Stefan walked to the end of the driveway. He collected the upended trash can from the tree lawn and paused to look up at the gray November sky.
It was nevertheless a glorious day, which crowned the events of a memorable week.
He walked the can to the garage and paused to scan the upper floors of the houses behind his. The perimeter secured, he ambled back to the house and sat down on the back porch.
The sigh he sighed brought him a peace and serenity which both surprised and delighted him. He took stock of the events of the past week….
Last week he had been a financial services representative with a major insurance company. After months of agonizing, he had submitted his resignation to his manager , his compliance officer, and the firm’s managing director. He was pleasantly surprised at their efforts to accommodate him by offering him time to think it over. They offered their understanding of the difficulties of having lost a father and a father-in-law in quick succession and maintained that their granting of a ‘family leave’ hiatus would allow him to ‘recharge his batteries’. But he was adamant. He was proud of his talents and his contributions to the firm, but in the end, as an independent contractor running his own business, had decided to ‘fire myself”. After all, that he was able to last five years in a business where ‘success’ is being able to last two was little comfort to a psyche which was long on attention to detail but short on marketing. Success cannot supplant happiness. Skill is not evidence of joy.
Last week he had wiped away a tear and held close his mother-in-law at the Sunday service which commemorated ‘All Saints’ Day’ as he watched his wife slowly process up the aisle ringing a huge hand-bell once for each of the names of those parishioners who had passed away the previous year. As her father’s name was read, that peal of her hand-bell pierced his soul as his mother-in-law tightened her grip on his hand. He missed Jack. And he remembered him saying.”Take care of my little girl.”
Last week he had spent hours over the course of several days helping Vincent, a fellow parishioner and a business client. The large machining firm where Vincent had worked six years had laid him off the week before; and now had filed an appeal with the state to deny him his unemployment benefits, taking the position that his termination was ‘for cause’ and not due to lack of work. “Could you help me with this paperwork, Steve?” He debriefed Vincent on his duties, the company disciplinary procedures and the uniformity with which they were applied. Research on the legal definition in state law of ‘just cause’ for dismissal became the outline to responding to the company’s appeal and the ensuing questionnaire. The goal was to keep it brief, succinct, and allowing the case worker who reviewed it to ‘hang their hat’ on the language of the response without needing to schedule a hearing to adduce missing facts or information. It felt good to help Vincent. Before he left, he showed him how to attach his resume to on-line job applications.
Last week he had started the interview process for a job with a major supermarket chain. Signed in at the job fair; attended a ‘group’ interview; called the recruiter back to inform her of his new e-mail address and to thank her for her professionalism; and was informed that the interview had gone so well that she would be dispensing with the ‘one-on-one’ interview and making him an offer. Part-time to start. Room for advancement. Honest pay for honest work. A new career allowing time to pursue writing, or painting, or music, or ………helping others like Vincent.
Last week he had felt a twinge of guilt and remorse when his wife had told him….””I’m so proud of you…you’ve kept your head about issues at work; and you’re willing to work at jobs others with your experience would consider ‘beneath’ them. You just need to forget that idiot behind us…”
The ‘idiot’ being a 19 year-old caucasian male who lived in the upper floor of a rental property diagonally behind them, two doors east.
Two months prior, while Jack was being moved to hospice, Jennifer was spending her day off doing things she loved to do: gardening; weeding and talking to the neighbor children. As she tended to a bush beneath the dining room window, not six feet from the back porch; she began to hear a repeated ‘crack’ and ‘ping’ and ‘swishing’ through the branches of the large silver maple next to the garage. After the fourth or fifth ‘crack…swish…ping’, she felt a pain on her breast,and thought at first that she had brushed against a thorn on the bush she was tending. It burned. She looked around, up through the tree to the third floor windows of the house behind and east of them and spotted a white male holding a rifle. He quickly moved out of view as she walked away from her house toward the tree.
She had been stalked, targeted and shot with a high-powered air rifle. She called the police, then dialed her husband. “Don’t freak out” (her concern was that his penchant, increasingly controlled but still dormant in his psyche, for emotional response to trespass or injury to him and his would overcome his composure and result in actions he “might regret.”)
He had driven home, embraced her, spoken with the officers; observed one of the “b.b.’s” which had bounced off of the siding; and viewed the photos the officer had taken of the welt above her left breast. He felt powerless. The teachings of scripture were little solace for the son of a steelworker; a ‘mans’ man’ whose sensibilities at this juncture were those of John Wayne rather than of Jesus. He had vowed he would not rest until this threat to his family and to the children next door was removed. He wrestled with his desire to fulfill his duty as a loving married man to confront this ‘punk’ with a tire iron and to relieve him of his capacity to walk or to chew food.
But the love of his wife was strong, and the counsel of his Pastor was empowering. He made himself a bargain. “I will break no law nor commit any trespass…..but I would not rest until this threat was removed from the neighborhood”.
The prosecutor could not press the felony charges for aggravated assault as his wife did not get a clear view of the face of her attacker. He and his parents would not allow a search of their residence for the weapon. The homeowner did not respond to the letter he had sent to inform her that her tenants were active on police records and should be evicted. Time went on, and he tried to keep the embers of vengeance within him from conflagrating by starting a regimen of heightened vigilance. He obtained the permission of the neighbor directly behind him to use the neighbor’s back yard as a vantage point from which to observe the goings-on at the ‘sniper’s nest’. He daily scanned the windows from his upper back porch with binoculars. He queried the neighborhood kids on his street as to their knowledge of the sniper and his sister. (He found out they were in fact boastful of the fact that it had been ‘fun’ when they “shot her”). A stroke of the bellows to fan the embers.
For two full months, on every drive to and from his home, he had taken to circling the block to ‘reconnoiter’ the enemy. After all, he made a promise to Jack on his death-bed to “protect” his “little girl’. But his wife worried that he was obsessing. He began to keep his reconnaissance to himself. Persevere.
He sighed again and looked up at the sky from his seat on the back porch. Today, he had gone to work at a new job he did not abhor. Today, he had received calls from associates at the insurance firm informing him they would miss him, and wished him well. Today, he had spoken to Vincent, who had gotten notice that the bureau of unemployment compensation was denying his former employer’s appeal, reinstating his benefits and ruling officially that his discharge was not for a reason which a reasonable man could conclude was ‘just’. Today, he had watched the garbage truck haul away twenty-two 33-gallon bags of silver maple leaves which had taken days to collect.
And today……..the obligatory drive around the block past the sniper’s nest revealed a large and beautiful rented moving van. The windows in the nest were open, the screen door being used was not to the ground floor of this double, but to the stairway leading to the upper rented unit.
The sniper was moving away. The enemy was withdrawing. The battle won, without a shot.
The Spirit had won out. Pastoral guidance and family love and support , acknowledged regularly with every passing moment, had shown him today without a doubt that walking with and ‘putting on ‘ Jesus; that walking away from the darkness of sin and carnal envy or vengeance; indeed…….of always walking, stepping out with the Holy Spirit to share God’s Love through our talents, not just our vocations, with all we encounter; is the true path to the happiness of a life which acknowledges God’s Grace.
He sighed again, rose and went into the house. The leaves were gone, the property secure, and his time was his. He picked up the binoculars from the dining room window sash and carried them to their proper place in his den upstairs.
Time to write.