While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.”
~ Acts of the Apostles 1:10-11
This morning, as I was leaving to run an errand or two before Mass, I met Jesus. And as he did with the Samaritan woman at the well, or with any of us, he “showed me everything I’ve ever done.”
I was already in a weepy place, waking up. Yesterday, someone I love very much told me she thought we might not be able to be friends anymore, because I am so judgmental. She’s going through a tough time, and wanted to talk about it with me. But I didn’t stop at listening. I told her I thought part of the problem might be hers. And I didn’t sugarcoat it. “I trusted you,” she said. “And I feel judged and found wanting.”
I would like to be able to say that this kind of behavior is an exception on my part, but it’s not. I would like to be able to claim Asperger’s or some other autism spectrum disorder as the explanation for my scrupulous obsession with rules and my tin ear for social cues, but in fact it is just that I am a staggeringly bad friend. I would like to say it’s just being a Libra that compels me to play the devil’s advocate and always take the other side, but the fault is not in my stars but in myself: I am always too busy working out a theoretical argument to notice the hand that simply needs holding.
So I required church, badly, this morning. Got in the car, turned the key, and a horrific clattering, shrieking, no-good-will-come-of-this noise emerged. The Check Engine light–the automotive equivalent of the Seventh Seal–began flashing wildly. The car (Bernadette Subaru) jitterbugged in place maniacally. I turned off the ignition and looked intently at the sky.
Suddenly, two men were standing beside me. They were not dressed in white garments, unless you count the grubby undershirts that topped the sweatpants. They were not, in my experience, angels. They were, in fact, two of the guys who live across the street from me in a halfway house for former offenders run by a notorious neighborhood slumlord.
They were precisely the two guys with whom I’d had a World War III level run-in two Sundays ago, when my request that they turn down the arena-level ACDC they were pumping out to accompany their front-porch beer binge was met with, well, some comments about my age, size, and the kind of sexual practice I should feel free to indulge in with myself. I responded by citing city noise laws. The resulting shoutfest ended up involving the inhabitants of 5 houses on the block, my landlady, and the police. A negotiated ceasefire resulted in the lowering of the music level from them, and an admission from me that Yes, I do come across as a stuck-up, cranky old rhymes-with-witch.
Come across, nothing. I am.
So this morning, I was in full judgment mode, afraid they were going to give me trouble. Instead, they–Webb and Donnie, now that we’ve finally exchanged names–got under the hood, diagnosed the problem as one I already knew I had (“Ain’t no woman in the world remembers to keep the oil level up,” Webb said. “Meaning no insult, ma’am”), and offered to drive me to the gas station to buy oil. I clambered into the truck with Donnie (they were right about my age and my size), and he chatted away about his job as a landscaper and his brother-in-law’s cancer.
We got the oil, and on the way back, Donnie asked what I do. I told him I wrote about religion and helped raise money for nonprofits. “Huh,” he said thoughtfully, looking straight ahead. “Then you do some good in the world.” He paused, and grinned. “Who’d have thought it? Guess it just goes to show you shouldn’t judge.”
They got the car running and extracted a promise from me to Go, and avoid a tune-up no more. They weren’t angels. They were the best of Samaritans, stopping to help not some anonymous robbery victim but the very priest-and-Levite who would have passed them by if the case were reversed, probably quoting every jot and tittle of the noise ordinances as she did so. And they were more. Not judgmental, but just: the kind of just men Gerard Manley Hopkins says reveal the unexpected face of the Risen Lord:
. . . the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
On this Ascension morning, I had been judged, and found wanting. I was looking at the sky, when I should have been looking next door.
As I left for Mass (which I made on time), I shook Donnie’s hand, and went to shake Webb’s. “Uh-uh,” he said. “We’re at hug level now.” So I gave him a hug, and as deeply felt an apology as I know how. I pray my friend will let me do the same.