Julius Barton was one of those rare persons for whom everything always seemed to flow perfectly and fall right into place. For example, traffic lights at major intersections would change to green just as his vehicle approached or turn red just after he passed. Or a parking place would come available just where and when he wanted it, or the rain would hold off until the very instant he entered a building or stop the instant he stepped out of the building. He would just “happen” to secure the last item on the shelf of a desired product at the supermarket or that product would just have gone on sale the very day he shopped for it, etc. etc. Additionally Julius loved to relate vociferously his latest “coincidence” to no small annoyance sometimes on the part of his listeners, many of whom were accustomed to hearing these kinds of reports from him and were long since weary of listening because it was hard to relate to them, since it was so unlike their own experience.
All this began to change one afternoon, though, after he had moments before received another clean bill of health in his annual check-up from his physician, who had complained with tongue in cheek that Julius was indeed a “boring” patient with so few if any issues to stimulate him, an offense for which this patient was not inclined to apologize. When Julian entered the waiting room he heard sobbing and gasping from a group of family members in the corner of the waiting room who had just heard the news that a family member had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. In times past Julius would just have shaken his head, shrugged his shoulders and dismissed the scenario by the time he reached the parking lot. These kinds of things happened every day, he knew, but always to others less fortunate than himself for whatever reason. But for some reason this wasn’t so easy to shake, this time the sound of the sobbing was still reverberating in his ears outside and the sight of one family member sinking to the rug and having to be lifted back into her chair seemed etched on his retina. “I just don’t understand it,” he overheard them exclaim, “he did everything the right way! He ate healthy, he exercised, he got plenty of rest, he was moderate about everything. What more could he have done to avoid some horrible report like this!?” Julian had a problem remembering where he had parked which hardly ever happened to him, and when he finally located his car and got inside it, he couldn’t even bring himself to start the ignition. He sat there for some minutes in his vehicle breathing deeply and slowly, puzzled by his seeming paralysis, still feeling bewildered and disoriented.
As he drove home that afternoon he began to think to himself, “If there was just some way I could give a little of my good report from the doctor to soften or dissolve away some of that family’s bad report from the doctor. If there was some way I could do it, I would want to do it. Yes, I would be more than willing. But only God himself could mediate a negotiation like that. It’s not like that man needs stem cells or an organ transplant, or a blood transfusion. That would make it easier, but it’s not that simple. Anyway, I’m surprised at myself for thinking this way. I’ve never thought like this before, I’ve always gone on my merry way without asking questions of myself or anyone else. What is happening to me?” He drove along and typically just as he passed under it, a light changed, “Well, at least that’s still the same,” he reassured himself. “Hey, maybe I should start small with this negotiating business. How about if I say I will wait 60 seconds at the next light, so that can be subtracted from the other guy’s two and a half minute wait and then he would only need to wait 90 seconds. Only seems fair. And I know they say that life isn’t fair, but suppose it can be made a little less unfair. Maybe if I make enough small concessions like that, like passing up a parking place for the sake of the car behind me, it will lead to a bigger one like sharing my health with a sick person. Mmmm.” Julius had a lot to consider and think through that night and he noticed he wasn’t as hungry at supper time. He wouldn’t say he had no appetite exactly, but that his appetite had shifted partly to a different object of interest or pursuit. His wife noticed too. “Julius, are you ok? Or did I leave something out of the recipe tonight? You’re just picking at the casserole.” “No it’s fine, you did great as usual, I got a little distracted, I’m sorry. How was your day?”
His wife began by saying she had a terrible morning, and it had been hard to overcome that. He knew as he listened to her that his day had begun well so he began willing some of that good beginning toward her. He knew it was all past tense now, so it would seem it was too late to share his good start with her, but as his wife continued talking she seemed to be breaking free of the cloud that had followed her all day, so maybe his transfer of a part of his good start had somehow contributed to this change that was coming over her, her growing sense of relief. He thought she might think he was a little insane if she knew the thoughts he was having in those moments. Later he sat down to watch his favorite baseball team on cable TV and they were winning as usual. But if they were winning, he reasoned, that meant that someone else’s favorite team was losing. “So what?” Part of him said (the old part of him) “That’s the nature of the beast so to speak.” But then he envisioned some ten year old kid being deeply disappointed in the opposing team’s next loss, the latest in what was perhaps a series of losses. “How about if I trade away this game, and let that kid enjoy a win by his favorite team for a change? He would enjoy his win far more than I would enjoy mine since I’m so accustomed to winning. In fact, he would enjoy winning the three game series even more! In fact he would be exhilarated if they swept the series! And I would get over it easily enough. Then we can get back to our winning ways for a while.” He couldn’t believe he had just negotiated away the series, not one game but the series! “That’s ok, don’t get in an uproar,” he answered himself, “it’s not the WORLD SERIES, you know after all!” But even the World Series could soon be at risk at this rate and he knew it. Anyway, isn’t that a little arrogant and even presumptuous to call it the world series, when probably most of the world had never heard of it? He sat quietly for a few minutes, muting the sound of the game now, not just the commercials as he typically did. He felt a strange momentum slowly building inside him. He was excited in a subtle way, yes, but also a little frightened as to exactly where this newfound momentum might lead him. But as his wife settled snugly into the sofa beside him, and he felt her warmth in the full sense of the word, whatever fear there might have been left him. “Aren’t you going to turn up the sound?” She asked softly and with some curiosity. He did turn up the sound of course, all the while beginning to think if he could give away a game or a series to a thrilled young baseball fan without the boy even knowing it, how about letting him win the pennant too or, yes, the coveted World Series too! Perhaps there would be some way of watching the young fan’s growing excitement as the season came to a dramatic and triumphant finish. Wouldn’t watching his joy and excitement translate into more pleasure for Julius than even his own team winning, or at least translate into equal pleasure though different? He could refute and disprove the philosopher who said that the essence of pleasure was having one’s own way. Wow, this was certainly a different way of thinking for him. He didn’t recognize his own thought process as being his own at this moment. There was a new and creative capacity growing inside him now, a capacity to surprise himself! It wasn’t long after that when Julius strained his lower back he knew not exactly how. It seemed that his hearts desire was starting to be met in that perhaps this was a way to absorb some pain and discomfort, small though it was, from the lives of others. His wife admonished him to be careful and to slacken his pace a little to accommodate his back condition. Then strangely she herself sprained her wrist, she knew not when or how, or was it purely arthritic and no sprain at all? They were quite a pair, Julius and his bride, for she was forced to rub his back with only one hand, and then the other wrist seemed to weaken from too vigorous a rubdown. When she attempted to fetch the wrist brace from the lower drawer she hadn’t the strength to open the drawer! When Julius offered to help her she tried to prevent him, but he insisted. As he bent way over to pull out and maneuver the drawer he aggravated his back. When she tried to fetch the lotion from the bathroom to apply it to his back her wrist was so weak she dropped and broke the jar! He could barely help to pick up the pieces without moaning and…….well, I think the reader gets the idea clearly enough. This all would have been a blend of the noble and the absurd, a journey from the sublime to the ridiculous, if it wasn’t so laughable. As they resettled on the sofa, he and his wife, and as their mutual pain subsided, he thought of what he heard the radio preacher say a few days before, “When you are approaching home and you hear a siren in your neighborhood, your first thought is for your own house and your own loved ones, and then secondarily others in the area. But how is that loving your neighbor as yourself?” Julius had to admit to himself that he didn’t love his neighbor as himself and didn’t even come close to that, and never had in his whole life! And that’s not even mentioning loving God with the whole heart. When does one know for sure that the whole heart is engaged? What gauge measures full or half engagement? Questions like these seemed to be multiplying, and answers that had so long satisfied were forsaking him. In fact, he couldn’t recall if he had ever witnessed anyone else doing that loving your neighbor or God business in the strict sense of the phrase “as yourself” or “with the whole heart.” It seemed that now he felt himself being beckoned and called toward a place of at least beginning to actually fulfill that double-edged golden rule in some practical and tangible way.
He thought of his friend who was helping to support a missionary in Africa. The missionary’s wife had become seriously ill and was in need of an expensive series of surgeries, which would involve her being flown to England and housed there for a period of time. His friend was willing to dip into his retirement account to make all this happen. He marveled at that kind of sacrifice. Julius wondered if he himself would ever be capable of such sacrifice. He knew that one doesn’t arrive at that level all at once, but instead by progressive degrees. It wasn’t like his friend was striving to love in a greater way, but more like he was allowing himself to be inhabited by a higher love than his own. Still, Julius felt himself nowhere near such a level of dedication or even near to a mindset of desiring it. But maybe that kind of gesture on the part of his friend toward the missionary couple was indeed a glimpse of what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. It must have been exerting some kind of draw upon him or he wouldn’t even be thinking these kinds of thoughts.
He thought of the prophet in the Bible who was known for his statement, “He (Jesus) must increase and I must decrease.” He felt himself decreasing in importance in respect to others and there was nothing he could do about it even if he wanted to. He had mixed feelings as you can probably tell. It reminded him of a movie he had seen as a boy, “The Incredible Shrinking Man.” The character became smaller and smaller physically over the course of the story, until he battled for his life with insects and eventually faded from sight into some presumed micro-infinity. Initially he and his wife were horrified. He was losing the capacity to relate to her as she always been accustomed to knowing him. But at the same time there was a strange new freedom in those endless micro realms into which he was passing.
He thought he was undergoing a kind of metamorphosis. Like the caterpillar must liquify in the cocoon, he was changing form as if to prepare to be a creature who will fly instead of crawl. Julius had been crawling all his life. There were adjustments to be made. Just then his wife came into the room again with a plate of oatmeal raisin cookies, his favorite. “You take the biggest one,” he told her. Her jaw dropped…………..
” You must be kidding me,” she muttered. But Julius was dead serious.
As He lay awake that night some minutes after his wife had fallen off to sleep, he though of his friend Walter who had recently been through shoulder surgery. Walter had informed Julius of his inability to sleep due to the pain. The pain meds had nor made a significant difference in the pain. He wished at that moment that he could absorb some of Walter’s pain for him, enough for him to be able to sleep. He wished also that he could experience some of his sleeplessness in exchange for Walter enjoying some of his sleep, because Julius never struggled getting his necessary sleep. Then he converted his wishes into prayer, and as he prayed he realized that Someone else had absorbed pain so others might endure less of it. So if He had already done it, was it necessary for he, Julius, to reinvent the wheel? But then he understood that he could never redo Christ’s sacrifice, but his nature had been changing little by little to be like Christ, and to share the kinds of desires and love that Christ had. More than that, maybe, just maybe, it was Christ living in him, in Julius, and caring for others through him as his vessel, a chosen vessel. That was almost too awesome to consider at that moment, as he was roused from his line of thought by what he thought was a twinge of pain in his shoulder