By A. J. Daltorio
[dropcap]”H[/dropcap]ear me now, dear, weak forgiver.” -Lucifer.
His face gave him away. When people smile a lot, they develop smile wrinkles…he had frown wrinkles. What little hair he had left was straggly and dirty. His outfit was probably the only one he owned; after all, it was the same one he had on the day before. He walked up to the register and greeted me with silence.
“Hi,” I said. “Can I help you?”
“One small pepperoni pizza.” (No hello, and certainly no please.)
“Ok,” I said, and put his order into the computer. “Would you like anything else with that?”
“No,” he answered immediately. “I order the same thing every day.”
And I was supposed to know that…how? I wondered.
“Alright, sir, your total comes to $6.48,” I said.
“This happens every time!” he said. “It should be $5.45. Why doesn’t anyone around here know how to use a register? Is this some sort of a joke? What kind of a store are you running here?”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “This is only my fourth day, and I’m still learning. I’ll try to fix it.” He snickered and shook his head.
I tried fixing the problem myself (like a real man) and could feel my face redden with each passing second of awkward silence. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore, and so I wove the white flag and asked my manager for help. He fixed it and had me hand the man his change.
“There you go, sir. Sorry about that,” I said.
Then he gave me a look-one every waiter knows-of superiority. I hated him for it. I wanted to break his stupid nose. Why did the rules suddenly change when I was behind a register, dressed in a work uniform? Why did these circumstances make it okay for him to treat me like a bug?
I went to the back and swept so that my manager would have to deal him. I didn’t want to look at the guy, let alone serve him his food. Piece of scum.
This all happened in the morning. By 3:00 I had nearly forgotten about it and was on my lunch break in the Ralphs parking lot. I had gone to McDonalds and was scarfing down a ten piece Chicken McNugget and a Big Mac. Don’t judge me.
If you are anything like me, you cherish your lunch break. Working is like getting the crap kicked out of you in a boxing match, and a lunch break is like the time between rounds-your trainer pours water on your head, offers soothing words of encouragement, and bandages your cuts. You know you will have to get back in the fight eventually, but right then, you are in your element.
I was completely in my element. Short of the apocalypse, there was only one thing that could have taken me out of it. I spotted him from all the way across the parking lot.
I tensed up. Everything in me wanted to confront him; I wanted to walk up to him and cuss him out. It was too good of an opportunity to pass up! And then it got even better. I noticed he was going around begging for change. Perfect, I thought. I can put a sweatshirt over my work uniform and see if he will beg me.
I knew exactly what I would have said: “Oh! Now that you need me, we’re suddenly friends? It’s funny how that works. I do have some change, but I think I’ll hold onto it. You see, unlike you, I actually work for my money.” And then I would have walked away. I wanted to crush his spirits. I wanted justice.
(These are the thoughts that went through my head. I didn’t actually hear the voice of God)
God: “My child, you want justice? Are you sure about that?”
Me: “Maybe not, Lord.”
God: “Do you think you have always been good to those around you? Should I recount all the times you have treated others unfairly, or talked about them behind their backs, or viewed them as nothing more than objects?”
Me: “You are right, Lord.”
God: “Do you think you have treated me any better than how that man treated you this morning? Should I recount all the times you have lied to me, or been ashamed of me, or crossed lines you shouldn’t have?”
Me: “You are right, Lord.”
God: “Instead of showing you justice, as you deserved, I showed you mercy. More than mercy, I showed you grace. When you went your own way, I pursued you; when you spit in my face, I washed your feet; when you nailed me to a cross, I prayed for you. Look, even now, in the midst of your anger, I am pouring my love into your heart.”
Me: “Thank you, Lord.”
God: “Now, look at that man. He is precious to me. He has not earned my love, but neither have you. See how miserable he is? See how he is only destroying himself? Look even closer. There is still something beautiful there. Forgive him, as I have forgiven you. I can restore anything.”
Me: “Yes, Lord. I understand.”
The first thing to happen was that the man no longer seemed so peculiar to me; in fact, he felt familiar. I only had to stop seeing red in order to see that, not long I ago, I shared the same bleak outlook as him. I, too, once saw the world as a cruel place and thought that it owed me for how I had been wronged. In my mind, I was the victim, and damn everybody for not seeing that!
Thankfully, I was pieced back together by something beautiful and mysterious. I did not “find religion,” as many of my friends and family members think. To be honest, I can’t say I found anything, but only that I was found by a love that made a joke out of the solutions of this world. It penetrated to my core and put a smile on my face. Yes, life was still tough, but me, a victim? Hardly. I felt like a king.
The next thing to happen was that my heart towards the man began to change. Instead of hating him, I felt sorry for him; instead of wanting to humiliate him, I wanted to serve him. Jesus’ words made almost too much sense: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27). It’s not as if Jesus was instructing us to blindly allow other people to walk all over us. Instead, he was cluing us into the way things are; he was cluing us into reality. We are all valuable to God and were created to receive His love. Once we feel our own worth and realize the worth of others, our natural response to hostility can only be that of blessing. When we return curses with cursing, we not only deprive other people of God’s unmerited love, but we deprive ourselves of it.
What did I accomplish by dwelling on how that man had wronged me? Two things: First, I hurt myself, and second, I didn’t help him. What did I gain when I reflected on God’s love for the both of us? Paul said it best: “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control” (Galatian 5:22-23).
The same man came into the store a week later.
“Hi,” I said. “It’s John, right?”
“Last time I checked.”
“How are you today?” I asked.
“Oh, you know…tired,” he said.
“That sucks,” I said. “What can I get you? Wait! Let me guess. The same thing you always get?”
His frown wrinkles disappeared for a second, and he smiled.
A. J. Daltorio loves writing.