When I was eighteen, there wasn’t anyone who could teach me a thing. I never asked for advice, never doubted myself and never thought things could change.
Looking back on it now, my senior year in high school seems like a chapter from someone else’s story. With each passing year, the faces in my album seem to melt just a little, like an ice cube placed on a sunny porch step. But, there’s one exception to that rule. She signed page 65 of my year book - Regina Santorini.
Let’s talk first impressions. When I first noticed Regina, I had to laugh. She was a tiny girl, with spindly arms and hair so red that it singed my eyes. On that occasion, my friends, the Jock Brigade, were sharing a laugh over some things Regina had said in a class. Apparently, a teacher had referred to Christians as “Happy Zombies” and Regina had taken some exception to his remark.
Regina was probably at least twenty feet away from us in the crowded hallway by the lockers. But, I could see her clearly. I looked at her and laughed and she happened to look my way. Being the Big Man that I was, I just kept right on laughing. To be honest, I didn’t mind that she looked a little upset. That’s just who I was back then – there’s nothing but shame in that admission.
As the year went by, the class grew more excited. Each of us had our own story to tell about the shape of our future and who we were destined to become. Even today, if I close my eyes and concentrate a little, I can walk through it all again, like an invisible man in a long-lost Atlantis.
It was in my senior year, that I realized that life could be less than perfect. The first crack in my world happened when I caught my girl Maggie coming out of a movie theater with my good friend, Stan. It was an awkward moment, especially since Maggie and I had just agreed to get married.
The second event was related to the first. In yet another accident, I ran into my “friends” on the tail end of a joke about how many Joe’s – that’s me – it would take to screw in a light bulb. Apparently, the only person surprised about Maggie and Stan had been me.
I spent most of the rest of my senior year on my own. My status as a successful jock didn’t change, but I kept mostly to myself. It was just about that time that I noticed Regina again.
I was sitting on the floor by my locker studying for a test. There was some noise and I looked over. Not more than ten feet away, a group of girls were arguing loudly. At the end of their “discussion”, Regina grew very quiet and shook her head.
“I can’t believe you’d all just abandon her like that. Is that what it means to be a friend?”
She had a voice like a mouse, but believe me when I tell you that the floor shook when she spoke. When they all left, she turned around and caught me staring. She turned red and quickly began to walk in the opposite direction. Without thinking, I jumped to my feet and caught up with her.
“Sorry for eavesdropping,” I mumbled, feeling very stupid. Regina just shook her head and smiled. When she smiled, it was like seeing right into her soul. It was beautiful.
By the end of that day and then many others, Regina and I had become friends. In her quiet way, she shared her faith with me and I shared my doubts with her. She listened to everything I had to say with patience and then told me something that changed my life yet again.
“Joey, when I look at you, I mean really look deeply, do you know what I see?”
“No,” I replied.
“I see a boy locked inside a dark room. He won’t come out of the dark.”
“He’s concerned about the eyes?”
“The eyes of the world, Joey. You’ve got the key. To get out, all you have to do is be willing.”
I saw what she saw just then and it made me a new person. Since then, I’ve remembered the lesson of the lock and the room and thanked God again and again for sending me His words from Regina’s kind heart.
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