420 Seconds

The train didn’t roar by, nor thunder past, nor cannonball to the north.

Forget any exciting verb to depict the freight train’s actions while it crossed—and therefore blocked—an intersection while I idled, stalled with other drivers.

I’d left home planning arrive early for a meeting. Now would I make my appointment as “early” departed on what seemed like the west coast’s slowest train?

I glanced at my rear view and spotted a guy approach and abruptly brake. He sat alone in a wide cab. A delivery truck, maybe. Even before he completely stopped, his face contorted in anger. He slammed the cab’s ceiling with his fist. Once. Twice. And again. Though I had no idea what prompted his anger, his blatant displays of agitation and disgust continued over the next few moments.

The 8th Sunday of Epiphany – for February 27, 2011

And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. . . (Matthew 6:28-29)

But only for a few moments.

Though the train traveled with the haste of a turtle bored with speed, after my arrival it took about seven minutes for the last car to rattle through the intersection. The warning lights ceased flashing; the crossing guard gates swiveled skyward. Seven minutes max. 420 seconds. I’ve watched Tom Colicchio, co-host of Bravo’s Top Chef, whip together a stunning meal in fewer ticks of the clock than the time it took for the traffic to get moving again.

And yet how troubled the fellow behind me seemed. How do we describe it sometimes? He was “beside himself.” Or “not himself.” His troubles made him act like a caged animal inside his truck.

420 seconds.

Jesus said, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

If we’re not troubled, we humans find a way to become troubled. As technology accelerates, time shrinks and the tasks we add to our multi-tasking expand. We bemoan a microwave’s delay, curse a jet plane arriving a half-hour late after a cross-country flight, and casually add another appointment to the schedule that means every signal light will have to turn green for us to get across town. We live in anguish, as if our kitchen appliance or the jet stream at 30,000 feet or the city’s signal lights is out to get us.

We invite troubles in and frequently never let go of them.

You want to understand real trouble?

Read Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 bestseller Unbroken–A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. The book follows the life of Louis Zamperini, born in 1917 and a veteran of World War II. While flying a search-and-rescue mission, his B-24 crashed into the Pacific. Only three crewmembers, including Zamperini, were able to scramble into life rafts. During the next days—I won’t tell you how long, but it’s loooong—they drifted: at the mercy of the currents, with the sun beating down, with little food, and threatened continuously by sharks. But it got worse because they’re eventually rescued by . . . the enemy. Zamperini will look back at the time in the raft as if it were a pleasure cruise.

How did he survive?

There’s at least one answer that makes sense to me: Zamperini grasped the faithful notion, a kind of faith life raft if you will, that today has enough trouble of its own.

Hillenbrand’s book describes a moment where Zamperini—ravaged, famished, and adrift—witnessed stunning beauty. It was a revelatory moment, and helped him survive that horrific day and that horrific journey. Without him ever guessing far worse experiences lay ahead, that remembered precious moment helped him survive again years later during events that included (I’m not giving anything away!) Billy Graham. Regardless of the unimaginable trouble that should’ve destroyed Zamperini, he had the mind and heart and soul to recall and be guided by today’s grace. He sensed the truth, to use Matthew’s inadequate and elegant language, found by keeping his eyes open to witness “the lilies of the field.”

Zamperini’s story is extreme. But I couldn’t help put think about it, stuck for 420 seconds, observing the man in the truck rant and rave as boxcars clickety-clacked across the intersection. I’ve been (and sadly will probably be again) like the fellow in my rear view. I invite my troubles in, and then give them a guest room to stay. And then the guest room becomes a dormitory.

Jesus, whose truths are always so simple, was completely right. Today’s troubles are enough. We have them. You know how demanding your life is. With your family and friends, you know how much they feel overwhelmed. Even with strangers, you can easily guess—without needing a mirror—that certain times of each day can seem like a personal attack.

Hillenbrand writes of Zamperini, now 94-years old, “His conviction that everything happened for a reason, and would come to good, gave him a laughing equanimity even in hard times.”

Everything would come to good. What a foolish, life-saving thought.

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