A Conversation With Erma
What if every conversation mattered?
Why doesn’t it?
For the second day in a row, I pulled up to a guard shack in front of a gated community. Just like the day before, I was annoyed. I was there to investigate a meter base with a missing seal at a home within the community. Since I was in my work truck, I didn’t think there was any reason to answer all of the questions that the home owner’s association requires the hired gate guard to ask. Slowly and methodically, an older black woman reached for her clipboard and took a step out to greet me.
“Hi, I’m with Oncor. I’m here to work a service order at (address)” I said.
“Ok, what kind of service order?” she asked.
“I just need to investigate a meter base with a missing seal.” I responded.
She looked puzzled, so I continued, “Sometimes, electricians come out to do work on a house and the meter base doesn’t get resealed. Other times, there’s the possibility the customer tampered with their meter. I’m just going to verify the latter isn’t the case.”
“Ohhh ok,” she acknowledged, “You know, some of these people are out there messing with stuff like that. Even in neighborhoods like this. You know, one time there was a guy going around and charging people to adjust their meter to run a lot slower. This was in Garland, and the utility company came out to the same neighborhood and changed out all of the meters to digital ones. I told my son I didn’t want any part of that. Mmh Mmh, no sir (shaking her head no), not me.”
Strangely, she kept talking. I didn’t really know what to say, but I kept thinking about getting in the gate. I wanted to hurry up and complete my work. Waiting for a guard to open the gate wasn’t anything I had planned for. I remained halfway engaged in the conversation, but my main thought was to get to the job site.
“You never know,” I shared, ” a lot of people are willing to take a lot of risks. It doesn’t matter where you live.”
“Oh, I know. I try to do everything the right way. As soon as I get paid, I pay my bills and I barely have anything left over. Sometimes, I don’t have anything left over. I’m a month behind on my car payment, but I pay it when I can.”
“I hear you,” I replied.
She continued, “I have a niece who works for a bank and she said that they won’t do anything about my car unless I’m three months behind. I never get more than one month behind. They call me, but I don’t answer. I just pay it and they leave me alone.And then the next month it’s the same thing. I just do what I can.”
“And that’s all you can do, you know?” I asked, uncertain whether my question would be seen as another opportunity to keep me at bay.
“Mmm Hmm, it is. God is good though. He will provide. I’m always thanking Him for my blessings. It’s been so hard since my sister passed away. We were so close and it’s coming up on a year that she’s been gone.”
While she was talking, my thoughts shifted. I began to have an internal dialogue with myself:
Why are you rushing? Why are you planning on doing things that haven’t even happened yet? How sure are you that you’ll make it to where you want to go, yet you’re spending so much time trying to get there? This conversation is the most important thing right now. Pay attention. God doesn’t teach you things through pondered and imagined thoughts of the future. You’re called to be here, in the the present, and that’s all you’ve been given.
“I’m very sorry to hear that. I bet you have a heavy heart right now,” I said.
My mood went from annoyed to compassionate. I had no idea who this lady was, yet within the first few minutes of interacting with her, she revealed to me some vulnerabilities that many people wouldn’t have been comfortable sharing. I started paying attention to what she was saying. Not verbally, but what she was saying in between the words. And a few minutes later, she confirmed to me all that I believe: It’s not tomorrow we need to live for, not even today, it’s right now.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to keep you, it’s just very lonely sitting in here all day. It’s good to just come out and talk to someone,” she shared.
My heart softened. Since Houston, I have longed to live in the moment, to take every day as it comes and to allow every conversation to be the most important. I’ve often failed, but it’s still a pursuit. I don’t want to think about tomorrow, the next day, or any other day, I just want to think about now, this conversation, this moment. The problem has long been my inability to slow down. I typically have one thing in mind and I want to accomplish that goal at all costs. If that means making sacrifices, then I’ll do it. Much of that is the need to “get through” an event to “get to” an ending I’ve created for myself. I want to get through a workout to get into shape, get through a conversation to get to something I need to do, or get through studying for a test to get to relax. However, as cheesy as it sounds, life is truly about the process. It’s about the process of working hard and enduring workouts, interacting with people and developing relationships, and showing gratitude for a brain that is fully capable of understanding the nuances of a magnificent world created by God. When you don’t focus on the process, you’re really just saying that your desire for immediate gratification outweighs your desire to truly experience life.
“I’m really glad I got a chance to talk with you,” I said, “I understand your hardships and I wish you the very best. I’ve been through a few hardships of my own. It may not look like it, but I’m fighting my own battle with cancer.”
Her face withdrew into a state of surprise. She shared her empathy as we briefly discussed the past few months. A truck pulled up behind me. It was time to say goodbye.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Erma, what’s yours?” she responded.
“Justin. Erma, it was great to meet you, and anytime I’m in the area, I’ll stop by to say hello.”
And with that, I was reminded that it’s not about the end result. It’s about the process. Every day I wake up, I think about how grateful I am for the process.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Matthew 6:25-34