Chapter 5: The Good Samaritan
Three weeks later, Walker was eating lunch in the break room. Angela sat down across the table and opened her lunch sack. They discussed the new company policy of wearing hot pink targets on the front of their work aprons that proclaimed “Ask me! I’m your man!”
“I’m not even a man!” laughed Angela.
“And I look terrible in hot pink,” shot back Walker. “Who comes up with this stuff?
“Corporate I suppose,” answered Angela. “I’m sure it sounded great at the company retreat. I can almost imagine them sitting around brainstorming of this nonsense. The problem is that we have to live with it.”
“That’s what you get when you work for the Pharaoh,” said Walker.
“For sure!” said Connie, chewing her sandwich. “Hey Walker. Would you and Connie like to come over for dinner this week?”
“Sure,” said Walker noncommittally.
“Umm…” Walker paused awkwardly. Since he had started work at the Lumber Depot his conservative friends had confirmed the rumor: Angela was on the board of Planned Parenthood and lived with her partner, Amy. It was one thing to hang out with people like that at work. But to go over to their house for dinner? What would his friends think?
“How nice of you,” he said, “Let me check with Connie and get back to you.”
That evening, Walker and Connie sat on the back porch.
“I don’t know,” said Connie. “Wouldn’t having dinner with them and imply that we approve of their lifestyle? Aren’t we supposed to stand up against that sort of thing?”
Walker was conflicted. He had sat through his share of sermons about the dangers of homosexuality and the evils of Planned Parenthood but Angela seemed the furthest thing from dangerous or evil. In fact, through the struggle of losing Lizzie, she had been his closest friend.
“It’s just dinner,” he said, “and Angela has been so great to us through everything. It feels a little weird to me too but I think we should accept.”
“I’m game,” said Connie. “I suppose we can hate the sin and love the sinner.”
On Saturday evening, Walker and Connie walked up the steps of a big house in the expensive part of town.
“Wow,” observed Walker. “They must pay Angela a lot more than they pay me!”
They rang the doorbell. Angela open the door.
“Come on in!” she said enthusiastically. “This is my partner Amy.”
“And this is Connie,” said Walker. “The one I have told you so much about.”
Angela laughed. “Well, Connie, I know enough about Walker to know that you must be a saint. It is very nice to finally meet you.”
Connie gazed up at the spiral staircase and vaulted ceilings. “What a beautiful home you have,” she said admiringly.
“Thank you,” said Angela. “As you can see, we don’t both work out the Lumber Depot. Amy is a Pediatrician.”
“Honestly, with the way health care is going, I wish I worked at the Lumber Depot too,” said Amy. “Dinner’s ready and I’m starving. Let’s head into the dining room and get at it.”
They took their places at a big oak table and began to eat.
“This spaghetti sauce is amazing!” said Connie.
“Angela’s first love is cooking,” said Amy. “She even studied to be a chef.”
“How did you wind up working with at the Lumber Depot?” asked Connie. “You should be at a five star restaurant.”
“It’s a long story,” said Angela. She looked at Amy. “But I like how things have turned out just fine.”
The conversation turned to healthcare. Amy talked about her frustrations as a physician. The Walkers told their story of meeting Lizzie at the emergency room.
“All I know is that the system is broken,” said Walker. “I can’t help but think that if Lizzie had been admitted to a neuroscience ICU right away that she might still be with us.” He swallowed hard and looked at his plate.”
“It still hurts, doesn’t it?” said Connie softly.
“Like the day it happened,” said Walker. “It doesn’t seem real.”
Connie reached across the table and placed her hand on his. “For months after my brother Paul died, I thought I would never smile again. It’s a long road. The pain never goes away. But you learn to live with it. In time you will learn to smile again.”
Connie looked at Angela earnestly. “Thank you,” she said. “Thank you for being there for Walker. For listening to him and being so kind. And thanks for the gift you gave us that terrible week. It was a reminder that there is light in a world that seemed totally dark.
“We just want you to know that we have some idea of what you are going through,” said Angela.
“That means a lot,” said Connie. “Actually, being invited to dinner means a lot too. It’s weird. Ever since the accident it seems like people have been avoiding us. Like they feel awkward and don’t know what to say to us.”
Amy and Angela gave each other a knowing glance. “That is something we understand very well,” said Amy. “And there is one more thing we would like to do. We understand that Walker’s insurance was lapsed when all this happened.”
“It’s true,” said Connie. “The system is so fouled up.”
“We know,” said Amy. “That’s why we’d like to give you this.” She got up, walked to the kitchen counter, and picked up an envelope with “Walker & Connie” written on the front.
“Take this,” she said. “It won’t bring Lizzie back but maybe it can help lighten your burden a little while you learn how to smile again.”
“But you’ve already done so much,” Walker protested.
“We want to do this,” said Angela. “Just take it and say thanks.”
Amy handed the envelope to Walker. He held it uncertainly.
“Thanks,” he said, folding the envelope slowly and putting it into his wallet.
The discussion turned to movies. It was December and Amy and Angela were astounded to hear that the Walkers had never seen “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“This is an outrage!” said Angela in mock indignation.
“You will not be allowed to leave this house until you have watched it,” proclaimed Amy. She went on like a person used to giving orders. “Walker, come in the living room and help me set up the movie. Connie, go help Angela make ice cream sundaes.”
It was nearly midnight when the finished eating ice cream, watching the movie, and discussing George Bailey.
“You were right,” said Connie as they took their coats and made their way to the door. “It is a crime that we had never seen that movie before tonight.”
“Well at least we have righted one wrong today,” said Amy with a smile. “Merry Christmas.”
“Merry Christmas,” they said.
As they drove up the hill to their home, Walker pulled out his wallet and handed it to Connie. “I guess we should see what’s in there.”
“I’m almost afraid to,” said Connie. She took the envelope from his wallet, ripped it open, and pulled out a check. She stared at it in disbelief.
“Well?” said Walker.
“I don’t believe it,” said Connie.
“What?” asked Walker.
They drove in stunned silence. Finally, Connie spoke.
“I feel so stupid,” she said. “Here I was acting like they weren’t good enough to eat dinner with me. It’s the other way around. I’m not good enough to eat dinner with them. They are the most Christian people I have ever met.”
“Good Samaritans,” said Walker. “That’s exactly what they are. In fact, I think for the first time get that parable. The lawyer wanted off the hook from loving the Samaritans so he asked Jesus for an exclusion. Jesus told a story and made the Samaritan the hero. He turned a question about how the boundaries of love should be drawn into a story about how love ignores every boundary.”
“I still wonder about the gay lifestyle,” said Connie.
“I don’t know about that,” said Walker.” There aren’t many verses about it and there are different ways of interpreting them. I do know one thing: I want to be more like Amy and Angela.”
“Me too,” said Connie. “I feel so ashamed. Angela must know of our church’s protests against the gay lifestyle. My God, we have a billboard on the highway about it! They have every reason to treat us like Samaritans but they took us in like family. They are far more like Christ than we are.”
“It’s confusing,” said Walker. “How do we stand up for the things we believe in without making distinctions about who are friends are?”
“They called Jesus the friend of sinners,” said Connie. “Maybe we shouldn’t make those distinctions at all. Maybe it’s God’s job to straighten people out and our job just to love them. In fact, isn’t love how people get straightened out anyway?”
“It raises the question of what it means to love,” said Walker.
“I don’t know, said Connie. “I think it’s pretty simple. We just experienced it. It means opening your heart to people and welcoming them in. It means doing what you can for them in their pain. Being there for them when they hurt.”
“As usual, I’m overthinking things,” said Walker. “That slogan ‘hate the sin and love the sinner’ ties me up in knots. I’m like the lawyer, trying to decide who deserves love and who doesn’t and calculating the acceptable way to do it. Love isn’t like that. I just need to love people and let God worry about the sin.”
“After all,” said Connie, “We are sinners and God loves every us. Love is the only thing that has ever really changed me. Jesus is my good Samaritan. I cast him out and he loved me anyway. He is the outcast who loves his enemies.”
“We spend so much time and money fighting to get our rules in place,” said Walker. “Even when we succeed, it doesn’t really change anything. Politics never change the world. But love… Wow. Love doesn’t force behavior. It changes the heart. Imagine what would happen if we took all the energy we spend trying to force the world to behave like we think it should and used it to love instead.”
“A grassroots movement of love really could change the world,” said Connie.
“Yes,” said Walker. “Just like it did in the first few decades of church, back when people were focused on following Jesus’ teachings, before Christianity became an institution and was taken over by Rome. How did we get so far off track? It’s so simple. Love. Love God, and love your neighbor.
“And who is my neighbor?” said Connie, carrying on Walker’s line of thought.
“Everyone!” said Walker. It’s like the old Sesame Street song.
It’s the people that you meet,
When you’re walkin’ down the street,
It’s the people that you meet each day.
“When you think of Jesus’ life, that’s exactly what it was,” said Connie. He totally ignored the religious rules and societal norms. He crossed every barrier to love people: prostitutes, tax collectors, Gentiles, Samaritans, lepers, the poor, the deaf, the lame, the sick. In fact, the only people who didn’t get along with Jesus were the ones who tried to put fences around God’s love.”
“That’s the point of the story about the Prodigal Son too,” continued Walker. “The Father loved the sinful son and got him a seat at the Father’s table. The religiously correct brother resented it. He thought love should be measured out, based on good behavior.”
“That’s now how God works,” said Connie.
“Thank God for that.” said Walker.
The next day, as Walker went about his job at the Lumber Depot everyone looked different to him. The pressure he used to feel to get people to think and behave was gone. He decided to let God do the changing in other people’s lives. He focused instead on loving every person he helped extravagantly, no matter who they were or how they behaved toward him. He saw that it changed them. It changed him too. It felt wonderful. It felt like God.