"I've always dreamed of being an old philosopher. So far I've achieved one out of two!"

This page is a very personal witness about my relationship with God. I share it with those who I know who are believers and with those I hope will become believers.

 

"I Would Give It - To You"

by Gerry Reid

For Beth and Danny

Other routes would have been faster, even with a slightly longer ride on the subway, but since I had time to spare I decided to take the route I knew best, knowing it added a long walk between Metro stations.

While walking the connecting route, at the midway point, a young man, not particularly poor looking or outstanding in any way, sat on the floor, cross-legged playing his recorder. I heard him long before I saw him. His music echoed though the long, twisting corridors. "Ay, ay, ay-ay . . .  la, da, da-da-da" was familiar from childhood. At the time I did not know the title or the words, only remembering something like "Ay, ay, ay-ay, oh my Sombrero" which struck me as a biased American stereotype of a Mexican song. Only later would I learn of its meaning and why it mysteriously connected so strongly with my soul this day.

The haunting melody traveled easily through the turns of the almost deserted, tile-lined hallway, first faintly, then growing stronger and stronger until the midway point where the tunnel makes one of its many ninety degree turns. The young man's site was perfect for all the commuters to hear his music clearly for their entire five or six-minute walk. But today, long after the Monday morning rush hour had passed, I knew he played just for me. I hoped he would not stop playing this particular piece, as it was soothing to my ears and comforting to my heart. His rhythm was steady and his style was smooth and gentle.

As I passed by, I dropped a coin into his small inverted cloth hat. Tears again welled up in my eyes as I thought, "From Beth and Danny." Continuing on my way, his music stayed with me, slowly fading as I turned the corners and climbed the stairs to the platform. Barely audible, the music gave way to the increasing rush of wind and sound as my connecting train approached.

These very halls and trains now held the memory of violation and embarrassment. It was on this line, only a few stations away, that the pickpocket had successfully targeted this tourist. "Always carry your wallet in your front pocket" I was told. So I did. I kept my hand in my pocket with it as well. Just yesterday, as I exited the very crowded train, I took a couple strides and put my hand back in my pocket. How my hand had gotten out of the pocket I do not know - and somehow my wallet had gotten out as well.

Money, credit card, identification, family pictures, passport, and all. What was it all doing together, in the same pocket? In the same wallet! I knew better! But, there was reason for this experience - There was something I needed to learn, something I knew in my head, but did not know in my heart.

***

Yesterday, was my last full day in Madrid. I looked forward to today knowing I would be leaving for home on a 1:55 p.m. flight. I woke up from the depths of a vivid and disturbing dream. An uneasy feeling was all around me as I tried to clear my mind from its confusing dream state. The congestion from my head cold was terrible and I was coughing up phlegm so I knew the cold was settling into my bronchial tubes. It would be good to be home for I knew my favorite nurse would be there to take care of me.

After fully awakening, my first thought was to simply do nothing at all so that I would not make myself any sicker. My speaking engagement at the IBM technical conference was finished on Thursday, and I had decided to stay the weekend to get a less expensive airline ticket. It also opened the opportunity to be a tourist as this was my first visit to Spain.

After a hot shower, and as the nasal decongestant kicked in, I decided I would not waste my last day here. Originally, I had planned to explore the well-advertised Sunday flea market near the Mayor Square, so I dressed, walked to the Metro station near my hotel. Fifty minutes later I was in the midst of several city blocks filled with throngs of people viewing the wares of professional vendors and junk dealers alike.

As I expected, this market had its own charm but was not much on bargains or unusual items. I walked through most of the occupied streets, covering perhaps twenty blocks and as many side streets. For breakfast, I sampled a vendor's waffle, and eventually found my way to Mayor Square.

In the large square, about a hundred meters on each side, artists were doing caricatures and sketches. Several hundred stamp dealers had set up their tables around the inside edges of the square. They lined an open, arched hallway that ran in front of numerous souvenir shops and restaurants. Many groups of people were standing in one corner of the square, trading stamps. Others were eating breakfast or lunch as they sat at tables under multicolored umbrellas. The scene was charming, colorful, entertaining and very European.

I wandered around for quite awhile and finally left the square to explore the city some more. A tall observation tower by the American Museum was last on my list of things to see today. A panoramic view of this very old city would be a good way to end my visit to Madrid, so I found my way down into the Metro at the La Latina station. It was extremely crowded and was very conscious of the situation and somewhat concerned for my safety. I kept my hand in my pocket to protect my wallet.

At my transfer stop, I exited the train and must have unconsciously removed my hand from my pocket as I walked off the train. Taking no more than five or six steps, I put my hand back in my pocket and my wallet was gone.

A wave of nausea passed through me. I instantly went into shock. At that moment, however, I knew I was not alone. "Lord Jesus, please be with me and help me."

There was no doubt in my mind as to what had happened. Nonetheless, waves of denial mixed with strong feelings of aloneness raced through my mind. My heart pounded as I searched my pockets and my nap sack over and over again in disbelief, trying to find what I tried to justify as "misplaced." In response to the shock, my mouth became so dry I could hardly swallow, and my breath came in short pants.

Recognizing these symptoms of shock, I forced myself to sit down to try to get back to a normal physical state. Again I prayed, not for the solution to be given me, but for the ability to handle the situation and discern the proper things to do. After taking several deep breaths I settled down considerably and began to sense a feeling of calm all around me. Accepting the facts at hand, I looked around and found the Metro security office where a guard directed me to go to the Sol station where I could report the crime to the Metro police.

At the Metro police office I spoke to the officer on duty. He did not speak any English, was very cold, impersonal, and not all courteous. Empathy and compassion apparently were not in his vocabulary, English or Spanish. I filled out a report, waited about ten minutes and finally got the attention of an arriving officer who did speak English. He said I could not use their phone to call the U.S. Embassy, but he did give me the Embassy's phone number and address, and the name of the Metro station nearest the Embassy.

Receiving a copy of the crime report, I left. With less than a dollar in cash in my pocket and a Metro ticket with four rides left on it, I was determined to find the Embassy, hoping against hope that there would be someone on duty on this Sunday afternoon. After being given what I believe was intentional misdirection by a local person who seemed to know what she was talking about, I ended up walking several blocks in the wrong direction. Once I discovered my misdirection, I backtracked to my starting point. Another dozen blocks in the correct direction and finally, I saw the US flag in front of the Embassy, waving in the warm afternoon breeze. It was very assuring to see my country's flag. All of a sudden I did not feel so alone and far from home.

A helpful Spanish guard at the embassy gate said that no one worked there on Sunday, but he would try a few extensions, "Just in case." His first call put me on the line with Chris who said I'd have to come back at 8:30 a.m. on Monday to get a new passport. He said the process would take a couple of hours. I felt relief and concern at the same time.

My plan was to leave the hotel at 7:00 a.m. Monday morning. The one-hour commute would get me to the Embassy by 8:00. If I could get in at 8:30, I just might have a new passport by 10:30. That would give me one hour to get back to the hotel to catch the 11:30 shuttle to the airport to check in, as required, two hours ahead of my 1:55 flight. Close, but doable, with God's grace.

I had three rides left on my Metro ticket, one to get back to the hotel, one to come back to the Embassy, and one to go back to the hotel a final time. Exactly what is needed! Leaving the Embassy, a sense of peace came about me. I became aware that in these circumstances, having exactly three rides left on my Metro ticket was more than coincidence; it was an indication that God had already prepared me for my needs. I felt confident that things would work out.

***

Arriving back at my hotel, I went directly to my room and immediately called Pam and told her the whole situation. It was a lousy Mother's Day present, I know, and in return I received her love, and presence, and support. They were so intense that it felt as if she was right by my side. As it was so many times in our thirty-three-year marriage, her understanding and forgiveness of my stupid behavior was beyond belief.

After the call was finished, I fell into intense prayer. I expressed my gratefulness for all that had happened, especially that the crime was not a violent one. During all the things that had happened during the last few hours, I knew God was with me. I felt surrounded, literally, by a physical space filled with calm and peace. With thankfulness, I prayed that God would continue to guide me through this process, keep all things on schedule, and lead me to a safe journey home.

I went down to the hotel desk. The clerk was extremely helpful and understanding. He assisted me in getting checked out using my credit card and I asked him if he could give me a cash advance against my credit card. He said that would not be possible as it would be against their policy.

His next statement was "How much do you want?" (It did not strike me until much later how this was clearly a gracious intervention to help me.) I considered asking for a hundred dollars but felt that would be greedy and asked instead for 10,000 pesetas, about sixty dollars. He asked if I would like to call the credit card company to cancel my card which had been stolen along with my wallet. A moment later I was in touch with the MasterCard control office where another very caring person canceled the card after the hotel charges and cash advance were posted.

In my room I collapsed on the bed. I was amazed at the level of calm I felt, knowing and trusting that all would work out. Yet, I was still filled with thoughts of concern about the unknown day to come. I became suddenly aware how intensely determined Satan was, trying to get me to doubt that God was with me.

The triggering event in all of this was one of evil, and I realized it was engineered to make me falter in my trust and belief in God. I chuckled out loud because Satan had failed again! God does not guarantee that evil will not occur, but rather, He promises to be with us and to defend us. I sensed God saying to me, "All of this will pass. I am with you."

That evening I actually felt relaxed. I took a very long walk in the large park near the hotel. Everything I saw reminded me in some way that goodness and happiness were all around; families playing together, people flying kites, men racing radio-controlled sailboats, and lovers kissing and embracing on the lawns. Even though I continued to worry about making my flight on time the next day, I was content with the way things were.

***

Monday morning I found myself sitting on a bench outside the Embassy. I had taken the Metro and arrived at 7:25, an hour before the gates opened. A sign said, "Embassy Hours: 0830-1630, U.S. Citizen Services: 0900 - 1300." I became concerned that Chris had told me the wrong opening time and that things would not be finished in time to make my flight. Again, I turned it over to God.

It was a chilly but sunny morning, with the temperature about fifty-five degrees. I was sitting in the shade of the city and quite aware of the breeze generated by cars and buses rushing by. While my congestion had cleared somewhat this morning, I thought that this chill would probably not do much good for my cold.

My newest concern, as if I need another, was that I did not know what the charge would be for the passport services. By now my constant state of prayer made it easy to give this new concern to God, but certainty and complete faith eluded me. I continued to fret and worry that the charges would be more than I had available. My stolen passport, only a few weeks old, had cost close to eighty dollars. After my bargain dinner at McDonald's last night I had only ninety-five-hundred pesetas left, less than sixty dollars, and no way to raise additional funds without a day or two delay and considerable extra expense.

While waiting, I continued to reflect, applying a directive from one of my own speeches: "find good in everything." I wrote in my journal, "This entire ordeal is frustrating and uncomfortable. However, on the good side, this time of unrest has put me in closer contact and communication with God. I know the evil that occurred is not of His doing and once again it teaches me that Satan is very real. My need for protection and assurance is helping me to comprehend God in a more real and physically present way." I recall at that moment being able to sense and imagine large, wing-like objects surrounding me and protecting me.

Even though I was trying to think positively, my overall attitude was growing more angry. Mostly, I was angry at myself for not protecting my cash and passport. How stupid! In my mind, stupidity is the greatest of all failures. Then I remembered that I am supposed to be an expert in the emotional process of change. Anger is one stage of the natural progression through change. I smiled, and was grateful, for anger is an indication of progress out of the stages of shock and denial. Now, if I could only get on with the stage called bargaining, I would be ever closer to the final stage of change, that of full acceptance.

Sitting there, waiting for the gates to open, a new thought entered my mind, "The good part of this adventure is that I have a great story to tell and write. Maybe there are things in this story that others need to learn. If I can help just one other person avoid going through what I have gone through, it will be worth the effort."

Becoming clear to me were many practical things I needed to learn and share with others. Most of them were common sense items I knew and practiced on previous trips, but for some reason chose not to do this time. Things like: Learn the location and phone number of your nearest embassy, carry only a photocopy of your passport and driver's license and leave the originals in the hotel safe, protect your wallet by not carrying it with you at all, use a small money clip for one credit card and your cash, always have some extra cash in your shoe and in your room, if you do decide to carry your wallet, know its exact contents, including all credit card and bank account numbers, and keep that information in a separate place, for example, in your cosmetic bag.

The Embassy doors open promptly at 8:30. I went into the building and found two large waiting rooms: one for citizens and one for non-citizens. Expecting to wait until 9:00, I began to read the notices on the walls. One described the services offered and the corresponding charges. It quickly became obvious that I did not have enough money to cover the cost of a replacement passport. A sense of panic came over me and once again, and I renewed my fervent prayer for guidance and help.

Curiously, the reception windows opened at 8:45, some fifteen minutes earlier than scheduled. I wanted to ask why they opened early, but I knew the answer.

A gentleman at the window listened to my story and gave me some forms to fill out. They were the standard passport application forms. He asked if I had any money. I showed him all the cash I had. I would be short about eight-hundred pesetas. He said he would see what they could do.

A few minutes earlier, while waiting for the windows to open, a young woman and her five-year-old son came into the U.S. citizen's area. She smiled and said, "Hello." It was refreshing to hear American English again and I smiled broadly, returning her greeting. A conversation resulted, mostly about how we both expected the Embassy to be very busy and crowded, but was not. She said she had a five-hour bus ride back home this afternoon and was grateful that she might get out of the Embassy early.

Beth was there to get Danny's passport for his first trip to America. Beth is an American married to a Spaniard. They have three children ages three, five and seven. Their family travels to the U.S. every year to visit her family. But, Danny had a liver transplant and has been unable to travel until this year when he will see her family for the first time in his memory.

Danny is a charming, pleasant boy, fluent in both English and Spanish. Beth is a schoolteacher at an English-speaking school so Danny gets to be around both languages constantly. Beth's husband is an IBM marketing rep to the electric company in northern Spain. Being a retired IBMer myself I thought, "Is this just a small world, or is this yet another 'God-incidence?' "

I told her about what happened to me and she immediately asked if I needed any money. She convinced me that if the Embassy had any problems over my cash situation, she would give me the money necessary saying, "If I were in the same situation I would hope someone would help me. What goes around, comes around."

After much discussion I agreed to accept her loan, if necessary, provided she would give me her address so that I could repay her. She agreed, giving me a U.S. address in Vancouver, Washington where she and her family would be in a couple months. To say the least, I was flabbergasted by her generosity to a complete stranger and expressed my sincere appreciation along with comments about the rarity of such generosity.

The Embassy agent called me to the window to take my completed application and said they would cover the difference between what I had and what was needed. I replied that the woman I had met was willing to lend me any funds I needed.

He said someone would be out in a few minutes to interview me about the crime and gave me another form to fill out and directed me to the self-serve photo booth to get my picture taken. Beth gave me a five-hundred peseta coin for the machine. I got the picture taken and gave it to him.

What seemed to be just a few minutes later, he indicated for Beth and me to go to the cashier's window. Danny's passport was ready and Beth paid for it. She then covered the three-hundred pesetas I was short for my passport. We went back to the first set of windows where Beth made the appropriate affirmations to the woman there and signed for Danny's passport. I assumed the lady at the window would interview me about the crime, but rather she asked me to affirm the information on the application and my signature, and handed me my completed passport.

There I stood, somewhat in disbelief, with my new passport in one hand and the unchecked crime report in the other. It was not quite 9:30. Was all this normal? The Embassy had opened early, there were no delays in the processing, they never asked about the crime, they did in forty-five minutes what takes forty-five days in the United States, Beth covered the cash differences I needed, and I still had one ride left on my Metro pass. Unusual and coincidental? Or, blessed and guided?

Beth asked, "Do you need some money to get into the airport?" I replied that the Metro ticket had one more ride on it to get back to my hotel and the hotel had a free shuttle to the airport. She said, "Here are a couple thousand pesetas just to be sure. At least you'll be able to buy yourself some breakfast." She had now given me, a complete stranger, twenty-eight-hundred pesetas, nearly twenty dollars. But, I owe Beth and Danny far more than money. I was about to learn a profound lesson that cannot be bought at any price. There is no payment or repayment possible, except perhaps, to write this story and share it with others.

As I began to leave, I said to Beth, "I wish I knew you better because I would love to hug and kiss you for your kindness!" I looked into her eyes as we shook hands and saw more than just a kind and caring person. There was deep human compassion and infinite agape love, the strength of a father and the tenderness a mother, the nod of understanding and the smile of friendship.

In that moment I thought I heard Danny say, "I gave you the money the tooth fairy gave me." I replied, "The money your mom gave me is your tooth fairy money?" He said, "No, my money is at home, but I would give it - to you." I looked directly at him and he at me, shook his little hand and felt overwhelmed with the presence of grace and love. With tears beginning to fill my eyes, I told Beth, "You WILL hear from me."

I quickly turned and walked away, even though I now had over an hour to spare. I did not get past the outer lobby before I broke down in tears. I did not look back, for I knew they would have been gone.

***

I trust that the letter, gifts and repayment I sent to Beth's U.S. address will arrive intact. My hope is that somehow, someway, someday, Danny will know what a wonderful message he gave me. I hope Beth will realize how her presence, for just a few moments in my life, was for a purpose far greater than a simple loan or generous gift. I will not be surprised or disappointed if I never hear from them - that will be OK, for that's the way it is with angels.

What I needed most to learn, and perhaps this story will help you learn also, came from Danny. When we are alone and in trouble, all we have to do is ask for what we need. Danny's tooth fairy is real; she is God's angel, as are the English-speaking police officer, the guard at the embassy, Chris, working on Sunday, the clerk at the hotel, the man and woman at the embassy windows, Beth who offered her compassion, and most certainly Danny, who said, "I would give it - to you." We need only ask. That's the way it is with God.

In reflecting back over this entire adventure, what I learned was something I already knew, but I needed to experience it again, to reaffirm it; God is more present with us than we ever imagine. He is with those who believe. He sends his angels, not necessarily to prevent evil from happening, but to guide, and support, and strengthen; to help us persevere. He can use any situation to teach us the lessons we have otherwise yet to learn.

***

Postscript: The song the young man was playing on his recorder is "Cielito Lindo," which in English means, "Pretty Sky." It is an old Spanish folk song. The last verse and chorus, in English, are:

From your house to mine does wind
Only one road, my pretty sky.
If on our private paths we find
Each other, in your arms I will fly.

Ay, ay, ay, ay
Sing and don't cry
Because singing, it lifts the spirts high,
And makes the heart glad, my pretty sky.

Its beautiful melody soothed me that Monday morning. As I listened to it, I sensed that Spain and Madrid were seeking my forgiveness and asking me to return some day. I will.

Finally, its lyrics suggest to me that there is a connection with spirit and body, and heaven and earth. When we are willing to seek and embrace both, we strengthen our bond with God. All we have to do is ask.

Gerry Reid

June 24, 1999