I tend to decline offers with children on the periphery - but one to accept when sincerity is afoot. And I was just thinking how great a shower would be.
I must have looked awful. My shirt was disgusting by all measures. Stripes and bands of salt draw thick outlines. I've been sweating in the same shirt for a week. I was at a picnic table conducting business. I must not have looked threatening with my assemblage of electronic devices and my Hoopty bicycle with handlebars that smile.
"Do you need anything? A shower?"
An angel! And somehow a sweet Ukrainian accent had made it's way to Scott City Kansas. Culture, children and cleanliness were all added to my schedule. I promised to pack and catch up, and she promised to move slowly along the same straight street.
Her husband, Joel, was mowing a small lawn with a riding mower. He shook my hand like he meant it, and fumbled to find some appropriate soap for me to wash with. All-American, blue eyes, and a grin which matched his apparent zeal for existence. Anna and Joel are missionaries, and they met each other while spreading the word of God.
After my shower, I wanted to leave. There were children, and the park had a small shelter just for me. I was invited to stay. Twice. Before I could properly decline, clouds appeared. My fancy phone said that these clouds might start getting rude. I wasn't going anywhere. To decline this offer would be a classically poor decision.
Anna cooked dinner just for me. This was a special dinner, with a nod toward artful presentation. They didn't have many ingredients, but what she assembled had a resonant harmony.
I slept well on the couch. I slept through the storm, and woke up refreshed at a reasonable hour.
Father's Day! The kids had matching t-shirts, and everybody ate pancakes. It was an idyllic picture before the question dropped.
"Where do you think you will go when you die?" Anna asked. What a question. I assumed that my visit might get to this point. I had just recited their familiar grace, and I supposed that opened the door for pointed questions.
"In the ground." I delivered this bluntly with a smile; returning the same sincere look. "My body will go in the ground, and I will be dissolved back into the earth."
I called myself spiritual, and that's close enough. I pointed out that I have morals and ethics. But what about heaven and hell?
I explained myself in a calm humble manner. "If there is a heaven and hell... and I am saying these things... I am going to hell. I am a good person, and for me, that's a bad rap." I explained that I wouldn't change my views on religion out of a fear of what happens after I die. I won't spend time hedging my bets just in case.
I told them that I had been alienated by organized religion. Joel remarked to Anna that this was a major problem of the church today. I didn't bother to explain that it wasn't the modern church that had alienated me as much as the long track record of gross actions too long to innumerate, but including lots of murder and serial closed-mindedness. You can translate the Bible into jive, but you can't take those facts away.
Anna told me one thing before I left. A quick sermon, which she all but apologized for. She doesn't usually invite cyclists, or anyone who she sees, into her home. God had told her to invite me over. She saw me, and she listened to the voice that was telling her what to do. I thanked her. I didn't say so, but I have the same inklings that she thinks are the voice of God. I've been calling that stuff "vibes."
All in all, I love Joel and Anna. They're good. They have three good children. If I prayed like a normal-praying dude, I'd do it. But I don't do that anymore. When I think positive thoughts about good people before I fall asleep, I wish they wouldn't worry about my soul's proximity to hell.