I remember about 15 years ago when my wife was still alive, an incident happened that I thought would change my life forever. In fact, it may have changed my life, even though I don’t think of it as much now days. My wife and I had just spent the Christmas holidays in Florida with my parents and we had arrived in RDU airport at 8 PM on a flight that was due in at 4:45 PM. We had been victims of the chaos of holiday travel, and the delays and cancelations had left us both exhausted and not in the best of moods. I had complained throughout the flight quietly to myself of how decadent the whole Christmas holiday business was. It was a perversion of what the holiday was actually meant to be and it was senseless that we put ourselves through so much aggravation for something that was almost always a disappointment, were my thoughts.
As is often the case, pessimism begets more ill fortune and ours continued to get worse. When we finally arrived in the parking garage, I determined that I had completely forgotten where I parked. So we spent the next hour looking for our car. We looked so long that I had begun to consider it might have been stolen. We called the airport police who drove us all around the five decks of the parking garage in a golf cart to no avail. Just as we were about to give up and the policeman began to fill out a stolen car report, I spotted it out of the corner of my eye. We must have passed our car a dozen times over the past hour and a half, but somehow, neither of us saw it.
We bid the policeman thanks and goodbye, loaded our luggage in the trunk and prepared to drive the hour and fifteen minutes drive home to Greensboro. As I typically do, I reached for my wallet to retrieve the parking stub to give to the tollbooth agent. There was no wallet to be found. I jumped out of the car and frantically turned all my pockets inside out and checked all the pockets in the overcoat I had draped over my arm on that unseasonably warm evening in December. I began to desperately retrace all the areas I had walked or rode through for another hour. My wife was too exhausted to help me so she just stayed in the car while I searched. Thoughts of the potential catastrophe looming over me permeated my mind with visions of identity fraud from the four credit cards and driver’s license contained in my wallet, not to mention the over $600 cash. I could see myself spending the next week on the phone with bankers and credit card agents, desperately trying to keep my whole world from being turned upside down. All this may seem like a small thing compared to all the worst catastrophes that befall people every day at any given moment. But to me, at that time in my life, given my normally meticulous attention to detail and compulsion to be in control of even the minor details of my life, it was the worst thing I could have imagined. It was as though one of my children had been kidnapped. It was now almost 11 PM, and exhausted and demoralized and my mind spinning with all of the worst case scenarios of my current situation, my mind searched for a soothing thought – anything to relieve me of that mental hell of my own creation. My mind became suddenly and inexplicably quiet and out of it came the thought, followed by the words I would have never expected to come out of my mouth at a moment like that, given my strong belief at that time that every man controls his own destiny and the only breaks we get in life are the ones we make ourselves. “Oh God”, I lamented, “please help me!” were the words produced by my normally overly pragmatic mind.
What happened in the next moment is what can only be described as a miracle. My phone began to ring. I answered it. “Hello?” I said, and a cheerful male voice, with a slightly southern accent answered.
“Is this Doctor Stanley Allen?” it said.
“Yes it is”, I replied.
“My name is [I didn’t realize until this moment as I’m writing this that I can’t remember what his name was]. I’m just calling to let you know I have your wallet. I found it in the stairwell of the parking garage at the airport”.
It was as though God immediately answered my prayer by telephone! The young man said he got my phone number off my State Board of Dental Examiners ID card and he wanted to arrange to meet me so he could return my wallet. We arranged to meet at the tollbooth about 20 minutes later. He was pleasant looking white man in his mid thirties. I shook his hand and thanked him profusely before I reached into my now returned wallet for one of the one hundred dollar bills it contained.
“What’s that?” he said with some incredulity.
“I insist on giving you something to reward your honesty and for going through all the trouble you’ve gone through to returned my wallet to me”, I explained.
“Absolutely not”, he insisted. And in as sincere a voice as I’ve ever heard in my life he said, “I didn’t do anything.”
Strangely enough, as though he was communicating telepathically, I heard so much more than what he actually said with his words. I heard that he was as thankful to me for giving him the opportunity to connect with another lonely soul traveling on life’s journey, as I was thankful to him. I got the sense that our entire interaction was a kind of mutual acknowledgement that we are part of the same spirit that comprises humanity. He was saying to me that regardless of how flawed I was, how petty and unjustified my judgments of others or how cowardly and insensitive my past behavior may have been, I was still worthy of love, mercy and forgiveness. All of that “knowing” came into my head the instant he said what he said and did what he did. We wished each other a happy New Year and went our separate ways.
That was the night I truly realized that no man is an island and true happiness can only be achieved through the good will of others. Sure we can set goals and gain tremendous benefit from our personal hard work and perseverance. But it can never be as satisfying as receiving grace that you are not necessarily derserving of for no other reason than God’s love for you, like a father giving to his child. That kind of satisfaction can only be gotten from other people. I received it through the miracle of that night. Some may say it was just a coincidence or serendipity or just dumb luck. I know for me it was a miracle. My interaction with that young man transcended race, politics or any of the things we fight and bicker about every day. On that night, we were just two souls uplifting one another, period.
It was almost 1 AM when we finally got home that night. I plugged my phone in to find the power had completely drained out of it. Yet I had spoken to the Good Samaritan for at least ten minutes. Coincidence? Miracle? You tell me.
Have joyous holiday season.