Monday, April 20, 2020

Harry's Story

Not that I believe in them, but I had angels on my mind the other day, and after a while I got to thinking about something that Harry had said. At least, I think his name was Harry. It might have been Edwin, or Ralph, or George, some old-fashioned name like that. He used to get up and speak during the Sunday service, the part known as “joys and concerns.” This was back in the early nineties, when I was still going to church. I didn’t know him, but as a church regular I recognized him, a “gent” in his early eighties, about. Word had it that he lived alone, a widower, in a big antique colonial not far from the church green. There were things troubling him, that’s for sure. It wasn’t unusual for him to talk about them. He seemed, at times, beset by troubles. At one point I was curious enough to ask our pastor about him. Bill looked away for a moment, then said, Ah, Harry. You know, his sons are trying to sell that house out from under him.

During joys and concerns, worshipers are invited to stand and make a brief announcement about something that recently gave them joy, or, more frequently, something sad that touched them personally. It takes courage to get up on your feet and fill that room with your unamplified voice, those hundreds of expectant faces watching you, heads tilted forward to try and catch what you’re saying, as you burn through these few precious words that you’ve gathered up.

Harry rose from his pew and turned to face the crowd. I’m asking for your prayers, he said. One day last week, he went on, he had had to go out in his old Chevy to run a dull errand, perhaps to a drugstore for a refill. The weather was chilly and gloomy with a steady rain coming down, deep puddles everywhere. And what with neither Harry nor his car being in very great shape, and the line at the counter being endless, and the cashier being grouchy, it was already turning into a trying afternoon. As Harry got ready to pull out of the parking lot, he became aware that one of his tires had gone flat, completely flat. Well! He knew there was a jack in the trunk all right, he’d stowed one there years ago, but now he didn’t suppose he had the strength to use it. And in the pouring rain! A cold web of despair began to settle over him. What was he going to do now?

He got out of the car to look around for a pay phone. (But who could he call?) He tried to think. The rain drummed on his hat, on the roof of his car. About that time, he noticed a dark-haired, lanky figure approaching, a man of about 45 maybe, wearing old coveralls and work boots but no hat or coat. He moved deliberately but with weariness, as if he had been walking a long way, or a long time. His hands, Harry saw, were grimy. For a moment, Harry thought the man was going to hit him up for spare change.

Got a jack? he said to Harry, indicating the trunk. Harry opened the trunk, then stood back as the man took out the jack, the tire iron, and the spare, and knelt beside the car to go to work. In a few minutes, the repair was complete. By this time, Harry was enjoying the rare feeling of being the luckiest man in the world and was digging around in his pockets for some cash. The man closed the trunk and turned to face Harry. Do you believe in angels? he asked. His abrupt question surprised Harry but what could he say? Yes, I do! The man hesitated for a moment, rain streaming down his face. Then he nodded and asked, Would you please pray for me? Without waiting for an answer, he turned and walked away into the downpour, and was soon lost to view.

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