Fun adventures, as well as odd ones have been the recipe of my life. Needless to say, some of the most eye-opening adventures have been the ones that I hadn’t planned.
One such event reminds me of the subtitle of the Hobbit: “An unexpected journey.”
In my seminary, every seminarian serves an internship during her or his third year of studies. I had determined to serve either abroad or in an inner city setting.
I really cannot tell you why I desired such an internship, other than I did not want to spend a year in South Carolina, Minnesota or Nebraska.
Not really wanting to learn another language, I secretly hoped that an inner city congregation in the U.S. would work out.
I lucked out — Salem Lutheran Church, in Toledo, Ohio.
Built around 1876, it was one of the mother congregations of all the smaller congregations of German Lutherans that settled the Black Swamp.
All in all that year was good. I learned about myself, about Toledo and about hospitality.
In Toledo, I learned from a homeless man with whom I had coffee almost every morning; a jack-of-all-trades secretary who kept Salem ministries going; and a host of other hard living people who learned every day about living in community.
One such person was Eleanor.
I met her at the weekly meal one Tuesday evening.
Eleanor was always on time, and never seemed to want attention. She did, however, like that those of us working there remembered her name.
I didn’t get to know much about her at the meals because there were just so many people who came each week.
One day, after I had taken my wife, Annie, to work, and had done most of my duties for that day, it was again time to go pick up my wife at the Erie Street Market — a straight shot down Huron Street from the church.
As I sped past Mickey Finn’s, the neighborhood Irish bar, I saw Eleanor standing on a street corner. I waved at her, and she quickly left her corner and hopped in my car. After a few niceties, “How are you?” “How’s things?” She said to me, “Where are we going?” To which I quickly replied the truth, “To pick up my wife.”
Well, little did I know that such a simple question would cause such consternation.
I looked at Eleanor’s face and saw that she was visibly disturbed. She asked nervously, “What will she think?” Driving along, not thinking, I said, “About what?”
Wheels started to turn in my head; wheels that had never turned before. What did Eleanor mean? Where was this conversation going? What what going on?
Then it dawned on me. Eleanor was working on that street corner!
“Maybe I should take you back to your corner?” I said.
Without hesitation, she agreed.
I drove around the block, dropped her off, and without thinking said, “See you Tuesday.” She just waved.
I don’t think I ever saw Eleanor again, and I often wondered if she thought that I thought less of her because of her situation in life — because of the profession she had chosen.
I did not. I only knew that Eleanor was someone who came to eat on Tuesdays, and needed a ride that day.
It took me a few days to mention to Annie about my encounter. I don’t know why. I had done nothing wrong. Eleanor had done nothing wrong.
Today, I have no problem telling the story to anyone. Eleanor stands as a reminder for me that life is not always as straightforward as I imagine, or even as I want it to be. Often in the unplanned journey we find a friend.