Day 24 Part One: Knoxville to Maggie Valley, N.C.; It Should Have Been an Easy Ride; Dale; Gratitude; Angels.

Technically, it was an easy ride. The route was clear, the sky was Carolina blue and Big Red was doing her happy thing. Then I got hungry and decided to stop at a Wendy’s this time. I pulled off the exit and saw a man walking with a sign beside the road. I passed him and went up to the restaurant. The place was crowded so it took a while before I got my food. Because Big Red’s carries my luggage bag and laptop I always sit so I can keep an eye on her. After I had just gotten my food I watched as the man with the sign sat down a short distance away from my bike. I kept glancing at him. It didn’t look like he was going to mess with the bike. When I finished I walked over to him and asked him how he was doing.
He sat there and told me a long story about his life, how he’d just gotten out of the military, had come home and his wife of 20 years had filed for divorce and wouldn’t let him in the house because she was afraid of him, because he had PTSD. He suddenly didn’t have anywhere to go. The VA (Veteran’s Hospital) would take him but all they wanted to do was put him in a bed and drug him. He was trying to get back to where he grew up in Montana. He said he had stopped at a nearby church. When the pastor came to the door he asked if there was any work he could do for a peanut butter sandwich. He claimed the pastor asked him if he was on drugs or had been drinking. He asked the pastor to show him in the Bible where Jesus had asked that question, or any question like that had been asked before help was given. He just wanted to know could he do some work for a peanut butter sandwich. The minister closed the door on him. Later, while he was walking down the road, probably just before I had seen him, the police showed up and asked him had he been at the church. He explained that he had been, that he was just trying to do some work for some food. He said a police man threw a napkin down on the ground and said: Pick that up. He did and the policeman said: Here’s a dollar. Go get yourself something and then get out of town.
So he walked over here and bought himself a can of iced tea. He said the people in the store didn’t want him panhandling so he sat way over here. (in the hot sun). Come the first of the month he’d get some money put into his account. (It was June 1oth.)
He told me that some people come up to him and say: Thanks for your service. He said why do they thank me. I’m just doing a regular 9-5 job and getting paid for it like everyone else. The people that should get thanked are the ones that died over there. And he started to cry. They were the friends I had and they’re not coming back. He mentioned the various places that he had been stationed and started to choke up. Then he showed me where he had had surgery on both of his ankles because of an explosion. He said he had been born again, quoted a Bible verse and took a card out of his wallet that had reminders of important verses. He said he took it out and looked at it often when he needed it. He said he was thankful; that he felt blessed. It could be worse. I could be lying in a ditch or been killed like those boys who are never coming back. Then he started to stutter. I don’t like talking about it. I’ve been lucky. I’m very thankful.
We talked a bit more and then it was time to leave. Though he never once asked, I gave him some money. He looked at it. Are you sure? I nodded. Thanks man. He hugged me. We shook hands and I introduced myself.
He said: “I’m Dale. Bless you. I’ll pray for you and your family.”
“Thanks, I need every prayer I can get. I’ll pray for you too.”
So, what do you think? Was he genuine or did he con me? Who knows? I don’t know and frankly I don’t care. Maybe he was one of the Lamed Vav; one of the 36 hidden and humble saints the very continuation of the world rests upon? (You can search my blog for more references I’ve made to them). Maybe he was Elijah the prophet? According to an old Hasidic story Elijah often comes to us in disguise: someone ill mannered, a poor person, a beggar. And woe to us if we judge this person harshly and withhold assistance!
Maybe he was an angel? Hebrews says: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (Heb. 13:4).
To be honest, I don’t know. I’m quick to judge others at times on very superficial things and I have to catch myself. Mother Teresa said that if we’re busy judging people we can’t be busy loving them. Which is more important?
All I know for sure is that I cried the rest of the way to Maggie Valley.

Angels, Saints, Elijah the Prophet, the Lamed Vav, and Big Red, the Harley Road King.

It’s been hot in Georgia (USA) the past month with temperatures up into the high 90’s (35C). It was so hot at times that chickens were laying boiled eggs. So hot that when I went outside to smoke my pipe the tobacco lit itself. So hot that men have been spotted marrying tall women just for the shade. That kind of hot. So it was a relief for most of us these last few days when the temperatures dropped overnight into the 40’s (7C). I almost went out last night to throw a blanket onto Big Red, my 2004 Harley Road King. By the way, I added her mileage up and we’ve ridden over 38,000 miles in the last three years. She deserves some tender loving care. I was thinking about this while I was watching a woman I know from a nearby community who was handing out blankets to some of the homeless that sleep rough in the woods in tents. One man said to her: “you’re my angel.” and she responded, “wait till you get to know me better!” I imagine that’s the typical angel response that they teach you in your Introductory Angels class.
Now, in my reckoning, saints are easier to pick out of a line up. Mother Theresa, for most people, was clearly a saint. Dorothy Day was a saint. Some are campaigning that the great baseball legend Roberto Clemente, who died while trying to help others, was a saint. (Babe Ruth was clearly no saint.) Angels, as we know, are harder to identify. They may be doing angelic things, which makes it a darn sight easier, but they can also come like Elijah the prophet, in disguise, what Emerson called, “disguised and discredited angels”. Elijah, in the old stories, was often found using various disguises such as a beggar, a prostitute, a court official, and an Arab. And though he was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot (I’m guessing a Harley Road King with the Screamin Eagle upgrades) people still claim to see him today. He’s still wandering around in disguises testing our commitment to showing compassion and hospitality to strangers.
So you might not be an angel, or a saint for that matter but don’t worry, you can still be in the running for being one of the Lamed Vav. “Who are they?” you ask.
In an old Hasidic story it claims that throughout history at any one time there are 36 people upon whom the survival of civilization depends. If not for all of them, the world would come to an end. The 36 are described as humble, modest, righteous, anonymous people who appear when an emergency comes, somehow avert the disaster and then return to anonymity. They don’t have any superpowers, they’re just unassuming people in various disguises who use their innate talents and abilities to help others. They could be a beggar, a teacher, a pastor, a monk, a candlestick maker for all we know. They themselves don’t know that they’re one of the 36. In fact, thinking you’re a Lamed Vav is considered proof that you aren’t. The real Lamed Vav are too humble to believe that they’re one of the 36. They appear when they are needed, do their thing which is really about being who they are and then they disappear. So how do you recognize them? They don’t wear masks like the Lone Ranger. The simple answer is that you don’t. But the fate of the whole world rests on their shoulders so we had better treat them well.
In a reading I found on the Internet, a Rabbi Raymond Zerwin questions how we might act if we went around suspecting that the people we meet might be one of the Lamed Vav? That somehow hidden inside this person are the talents or resources that will be needed someday to save the world. Would it affect how we treat others? Who might these Lamed Vavs be disguised as? What if we might be one of the 36 ourselves? If you don’t think you are then that means you’re still in the running. Just in case we are one of the 36 we should go easy on ourselves, not be so critical of ourselves, and not so critical of others.
So who knows? The people you meet could be disguised and discredited angels, saints, the prophet Elijah or maybe the Lamed Vav. I don’t know about you but the possibility of it makes me want to look at people a little more carefully.