If this essay is a joke, I am the punchline.
“Imagine that you are . . . caught in an intolerable one-on-one conversation . . . would you prefer . . . (1) That the other person become more and more witty and charming . . . while you find yourself more and more at a loss; or (2) that . . . a 7.5 Richter earthquake takes place, and presently you find yourself and the other person alive and well, and talking under a mound of rubble.”
Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos
Why do I want to remember the time I left an old friend in the snow? Specifically, when I left my friend to wait two hours, alone in her car, in the midst of a city-stopping Portland snowfall?
Certainly this wasn’t the most significant moment in our friendship. Certainly there were more beautiful or spiritual things that happened. Maybe this one wins for funniest.
It happened a few years ago, in January as I recall. I had just decided that I was definitely becoming Catholic, if they–I?–would let me. I went to my friend’s house church one Friday with my parents, and while there, she suggested that we should have coffee sooner or later.
When I told her about the coming conversion, she suggested sooner.
Coffee is ambiguous.
I found her at Powell’s books downtown and we went to their internal coffee-shop. We talked about things I barely remember.
We ran into an old mutual friend, who had become Catholic a year before me. He told us about a candy Rosary his mom had made him. A sort of affectionate religious teasing.
Then eventually the snow came, and Portland shut down for the afternoon. The buses moved like snails. Because of the snow, my friend was stuck to either (1) wander around a patch of downtown for two or three hours or (2) wait in her car for the same time. And then I did something strikingly idiotic.
Instead of staying to keep her company, even for an hour or so, I took off walking east to visit someone in Southeast Portland.
What was the alternative to walking away? Killing time with a good friend in a Portland-level (wimpy) snowstorm? Sleeping at my grandparents’ house instead of my own?
I could have had a real encounter with another human being in that context, the opposite of the ordinary weekday afternoon, as Percy might say. I could have stayed trapped in a Portland avalanche: A real conversation starter! So why did I leave?
Was it because:
- I hadn’t met my quota of female-related idiocy that week?
- I wanted to get home in time to enjoy my chosen bedtime creature comforts?
- I liked her, but was uncertain if she liked me?
- I knew that even if she did, the whole thing would eventually crash and burn?
Regarding (1), I don’t remember what time of the week it was, but I’m not sure I can ever fit enough of this into one week. Regarding (2), this was definitely my preference. And as for (3) and (4), I did, and she did, but the thing didn’t last. Years later, she married an excellent man in a very beautiful wedding that I was privileged to attend.
I’d like to believe that my actions were, at bottom, noble: I saw option (4) and ran away because I wanted what was best. That might be malarkey. It was really a little bit of everything, and had as much to do with option (2) as anything.
But assume better of me. Assume that I had some noble intention in leaving. Still, if I had wanted to be Christ to her, I would have stayed. I would have given that gift of companionship. I could have demonstrated that by embracing His Church I was only becoming more myself and more like Jesus. I was stuck in the snowstorm and you kept me company.
But why remember this? I was talking with a friend the other night about Abandonment to Divine Providence, and we came across the following passage:
This mysterious growth of Jesus Christ in our hearts is . . . produced, fed and increased by the duties that are successively presented to us and filled with the will of God. In performing these duties we are always sure of possessing the “better part” (Lk 10:42).
Jean-Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence ((C) 2010 Ave Maria Press, Inc.)
It’s important to me to remember this because I had the opportunity to choose “the better part” that was given to me, but chose the lesser. I left Jesus downtown with her and headed east. I remember and I know that nobility isn’t holiness, ethics aren’t abandonment, and “comfort” is often the lesser path.
My old friend and her husband had me over for dinner earlier this year. They were very gracious hosts. Of course, I received a good ribbing over the Portland snowstorm incident.
I’ll never live that one down, and I fully deserve it. This is okay because it keeps an important question in front of me: Who will I be in the next snowstorm?
Originally posted during the old Darganflayer / Embassy XIV blog era.