Reciprocity: Of Angels and Demons
July 23, 2013
As we sat under the awning of her fifth wheel, she looked at me, smiled softly, and said, “You aren’t travelling alone. You have a thousand guardian angels surrounding you.” After a brief pause, she noted, “I am known to take in strays,” admitting, “Sometimes it gets me into trouble.”
I had dropped by her daughter’s restaurant one more time to charge my phone before settling into my campsite to enjoy my long-anticipated fire. She and two of her regulars were sitting on the veranda enjoying the stunning sunset that had painted the lake with pink, purple and orange hues.
When she stepped in to help a customer at the adjoining bait shop, her friend noted for the first time ever she seemed truly frightened, adding, “As you know, she is a pretty tough girl.”
She is, and she runs a tight ship, jovially greeting her usual customers with their orders even before they ask, yet likewise professionally, discreetly cracking down on her employees when they have breached the bounds of propriety.
The jet skies sent ripples across the pink water as they hummed like swarms of bees past the dock, and he explained that day a camper had insisted he needed drug money.
I knew who the camper was; as he had slowly driven past the restaurant earlier in the day, my girl had emitted a low growl, an infrequent yet perceptive warning I have learned to recognize and respect. Honestly, he had frightened me as well, so when she asked me to stay with her that night, I didn’t even for a moment hesitate giving up my pile of wood sitting near the campground entrance.
She was not the first to extend a traveller’s blessing upon me. My first had come even before I had pedaled a few miles past Wrigley. As I sat eating my dinner on a park bench on Irving Park in Chicago, a beautiful, wizened woman approached me, asking me bluntly in broken English if I were Catholic.
Her directness stunned me initially, but she continued to explain the name of the dog reminded her of a Polish patron saint, adding that she had written a number of books on Catholic saints.
My next blessing came from a stranger in Du Page who noted my trailer was occupied by my girl instead of the typical bike touring equipment, shouting, “Blessings upon you” as I sped past him down one of the first hills I encountered on my trip.
Eventually they became commonplace: “May the Lord rain down blessings upon you,” “God bless you,” and even the single word, “Peace.”
Each brought a lingering smile and a sense of well being, if nothing more.
The phrase, “I am so blessed,” which is usually followed by a description of material abundance has always troubled me. It indicates that those who are bereft of material abundance, by extension, are not blessed, and when I hear the trite saying, the verse “Lay up your treasures in heaven” immediately comes to mind.
“Do you believe in God?” my host for the evening asked. I smiled ruefully, understanding that this phrase means so many different things depending upon one’s culture.
“I believe in a higher, creative being, yes,” I always respond when asked.
If we believe in God, whatever form our creative being may take, how does that manifest itself in our lives, and how do we in turn manifest our beliefs?
“RIP….” His dog had been shot in his backyard, his post on Facebook read.
I cried. Just a few years ago, I had spent Christmas with him and his family in Mexico, and my last memory was of him hugging his dog. His home is now riddled with bullets, but all he lost, fortunately, was his dog.
“Love thy neighbor as thyself.”
The Golden Rule is repeated in different forms in a number of cultures, first appearing as the notion of reciprocity in the oldest written laws, the Babylonian Code of Hammurabi. It occurs in ancient Greek paganism to Confucianism to Hinduism to Taoism, extending into Judaism and Islam traditions as well.
How do we define our “neighbor?”
The story of the Good Samaritan comes to mind, a tradition that includes those outside of our own cultural or racial experience.
I heard the phrase repeatedly: “Most of the towns along 30 changed once the meat-packing plants moved into the areas,” usually followed by an explanation that Nebraska has the second highest rate of undocumented Hispanic workers in the nation.
Blessings and godliness seem as though they should go hand in hand. “As you have freely received, freely give.”
Even if I am not blessed enough to be surrounded by thousands of guardian angels, I have encounter a number of them along the highway, including tonight’s host, whom I now number among my newfound friends.
For tonight, yes, I feel blessed. I am fortunate enough to have great company, shelter, and money to buy my next meal.
For those who are not as fortunate, I wish them well, and pray to the higher, creative being in whom I believe that they, too, may have the blessing of stumbling upon the same gestures of neighborly love I have found along my journey.