When a scoffer is punished, the simple become wiser;
when the wise are instructed, they increase in knowledge. (Proverbs 21:11 NRSV)
I had an interesting conversation at work tonight, but it almost never took place. I was sitting at my desk, which is just off the sales floor in the store where I work, buried in some paperwork, and trying to put out a fire that somebody else in one of our other stores had started. I’m sure I looked like I was busy. I’m sure of it. I had my head down, my glasses pushed up on my brow, that vein that sticks out in my forehead when I’m frustrated was about to pop out and do a dance on the desk in front of me. The empty can that formerly held my second energy drink of the day sat next to the empty package that had held the antacid that I had just taken.
An older gentleman approached my desk. In his hand was one of the latest “As Seen on TV” products, a tactical type flashlight that featured a super bright LED light that you could control the intensity of and also set it to flash SOS in Morse Code. In addition to that, it’s made of hard metal and has a scalloped type rim around the light bulb that makes it a formidable weapon should you decide to knock somebody up-side the head with it. Honestly it’s quite the product. I’ve thought about getting one myself, not to brain somebody with, but because of the bright light and the SOS strobe. I figured it might be a handy thing to have in the glove box.
Anyway, the gentleman approached me, and despite the fact that I was OBVIOUSLY busy, (duh!), excused himself and asked me if I knew how bright the flashlight was. My first thought was…seriously? What do you want, the amount of lumens? How should I know? However, I’ve worked in customer service for 20 years, and I know enough not to betray my frustration. I put my pen in my ear and looked at the package. It did specify the number of lumens actually, but that’s Greek to me. Ugh, Why did he come to me? I have a desk job now, I’m IMPORTANT for Pete’s sake! (Apparently I’m kind of a self important jerkface too. Yes, Holy Spirit, I am sufficiently convicted….I think).
I figured the easiest thing to do would be to pass the guy off to one of my coworkers, then I could get back to the super huge important thing I was working on. I got on my walkie-talkie and called one of the part timers over. I asked him if he could take the gentleman, open the package, and put some batteries in the flashlight so he could see how bright it was. My coworker Corbin, who is a great kid, said sure and escorted the gentleman away. Finally I could get back to work!
Oh…..not so fast, my friend.
About five minutes later the gentleman starts striding toward my desk again, clutching the now open, and turned on, flashlight. He’s got a smile as wide as the Grand Canyon, and as I look past him I see that two of my coworkers, the aforementioned Corbin and Morgan, our cashier, are grinning ear to ear. They know what I’m in for, and I make a mental note to make them PAY at some point in the very near future. I will not be trifled with!
This old gentleman, who looked a lot like the picture in this post, didn’t care about that though. He had to show me how bright the flashlight was.
Resigned to my fate, I crossed one leg over the other and leaned back in my chair, fully expecting to tune this guy out. I’d smile, nod, and say “uh huh, uh huh,” a few times and hopefully he’d be good.
Yeah, it didn’t work out that way.
He told me about how it was about as bright as another one he had, but had a better casing on it. He told me he could see his cows up on the mountain 600 yards away with it!
He told me about how it did the SOS code and gave me a short primer on Morse Code. I looked at my watch.
“Uh huh.” Yeah bro, I was in scouts, and I watch “Survivorman.”
He told me about how if you shined it in somebody’s eyes it would effectively blind them, and you could either hit them with it, or you could go for an incapacitating kick! He said a lot of folks tell you to aim for the genitals, but for his money, you go for the kneecap! Did I know that he could break my kneecap with a kick?
As he went along he got more and more animated. At one point I was pretty sure that he had forgotten that he was actually talking to somebody.
My manager walked by and giggled, then continued on her merry way. I looked at my watch again. Then he asked me another question. He asked if I had ever gone out into the desert and collected arrowheads or “painted rocks.” This struck a chord with me. As it turns out, I have! My grandpa and grandma used to pass the winters in Quartzsite, Arizona. They’d pull their trailer down there every year, and my papa (as I knew him) would get together with a bunch of his old buddies and play in a band called the “Desert Varnish.” My papa was the lead singer and the guitar player. They set up a dance floor in the middle of the flippin’ desert and “snowbirds” would come from all over the area to dance at the “Stardusty Ballroom” while my papa and his band played all the big band standards and topped it off with a heavy dose of old time country music.
It’s by far the coolest thing anybody in my family has EVER done. The BBC even flew a team out to make a documentary about it!
And wouldn’t you know it, when we would go down to visit them, papa would take me out into the desert to look for artifacts and “painted rocks.” Yes this older gentleman now had my full attention. I never looked at my watch again.
I lost track of time as he spun more tales. He told me about how he had to escape a mountain lion on one occasion. He told me about a bunch of really cool arrowheads he had found, and how you could try to determine how old they might be. He told me what it was like to get up at 4:30 in the morning, make a pot of coffee on the fire, and sit in the middle of the desert and watch the sunrise. He said the sunset had NOTHING on the sunrise in the desert! He asked me if I’d ever seen anything so beautiful?
I realized I had not.
Finally he looked at his own watch and said, “Well, I’ve probably taken too much of your time already. Thank you for having that young man open that flashlight for me, and thanks for listening.” Then he sat the flashlight down on the desk in front of me and left.
I just sat and looked at the flashlight, then I picked it up and rolled it over in my hands a couple of times. I turned it on and off, then I tried the SOS feature. My eyes got heavy with water as I remembered my papa.
Morgan came over to my desk. She had heard the whole thing, and was wondering how I had managed to stay so patient.
“Everybody has a story,” I said, “and I love to hear them. Plus he’s probably just lonely and needed to talk.” She agreed, and went back to work. Then I thought, “Hey you know maybe God had him cross paths with me so I could be the one guy who would listen to him and give him some cheer! I did my good deed for the day!” Then I patted myself on the back for being so “in tune” with the Spirit.
Did I mention that sometimes I’m a self-important jerkface?
Somewhere up there in Heaven I could feel God do a massive face palm.
On the way home a short time later, it hit me. Ye Olde Holy Ghost smacked me up-side the head with his own holy version of the As Seen On TV tactical flashlight.
“I know you think you’re a Big Deal with your Lenten devotions, your Sunday School class teaching, and your local pastor program. Well listen here, Big Deal. Did it ever occur to you that maybe I didn’t send you for him, that maybe I sent him for YOU?”
You see, I had come to the realization eventually that being there in that moment, being present in that conversation was HEAVY. I realized that it had meant something, that SOMETHING was happening. As Pastor Rob Bell talks about in his book “What We Talk About When We Talk About God,” the Old Testament Hebrews had a word for that. They called it kavod.
Kavod was originally a term for weight, like in a business transaction. Over time it gathered a new meaning. It meant a weighty moment, a heavy moment, a moment when you knew that SOMETHING was happening. In some places in the Psalms and Isaiah, it is also akin to the “Glory of God,” which is a weighty subject indeed. Can you stand next to the unbridled glory of YHWH? I know I sure can’t, but if I tried, it would be a very heavy moment!
So eventually in that moment tonight, I realized that kavod was happening. I realized that that conversation MEANT SOMETHING. But I was wrong about one thing. I presumptuously thought that it was just meaningful to him, that I, the Big Deal, was doing him a favor.
Yeah, that’s right. I’m so awesome that God just sends random people to my desk at work so I can cheer them up.
I don’t know whether it was kavod for him or not, but it definitely was for me. Not only did I get to recover some precious memories of my grandfather, but I got a look at just how presumptuous I can be and learned that I can benefit and become wiser from every interaction as well, as the verse from Proverbs above mentions. My eyes were opened to true life just a little more.
And it might not have happened had I not laid my self importance aside, and you know what?
I suddenly have the desire to get up at 4:30 AM, make a cup of coffee, and watch the sunrise.
And I think I just might get me one of those tactical flashlights.