1969

What is really remarkable is that I needed a code at all.

I needed to pray, so I headed to the restroom at the coffee shop and there is the keypad. So I pressed a one, a nine, a six, and a nine, and waited for the green light. I was in!

Prayer, of course, is not like that. No code is needed; you can just begin. Anywhere. Anytime. Never stop. There is no magic number for access, and although Christ mentions asking “in my name”, it is distinctly not a formula. It just is; it’s like going through a door to get into a room. Or going through a gate to get into, say, a sheep pen. Or turning on a light to see. Or using a word so others can hear, or typing words so others can read, or . . .

You get that; I know you do. But it is worth the remark, that a code is needed.

But, what makes for a decent (oops, maybe not) story, is that the code is 1969 to get into that restroom where I pray a lot and then write about it all.

In 1969 I was in fifth grade and Mr. Lewis was my teacher. I will never forget him with his black suit every day, his white starched shirt and narrow black tie, and his friendly and kind demeanor. And he possessed a firmness also that was a manifestation of authority in his classroom. And it was 1969 so he had control. To what degree I have no idea, what teachers then could get away with in the classroom, things that are disallowed now. But, regardless, I know that I learned. And, I remember Mr. Lewis.

But here is the back story, the reason I waltz into the coffee shop and enter the code that is so easy to remember:

It’s 1969 and that footprint on the moon is just three months away from being put there (if it is human, of course, and if the U.S. really sent a man there, and . . .).

I am sitting in the second row from the left wall. The door is toward the back, but on the right wall. The left wall has three large windows and the right wall is also the wall to the long hallway. My desk is third from the front, where Mr. Lewis usually stands with his back to the honest-to-goodness chalk board, not green even but a blackboard. His desk is to our left, stage right, and angled from that corner.

The bell rings and we all gather our supplies, some more than others, and some with a show of that more, that they have more supplies. Most of us, however, just scoop it all up and can hardly wait to run free. But, with Mr. Lewis we are not really hurrying. It is okay in this room, so we doddle a bit and wait for maybe a choice bit of wisdom, a witty quip, an after school joke, or whatever. 

Still, I can doddle with the best of them, but back in 1969 I might have been the duke of it.

He catches my eye and comes toward me, and I know, I just know it is going to be some quirky humorous thing that he thinks I will appreciate. But instead, he comes over and pierces me briefly. He has caught me in a deadly sin, I am thinking. At first when he said it, I thought I was doomed to embarrassment and ridicule until the moon landing. But then, I realized that he MIGHT have been sorta joking and it was okay and no one would know, and I figure that kids, guys at least probably have all done it. So I did recover from the shock of what he said as he came toward me and called me aside: “Timothy”, he is saying, “maybe I should not tell you this, but over the weekend I was driving around and I happened to drive by your house. I saw you there. I saw you hes-i-tate, right out in your front yard.”

And he is walking away with a grin and I am mortified. No! I would never do that! Not in the front yard! I would go to the back yard, over where Ginger our beagle goes when she has to hesitate, and I would go there and without pause I would kick it over next to hers so it would kinda blend in. And I am thinking that maybe I had a lapse and was in a hurry and maybe I had actually hesitated there in that front yard of 1116 Woodcrest Drive, maybe by the low shrubs in front of the porch. No, it has to be a code of some kind. I will wait for more information and go home now, and make deadly oh dear God certain that I will NEVER do that in the front yard ever, and maybe not the back.

Weeks pass, I think. Not months, because there is no footprint yet way way up there, but it might have been days.

It is the same, and we are gathering and doddling. Here he comes! I can break that code now with the information he is bringing. Or maybe it is a quip or a tale or even a voice with a humorous inflection or just a kind word, or whatever. But, I do want to know the coded message. He calls me aside and, as if we are co-conspirators in a grand ruse over all of mankind, he utters the fatal phrase:

“Timothy”, he is saying, “maybe I should not tell you this, but over the weekend I was driving around AGAIN and I happened to drive by your house. I saw you. I saw you peering out your bathroom window.”

Well, he had me in that moment, and without hesitation I became a believer in the power of humans to peer into the soul of another. And I do so enjoy that to this day.

How can he possibly know this? And, is it so bad? Is it okay? He is just telling me he knows right, not that I should sit in fear of judgement henceforth, right? Yes, I do believe that. He is walking away again, and right then I am resolved to be good at whatever I do do, and try to do what I can do, and to be without peer in at least one thing.

And I do.

And so I amble in one day to this coffee shop on my day off, and before ordering yet another triple sweet cream undertow in my own glass that I bring, I go straight to pray. I punch in 1969 with fondness, and remember Mr. Lewis, and I smile.

Then I go in.

And then . . . it hits me . . . and I laugh out loud in that darkened room before hitting the light switch.

I am in the restroom, not the front yard, and there is no window.

And anyway, I came in here to pray . . .