If you are an atheist or non-believer, as you set out to read this entry, I won’t hold it against you if you decide to move on to something else. Before you leave, however, you should know there’s a chance you may reconsider your position by the time this essay is done. For the rest of you, I’d like to start out by saying that I did not make this expression up; my Aunt Lynn (now well into her 90s and a lifelong Sunday school teacher) loaned me a book, many years ago titled “When God Winks” which was only one in a series written by the author SQuire Rushnell. Aunt Lynn dedicated her life to praying for the souls of people like me… A believer that frequently wandered off the path… And since I was her sister’s son, she never had much choice.
I was born into a Christian family, raised Christian, and watched my grandmother read the Bible pretty much every day until her eyes began to fail her. I’m certainly no bible thumper, although I’m working on my third time through, the older I get, the more I have come to understand that – even at face value – the Bible is a timeless and precious reference book, if nothing else, and offers great wisdom and insight about our species and the lessons history has taught us that we keep inventing ever more creative ways to avoid learning from.
To set the stage for this story, I will keep the general meaning of the expression “God Wink” to simply this: an entirely random moment where a completely coincidental series of events occurs for which there is no reasonable, logical, or verifiable explanation. This sort of thing happens all the time, everywhere around the world, and feeble attempts are routinely made to explain them away or rationalize them somehow, but those of us who believe in a higher power and humbly accept that we are all little more than grains of sand in a vast sea of eternity know better.
I have written in plenty of different places on these pages that I get most of my food and supplies online and have them delivered to my house. As I have said many times, in the matter of acquiring perishables… Milk, bread, meat, cheese (and most especially double stuff Oreos and party-size bags of candy) have to be done in person. I put on my military-size backpack, hobble down to the bus stop leaning heavily on my cane for balance, get off at the store, and wheel around, Gathering up supplies.
When I walk out of the store and swing around to the back end of the parking lot, there is a steel bench where people can sit and wait for connecting buses. I’ve been doing this for years and will never run out of stories… Many of which I have already written and published… About the sorts of people, I come across and the things I see and hear while waiting to walk up the hill and catch my bus home.
The only thing unusual about this particular experience is that, under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have been leaving the store this late in the afternoon; normally, I catch the bus first thing in the morning and wobble my way back home in time for my daily nap which I usually take after the lunch hour. Don’t laugh… It is a statistical truth that stroke survivors love their naps, and, as I like to say, I have a doctor’s note! However, on this particular day, I didn’t even leave home until 1:00 in the afternoon, which means I most likely would never have come across this particular group of people, so if you’re keeping score, that I was even there could very likely have been the first part of the God wink that was about to take place.
To paint a picture for you, imagine a steel bench that holds two people comfortably. The bench is bolted to a cement pad which is positioned up against a brick wall, and all of this is covered by an overhang warding off the rain during a storm or providing shade from the heat. When I came out of the store with my cart, I had to make a hard right in order to wheel my goods down to the bus stop roughly 100 ft in front of me. It’s well documented that I have very little eyesight left, so, at a distance, I could only see that there were multiple bodies sitting at the bench, and by no means could I discern much more about them until I was 5 ft in front of them. When I got close enough, I saw a man sitting on the far right of the bench who appeared to be well into his sixties, like me, staring straight ahead into the parking lot. He engaged in no conversation with anyone. Reflecting on that scene, I don’t think he ever looked at any of us once over the course of the 15 minutes that followed.
As I parked my cart up along the brick wall and sat down on the cement pad with my back up against it, I could see a man about the same age, a few feet beyond the quiet dude, resting in a “take a knee” position. He had some Gadget playing music set to a respectfully low volume but nonetheless loud enough for everyone there to hear. Like clockwork, whenever I am sitting at that location, I take out my unhealthy snack of donuts from the store, set aside my compulsory chilled Starbucks mocha frappuccino – used to wash down my unhealthy snack – and start tending to my snack business. And it was just about at this moment that a Johnny Cash song started playing, which I had not heard for at least 30 years.
Now, I’m as proud as I can be of my Appalachian heritage, but coming of age in the late sixties, I make no apologies for running away from country music as fast as I could once I found bands like Led Zeppelin, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, and so forth… And don’t even get me started on the music that came out of Woodstock. That doesn’t mean, however, that the likes of Patsy Cline or George Jones, or Johnny Cash ever stopped resonating in my bones even to this day. And when I heard Johnny Cash singing “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” on that ‘Take a Knee’ guy’s radio, my mind began to flood with a rush of memories from all those years ago when I heard that song on my mother’s record player and watched my mother and grandmother singing out loud, in two-part Harmony if you can imagine, knowing every word by heart.
“On a Sunday mornin’ sidewalk
I’m wishin’, Lord, that I was stoned
‘Cause there’s somethin’ in a Sunday
That makes a body feel alone
And there’s nothin’ short a’ dyin’
That’s half as lonesome as the sound
Of the sleepin’ city sidewalk
And Sunday mornin’ comin’ down”
Somewhere in the middle of that song, another man approached us with his own cart full of supplies, and I glanced over at him but otherwise gave him no further thought because I was far too deep inside my head to give him much notice. He likewise didn’t say a word choosing instead to occupy his space in peace, but there’s no way he didn’t hear that song, and because I didn’t bother to ask, I’ll never know his thoughts about that moment these four men spent together listening to Johnny Cash at an inner city bus stop outside of grocery store. But when the song ended, without having given it a millisecond of forethought, I thanked the ‘Take a Knee’ guy for letting that song play all the way through as I explained I had not heard it in over 30 years.
He looked over at me, seemingly unaware I had been sitting there, and said he had been a fan of Johnny Cash his whole life. I smiled and chuckled a little in agreement as he observed that Johnny’s deep, resonating voice had that rare quality one experiences from time to time when just the right song gets all the way inside you and deep into your soul. Roughly halfway through telling him I was no stranger to the story Johnny tells in that song, he looked at me and smiled and said, “You look like you’ve got quite a few stories to tell yourself. God knows I do.”
Now, being completely blind in the right half of each eye, I can’t say for sure, but I think the ‘quiet dude’ – sitting directly to my right – smiled and nodded his head a little at this point. Looking past him, I said to the ‘Take a Knee’ guy, in my standard smart-ass tone, “What gave me away? Was it my long white beard or the cane and dark sunglasses?”And, as if by reflex, he said self-critically that he had been around a very long time himself and just knew that anyone who understood that song understood the ups and downs of a hard life.
He said he was born in ’59 (making him a year younger than me) and had lived a good enough life but was going through a bad stretch. Almost apologetically, he said that he was working through what he prayed was a temporary bout of homelessness but that he was staying in a safe place, living outside of a church. I knew, generally, where that location was and told him as much as I stated the obvious truth about there being much worse places in this God-awful town for homeless people to try and find safe shelter from the weather as well as the crime running rampant amongst and between members of the homeless community. I was especially touched by his observation that, in all his years and after all he had seen in his life, nothing broke his heart more than having to watch homeless people committing crimes against other homeless people.
And just like that, before my ears could pick up what had just come out of my mouth, I had asked him if God was in his life. I didn’t think it through, didn’t plan it, and didn’t even know I was going to say it until it was out of my mouth. Once he heard it, though, even my half-blind eyes could see that the question lit up his whole face as he answered by saying that he goes to church every Sunday and talks to God all day long about his gratitude for what Little he does have and his acceptance that, when the good Lord thinks the time is right, God will deliver him from his current trials and tribulations.
The very first thing that came to mind after he said that was the Book of Job (in the Old Testament if readers have a mind to look it up), but before I could say anything about it, the bus they were waiting for started to approach. The ‘Take a Knee’ guy stood up, gathered his bags, and walked over to me with an outstretched hand, saying his name was Adam and asking what mine was. I must admit that the idea of a David and an Adam talking about God at an inner city bus stop just drips with irony, but I was forced to keep that thought to myself, Our Moment being interrupted by the guy last to join our little group. He walked up to Adam and handed him one of his grocery bags. Adam was quick to say he was very thankful but that this kind stranger didn’t need to do it… That he knew he would be okay. Our silent stranger spoke for the first time, insisting that Adam take it, insisting that he really wanted him to have it.
Of all the things that Adam could have done at that moment, he chose to turn around and look straight at me with a look of shock and amazement at what had just happened between him and the quiet guy. Honestly, I was feeling pretty amazed myself but was – unbeknownst to me at that moment – hours away from being able to make any sense of it. This essay, in some small way, somewhat serves that purpose. The only possible explanation that can be given for how four men… Complete strangers with individually unique perspectives… Came together (or were brought together by Divine intervention) and were blessed with a once-in-a-lifetime God wink.