I go to a church that has a golden Jesus. I never really noticed it until someone pointed out, “Hey, we have a golden Jesus.” It was kind of hard not to notice him hanging above the altar, but every Sunday, well not every Sunday, I never really paid attention. But it is the 5th Sunday of the Lenten season (I know this because I went to church today) and I was very aware of the golden Jesus with his arms outstretched, smile on his face. Radiant, even.
I could always reconcile my on-again, off-again church-going habits with the fact that I had been pretty determined to find Him everywhere other than where he was suppose to be: church. If I could be moved during a conversation with a good friend, laugh with a stranger or even show a little kindness, I was certain that the same spirit that raised him on the third day was also present during these moments. I started to live a learning life, practicing habits that removed any kind of pre-judgement I may have towards a given person and instead gave empathy for all the things I knew nothing about. The only way I was going to understand, I reasoned, was for them to tell me their stories. And for me to share mine. This required conversations, and so began my curiosity for all people, places and things. (It helps when you’re a beat reporter, too).
For the record, this is a years-in-the-making-process, one free from any imaginable agenda other than: what can I learn here? What can I teach? How can I connect?
These are golden moments. But they get muddled in complicated things. Like misunderstanding and perceptions. They actually aren’t easy moments to have. Even if you find them, you have to work pretty hard to figure out what is really going on. Take, for example, the hurried man I let into my apartment complex.
“Oh, thank you [for holding the door]. I just need to get a package. I used to live here and someone sent a package to my old address, Apartment H. I just want to knock on the door and see if they have it.”
“Sure, no problem. I can let you in,” I said. Off he went, up the stairs and when I walked outside, met a man with hazel eyes talking on the cell phone. “Are you with him?” I asked Hazel Eyes.
“No, no. I live in the next apartment over. I’ve never seen him before but was talking to him out in the parking lot. Seems like he’s in a hurry,” he said.
“Yeah…Now I’m thinking I just let a complete stranger into our apartment and feel like this is a mistake.”
“Ah, don’t worry about it. It’s not your responsibility.”
“Well, actually. I really don’t feel comfortable with this. It’s Saturday, at 6 o’clock, and he’s looking for a package that was sent here? Shouldn’t he have gone through the front office…during the week?”
The voice on the other end of Hazel Eye’s phone call beckoned him back to the conversation. He began walking down the sidewalk, away from me and my absent-minded decision to let a crazed, middle-aged man with black eyes into the building. Knowing Hazel Eyes wasn’t going far, and that I’d have back-up if I needed, I ventured back inside the building to see where all things nonsensical were now: on the third floor, looking caught in the act of something suspicious.
“I thought you said Apartment H,” I called up the stairwell. “That’s on the second floor.”
The man came running down and met me in front of Apartment H. “Oh yeah, yeah. Thanks. Yeah, I realized that it was Apartment J, not H. Hey, you know, I knocked on the door and no-one answered so I turned the handle and it was open. I called in to see if anyone was home…do you know who lives there? Do you see them a lot? Which apartment are you?”
I repositioned my body so I could kick him down the stairs if I needed to. To him, I probably looked like a young college student wearing a backpack and too-casual clothes to be taken seriously. Recognizing this, I attempted to come across as an off-duty FBI agent. I stood up straight, tightened my backpack and widened my stance. I can kick your ass if I need to buddy, I thought. But let’s talk.
“You know what, sir. I really don’t feel comfortable with you being here right now.”
“How long has it been since you moved out of this apartment?” I said and began walking him down the stairs. He took his sweet time, not wanting to be led out the door.
“Two-and-a-half years?” I asked. “Wow. That’s a really long time. I find it hard to believe a package would be sent here after that amount of time.”
“Yeah you know, it’s a long story. My dad didn’t have my new address and my mother lives in Hilton Head and…”
He stopped talking. And for a long awkward moment, we stood in the doorway of the apartment complex. Him, holding the door open and me, standing clear in the middle of the frame inside the landing. A second man, an apartment dweller I recognized, arrived and beckoned me to walk through the doorway before he entered. “No thanks,” I insisted. “I’m not going outside.” He broke the space between us, and as he got his mail, the intruder asked, “Hey, you don’t by any chance happen to live in Apartment H? I’m looking for a package that was sent here.”
“I thought it was Apartment J,” I said shortly.
“Apartment J, that’s what I meant.”
“Sorry buddy. I don’t–”
“It’s really unfortunate about your mail, but I’d recommend going through the front office. Try again on Monday and contact the office. That’s the best way to go about it,” I said.
“Yeah, you think so?”
“Yep. That’s the best thing for you to do right now.” I moved closer to him. He let go of the door and walked onto the sidewalk. I stood on the concrete landing, shut the door behind me and heard the lock click. I saw Hazel Eyes walking toward us, still on the phone, but clearly concerned that something was happening.
“I’m sorry to have startled you,” the stranger said.
“Don’t worry about it. You’ll just have to go through the front office on Monday. They’ll take care of it.”
The man walked to his car and drove away. And I stood in front of Hazel Eyes in disbelief, not wanting to move anywhere. His presence was comforting.
“What was that about?” he asked.
“It was weird. Really weird,” I said and told him the unfolding of events. When I got to the part about telling the man to leave, Hazel Eyes said, “You said that to him? Good for you.”
“Yeah I don’t mess around.” We talked for a while even though he was still holding a cell phone to his ear. Finally I said, “I’m Kristen.”
As we shook hands, it was his hazel eyes that rendered me defenseless. “Well, thank you for being here,” I said. And off I went, down the sidewalk to my car.
What a meet cute, I thought, even though I’m pretty sure he had said Baby to the voice on the other end of the phone. When I reflected on the strangeness of it all later that night, I returned to his hazel eyes. I had seen them before, they were familiar. They weren’t just his eyes, I thought. They were the eyes of every significant messenger I have encountered on my journey during the past three weeks. All of my most significant conversations recently have been with people who have hazel eyes. The same hazel eyes that Mike had. That’s why they were so striking. They identified him as another messenger sent to tell me something, whether it was validating my own history, giving me the courage to breakaway from what no longer matters, offering help to pursue my passion, or just being there for the oddities. All of these moments occurred at cross roads freckled with difficult realities.
I went to church this morning to give thanks. When I saw the golden Jesus, I laughed. That’s not at all what you look like.