, or accept an invitation to enter theirs. God’s spirit dwells in all of His human and angelic creation.
St. Paul advises us:
Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!
I recently enjoyed the opportunity to entertain an angel. A human being actually, but on a very angelic mission: a love-spreading quest. Her name is Jessica Kind. Hmmm, with that last name, maybe she was an angel? She is kind, and tall, and tough, and young, and beautiful –inside and out. She has sparkling eyes of all colors at once, framed by baby-doll eyelashes that tickle a smile out of anyone she bats them at.
She needs to know you for at least five minutes before she will wrap you up in her proportionately long arms as she freely passes out the most genuine hugs a person has ever encountered. Of course, she isn’t one of those personal-space invading, obnoxiously gregarious types and has the grace to ask (even if she doesn’t wait for an answer) “Are you a hugger?” before she attacks you with a friendly embrace. It’s a tactic of her love mission.
Jessica Kind is a young woman who loves God. How do I know? Because she once said to me: “I love God.” Because I am able, though not flawlessly, to discern genuine holy things, I know there is nothing phony about this statement. There is no ulterior motive behind it, as in: I love God. Do you love God? Then give me a blank check and Jeeesus fill in the amount! Theophiles vs. Gospel salesmen; learn the difference lest you get yourself shepherded right off a cliff.
The Holy Spirit’s gift of discernment is sufficient for me. With that, St. Paul’s admonishment to always welcome strangers, even though I may not initially be able to tell the difference between a kind person, an angel, a harmful person, or a demon, makes it a no-brainer. And of course, even phony hugs and affection, or love, given in exchange for goods and services has some benefit… Sadly, I know this all too well after my two ‘attempted’ marriages –both undone by annulment.
So I welcomed her into my bubble, into my $900 shit-box, with a custom-made cooler full of a hundred pounds of live lobsters for sale strapped to the roof, and we began a road trip together.
It started in Vermont at a farm, where she and her boyfriend were working and staying under a WOOF deal. She had me snap a picture of them in front of the farm’s sign with her precious, old-school, disposable, film camera that she would never swap for anything digital. Then, they hugged. Then she got in the vehicle. Then she cried a bit, because as I would find out later, even though she was crazy about him, not in the least part because “He was just so freaking good looking!” this was more of a goodbye hug than a see-you-later one.
We drove from Starksboro to Jericho, Vermont. We had dinner at my girlfriend’s house, after closing a deal (faster than I could have stolen it) on a Chevy Blazer with 181,555 miles on it –and 12,000 to go if it was going to get me from coast to coast and back again. I gave my girlfriend a hug goodbye –or see-you-later. It’s never a known thing with us. I guess a man and a woman can sometimes be a perfect match, yet find it impossible to fit together.
I loaded my big, slobbery, headstrong, mouthy, but loyal companion and guard dog, a German shepherd/St. Bernard mix named Max E. Pad, into the back of the SUV. Then, we headed to Portland, Maine, to buy some lobsters from Pete at New Meadow Lobster Company.
We had plenty of the kind of honest, meaningful, relevant, soul-baring conversation that within just a few hours builds the kind of trust that takes years of a continued relationship to demolish. We felt safe and comfortable with each other. Then, an awkward moment that was quickly overcome bonded us as traveling partners who would have each other’s backs for what should have been another 2000 miles until I dropped her off at the 2013 Rainbow Gathering in Montana.
I came out of the Portland Motel 6 with the unsettling news that the only rooms available had only one bed. On the short walk back to the shit-box, I realized that there would be no way to break this news without it sounding like a ploy.
“This is awkward” I disclaimed. “But they only have rooms with one bed.”
Her eyebrows raised as she shook her head uncomfortably, and said, “Then I’m sleeping on the floor.”
That was an option, I thought, considering that she had a decent sleeping bag rolled up under her backpack, which was the size and density of the torso of a welterweight boxer. But then the poor languishing knight in shining armor that still remains to a small degree in all of us with outies said “That’s not an option!”
“If you want, we can try another place, or else I’ll sleep on the floor” I offered.
Good storytelling requires honesty. Honesty requires the storyteller to reveal things that he would prefer to keep private. I’m not going to attempt to hide the fact that in this situation, that tested interpersonal behavior between a twenty-one-year-old girl and a forty-five-year-old guy who had just met but had quickly become well acquainted and even ‘fond’ of each other (to use a hokey, but appropriate word) there was one other option.
We weren’t related, after all. Even though there was a quarter-century age difference, I wasn’t that old, and she was a half decade past the age of consent. It wouldn’t be illegal, or even unacceptable, maybe not even immoral by 21st Century, secular standards, as long as it was consensual, to exercise an option that would put this story in the pages of some magazine slid between the mattresses of some lonely, sexually frustrated guy’s bed.
We both love God. Exercising that option would have also written the story in the pages of our biographies, our personal histories, and most importantly, the stories of our lives that someday our Heavenly Father will read to us, while pointing out all the parts where we pleased Him, delighted Him, or disappointed Him.
Four years of celibacy has taught me some surprising things. Not being shy about discussing how or why I’m not sexually active has shown me that most people find it just as offensive, maybe in some ways even more so, when I talk about not having sex, than if I had flaunted my every “score” in technicolor detail.
Because I thoroughly enjoy explaining concepts that are counter-intuitive, like how water can be boiled in a paper cup, let me point out why I think this is: When you recount stories of sexual exploits, you create a pornographic picture in the listener’s mind. When you talk about the virtues of chastity, backing them up with real-life anecdotes of God-approved behavior in a setting that has all the outward appearances of indecency; then you still put a pornographic picture in the imagination of your audience. Except that it has a big red circle around it with a barely obscuring diagonal red line through it that doesn’t entirely blot out the image. On top of that, it can come off as sanctimonious bragging, as a holier-than-thou attitude.
So, before I go on with this story, I would like to say a couple things to anyone that I may have inadvertently offended in this way: Tough shit and get over yourself.
We walked into the Motel 6 with Max forcefully taking the lead, trying to pull my right arm out of its socket, the poor languishing knight following behind me and letting the blushing damsel bring up the rear while carrying her own bulky burden. She was still a bit apprehensive and understandably so. After the clerk reprimanded me for trying to pass my horse off as a dog, he delivered some good news: If we stayed only one night, then we could have a handicapped-accessible room with two beds.
As she slipped under the covers, with her sturdy and very feminine young lady’s body still clad in the conservative shirt and cut-off jeans she wore at the farm, I asked her if she would lead us in a prayer while I switched off the light. She petitioned our Heavenly Dad for safe travels and thanked Him for our new friendship. Amen.
I awoke before my angel-hitchhiker friend, and I seized the opportunity to look at her very pretty, peacefully sleeping face, which was perfectly positioned on her pillow for that very purpose. As I looked at her, I thought about a quote she learned, found truth in, and passed on to me:
A beautiful young person is an accident of nature. A beautiful old person is a work of art.
This angelically beautiful accident of nature, I surmised from what little I knew about her, would surely develop into a work of art. If raising children well contributes to the masterpiece of a beautiful old person’s being, and I think it does, then Jessica will be an excellent mother. How do I know? Because she said “If I ever give birth to a special needs child, I’ll think God is telling me that I am a very special woman, capable of being a great mother.” I instantly thought of my sister, a special woman and an excellent mother to my godson, who is confined to a wheelchair due to spina bifida. I thought, man, she’s got that right!
I tried to think of what makes an old person ugly. I came up with this: When they are bores. What makes them bores? They never picked up hitchhikers or hitchhiked, or traveled without money, or jumped out of a perfectly good airplane. They don’t whistle or sing –even badly. They don’t smoke weed or dance or tell jokes. They didn’t begin, when they were supposed to, in their late teens and early twenties, to learn how to responsibly and prudently assume risk and cautiously overcome irrational fear in order to explore the wonderful world around them, with all the amazing people in it.
So they put all their passion into preventing bad things from happening to themselves as opposed to making good things happen in their lives and in the lives of others. Twenty thousand groundhog days later, the wrinkles that ugly old people sport engrave words in the skin of their faces: anxiety, austerity, regret, jealousy, unfulfilled expectation, frustration, sadness, and boredom.
The wrinkles earned by the old person who is a work of art are like bent arrows, shaped by involuntary smiles and unconscious whistling and happy surprises –and sad ones too, that point to their eyes, moistened with wisdom gained from experiences born of thousands of days of edgy, enjoyable, fearlessly passionate living.
Their eyes, windows to their souls, are like the rectangular window in the steel door of a cinema, giving you only a glimpse of a corner of the movie screen, yet still compelling you to buy a ticket. That is their charisma. The young don’t have that kind of attractiveness until they have gained enough undamaging life experiences.
Yet youth has an attractiveness that is all it’s own, even for those youngins’ who may not have accidentally been given good looks by Nature. The wisdom of decades isn’t there, although the potential for it is. Theirs is an angelic beauty.
Angelic beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. It can’t be perceived when behind those eyes are sexual intentions. Angels don’t have sex. Nor do they have gender. I know this because I’ve seen one. For real. It came through a long, difficult transport to bring me comfort and sympathy at a time when I truly needed it and didn’t even know it. It woke me up from a troubled sleep, and positioned me so that I couldn’t see much, and then embraced me. It brought the Holy Spirit to me as pure comforter. I would say that I hope other God-lovers would have an experience like this, but that might mean they would have to first experience the kind of heartbreaking trauma that cries out for such a grace to be delivered.
I don’t ever consider myself a victim, even sometimes when I actually have been victimized. So, I am usually averse to accepting sympathy–or worse, empathy. However, for some reason it felt good to know that God felt bad for me, as did the angel who visited me. I had lost the love of my life for the second time in a lifetime. Not just ‘“the love of my life” as it usually refers to a single romantic partner, but instead, the entire love kit and family and friends kaboodle. They were sorry for my loss, yet didn’t try to console me with promises of restoration someday. My houses that I built myself, my cars and all my other possessions were lost as well. But they didn’t really care about that. Neither did I, because although I enjoyed them, I didn’t love those things. I’ve since come to realize that there is a certain freedom and relief that comes with poverty and negative net worth: When you have no assets, you have no assets to manage and protect, and no anxiety about potentially losing them.
I wondered if her eyes suddenly opened to find me gawking at her, if she would smile at me or give me a disgusted look. Trust was there, and we knew that we would respect each other’s boundaries. Now it was a matter of poking around to find where those boundaries were. I would find out that she had them set up and removed in some surprising places. I decided to bring to a close my platonic consideration of her prettiness and my contemplation of beauty in general, along with the surprise loss of love and personal possesions, and got up to brush my teeth. I came out of the bathroom to find her awake.
“Mornin’ Jessica, how’d ya sleep?” I asked.
“Really good. How about you?”
“Not bad… considering all your snoring and rippin’ ass!” She shot me a look and chuckled as if she knew I was teasing her. Or, if I was telling a true story about her unladylike slumbers, she still found it funny. Then the knight and I went to fetch our complimentary coffees.
After we finished our morning coffee, we exited our room and got in the elevator across from it, with four women evenly ranged from twenty to forty years old. I wondered if they thought they were witnessing a scandal –if there still was such a thing in today’s world.
I thought back to when three different times in my recent, homeless life, I was in need of sanctuary, or at least a shower and a place to sleep for the night, and had little or no money. It seemed logical that I could find lodging at the rectory of the church I attended. I knocked on the door, only to be turned away each time, by three different priests. Obviously, I asked why. I got only one honest answer, the third time. It came from Father Harlow. He’s a good priest, probably Bishop material, in spite of a few smooth edges that need to be roughed-out a little. If you know Father Harlow, then you know the adjective and verb in that cliche were switched intentionally. He explained: Liability. It would be scandalous. Wow. Sad. I guess within professions and institutions, even holy ones, the shame of a few individuals spreads like a virus among the entire group, and unlike the good Samaritan, legal implications and peer suspicions are considered, preventing plain-old kindness and mercy to be divvied out. I asked Jessica if she wondered what those women in the elevator thought. She told me that she didn’t really care.
As an individual who is not sexually indulgent, I actually like being in a permissive society. I’m not enough of a psychologist to understand the reason why, but knowing that there are plenty of females in my age range –older than my daughter, younger than my mother– who unlike Jessica, are promiscuous, and mine for the taking–pardon my conceit–makes it less tempting to stray from virtue. Turning them down for casual sex, at times, two at a time, is not only braggable, it is empowering. Wait. Did I just use the overused, out-of-context word “empowering” in a pop psychology way? Wow. I must be a psychology guru! Turning down a woman’s offer can also be dangerous.
What do you think happens when women realize that you are attracted to their angelic beauty, see them as a work of art, and are primarily interested in their hearts over their parts, and that you honor God, yourself and them in such a way that you could never objectify them, even for one night, by caving into horny desires, which still exist, albeit to a lesser degree after four years of abstinence, without feeling a tremendous amount of guilt at the grave-sin level? It turns them on. They either want to jump your bones or marry you, then jump your bones. They feel safe and respected, as they are. But then she makes the mistake of thinking that an exception to God’s rules and regulations of sexuality, as well as yours and her own, if you each really had them in the first place, is in order. She grants you her permission.
For the non-rapist, the gift of a woman’s permission is in many ways even sexier than what that permission allows you to enjoy. A woman deprives herself of her total potential for sexiness when she grants her permission as soon as you commit, to buying her dinner. Her requirement that you both commit to a sacramental marriage before getting the blessed green light? Now that’s sexy. So now that she has offered, it’s too late. When you decide to stand your moral ground, believe me, there is no easy, right or excusable way for a man to say “no thanks, sweetheart.” She is going. To want. To murder you.
We enjoyed the best breakfast known to mankind at Becky’s Diner. But not before I learned that Jessica is what C. S. Lewis refers to as a “glutton of particularity.” From sourdough toast to chipotle sauce, she managed to request at least four things along with her omelette that the diner didn’t even have in stock, and may not have ever heard of. This annoyed our waitress into smiling, not in an accusatory or aggravated way but more of an entertained one. That’s how Jessica rolls. Even when she is being annoying or bitchy, she is cute and charming.
She made fast friends with Doug, a native Mainer and professional musician, about my age and to her left. They talked about what a good breakfast in such a great restaurant they were enjoying. They talked about his music and her travels. When she was done making him aware that he was interesting and relevant, and yes, even loved–I’m telling you, this girl is on a mission–and done eating her omelette, we were off to buy our lobsters at fresh-off-the-boat prices. We made the deal while Peter from New Harbor, a giant Mainer who towered over the both of us, enjoyed a hug, a photo op, and a hearty ‘Bye-Pete!’ from Jessica as we pulled away to complete the last of the day’s tasks, which were to include getting our Rhode Island plan together.
I couldn’t wait for my son Levi and the rest of my family to meet Jessica. But then I worried that this set of texts I exchanged with my sister was going to come to an impasse. It did:
Sis: So I saw on Facebook that you picked up a hitchhiker and are planning on bringing her to RI. Well, I don’t want a stranger at my house for the party. And I don’t feel comfortable having a stranger sleep at our parents’. Is there anything else you can figure out?
Me: Christians welcome strangers. Remember, I was a stranger in Vermont and Moose and the Wetzels took me in. I’m just paying it forward.
Sis: Well pay it forward. But I don’t want her here. I’m sorry
Me: Since when did you become xenophobic?
Sis: I’m not discriminating against anyone, I’ve always been cautious around strangers and very protective of my family. Can’t fault me for that!
Me: Yes, you are discriminating. 🙂 Why didn’t you protect me from two dangerous wives? Lol. Be cautious, but try not to be overprotective.
Sis: So are you telling me I don’t have the right to say who I want in my house? You can protect yourself. YOU picked them! I am protecting the children, disabled, and elderly. You didn’t take care of a woman who got her head smashed in with a frying pan because she was kind enough to rent a room to them…I DID!
Me: Your house, your party, your right to do what you want. Just realize that I only have NEW friends. Are all of them going to be unwelcome at your functions?
Sis: No. Just ones that you picked up hitchhiking and know nothing about.
Me: I didn’t pick her up hitchhiking. I found her on rideshare on Craigslist and we screened each other well.
That was it. My sister convinced my parents to rescind their invitation to let Jessica surf their couch. I got jammed in a moral quandary: Snub my son’s and nephew’s graduation party that my sister put a lot of work and money into throwing, as well as all my family and friends who came out to celebrate, or drop Jessica off at a Barnes and Noble in Warwick to read astrology books for four hours, while feeling completely dissed by people whom she genuinely hoped would become the latest victims of her God-loving, people-loving charm and affection. They have no idea what they missed out on.
In fairness to my family, not even three years ago I brought a widow whom I met online and befriended along with her two daughters home to Rhode Island to spend the night at my parents’ house. I found out later that she had murdered her husband. She eventually threatened to put me down for a dirt nap. On top of that, I admit that I practice what I preach and have always lived an edgy, mischievous lifestyle that has more than once brought embarrassment to my family. This was one of the first times I’ve been embarrassed by them.
Fear of strangers is usually an irrational fear. Every psycho-killer in existence is known by a circle of people who never saw it in them. Or even if they had suspicions, how do you tell your brother, “Don’t bring your friend to our house. I have a strong suspicion that she might murder us all with a frying pan?” My sister is a registered nurse. Even though she is essentially a stranger to her patients, they allow her to inject them with unknown substances. We all trust hundreds of strangers in just a quick ride from point A to point B. As my husband-murdering friend will tell you, a car can easily and instantly become a dangerous and deadly weapon. A stranger is much less dangerous when she is a hitchhiker in the passenger seat of your car than when she is behind the wheel of her own car, drunk and barreling ass through a red light.
Jessica didn’t fault me, and she even encouraged me to leave her off at the bookstore and attend the party without her. My random traveling girl and I made it as far as Pennsylvania. The damage was done. I’m sure my attitude had something to do with her wanting to bail. I just can’t open my own heart and be introspective and self-critical enough to see how. By nature, I can be somewhat negative. This predicament caused me to be more so. She said it wasn’t just because of my family’s lack of hospitality. This wide-eyed, sweet and friendly girl’s feelings were hurt. She felt like she was being naive. She thanked me for the ride and presented me with a gift. Around my wrist, she tied a bracelet she made. In beads, it spelled out, LOVE YOUR LIFE.
That was just what I needed to hear. In all the strife and dysfunction, disagreement and danger, struggle and loss–even though I feel comfort from and a connection to God–I seldom feel the joy anymore that comes with a love for my own life. I used to, back in the day when my life was all about home and hearth. But I hope it wasn’t ever in an ungodly way, like Jesus warned against:
The one who loves his life will destroy it, and the one who hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.
I think that what Jesus meant by that is not to use up your entire earthly life guarding it from every conceivable danger or mishap. You will smother it, and destroy it. I like how Pink Floyd put it in the lyrics of this excellent song, Wish You Were Here:
So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell,
blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?
How I wish, how I wish you were here.
We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,
Running over the same old ground.
What have you found? The same old fears.
Wish you were here.
Yup. I’m gonna love my life. I’m gonna love my family and my new friends and all the hitchhiking angel-strangers that pass through it. Even if I try, and stay on guard–and I’m really good at self defense–I may not be able to prevent someone or something from taking this earthly life of mine away from me. But, I’ll never just give it up willingly by predicting every possible worst-case scenario, and then going out of my way, out of God’s way, in a vain attempt to prevent these far-fetched bad things from happening in my life. This life that I’m advised to love, by that twenty-one-year-old on her love-spreading quest, I will. Thank you, Jessica Kind!