Surprise At The McDonald’s In Nogales

McDonalds in NogalesN. T. Wright says that we are often startled by the “long-range signposts ” cropping out in our lives, those signals of “a reality which lies deeper in God’s dark purposes than we normally imagine.” We are often surprised by the fleeting, though certain glimpse of this “reality that lies deeper.” It often shines out. It is radiant with the goodness of the Lord, to quote Jeremiah. T. S. Eliot said we go along our way and suddenly  we find ourselves “lost in a shaft of sunlight,” caught up in “music heard so deeply / That it is not heard at all.” These are the “hints and guesses, / Hints followed by guesses,” he says, of Incarnation.

Something like this happened to me through a story told by one of my heroes. The storyteller was Clem Simpson, better known to us as Dr. Simpson. For most of his career he was a teacher, a professor of literature. He loved literature. He loved ideas. He was a master teacher, and he loved telling stories. He was very good at telling stories.

The story I am about to tell needs one note of clarification. Dr. Simpson had one completely useless leg, having lost both its shape and functionality to polio in childhood. He walked with crutches all of his life, and while his students often worried he was close to slipping on an ice-covered walkway, Clem always kept his balance. He kept his balance in so many ways. He was a giant to us.

The story is framed by Clem and Corrine’s travels to the Southwest, which they loved to do in their later years, following the sunshine and the birds. One time, as Clem told the story, they pulled into a MacDonald’s restaurant in Nogales, Arizona. After they had eaten their tasty lunch of Big Macs and fries, Clem headed to the restroom before launching out on the next leg of their journey. As he stood at the urinal, a young boy came in and stood next to him at the adjoining urinal. And here the drama began.

As they stood there, the boy looked up at Dr. Simpson and said: “What happened?” Clem was used to this kind of scrutiny about his dangling leg and told the boy that he caught polio as a young child and lost the use of his leg forever. The little boy asked a few questions about polio and how hard it was to get around on crutches. The boy then washed his hands and headed out the door.

When Clem had washed his hands and turned to leave the restroom, suddenly the door swung wide open. The boy had come back just to open the door for his new friend. He figured Clem needed some help. He didn’t say a word. He just opened the door for his crippled friend, the man he met at the urinal in MacDonald’s.  Clem thanked the boy for his kindness and they parted ways.

But something remarkable had happened,  Clem said: “You know, when that door swung wide open, and that little boy greeted me with a knowing smile, doing something he thought would be helpful, the glory of the Lord broke brightly, suddenly, into that restroom at MacDonald’s in Nogales, Arizona.”

Sometimes we get these signals, these signposts, these hints that God is hovering over his children with warmth and radiance. That happened for Clem and the boy in that restroom. It happened again as I listened to the telling of this story by a master storyteller. Sometimes God intrudes into our space with his lovely presence, often in the least likely of places. This is the radiance of the Lord shining out from the ordinary.

When this happens, we want to bow down in gratitude. We are energized anew. We are made hopeful again. We see our way more clearly as we venture on down the path.