Author’s note: If you have not read the original story below, please take a moment to do so. It will help you understand this story.
I love small towns. I grew up in one in central Pennsylvania and enjoyed living in a place where walking ‘downtown’ allowed you to see friends – talk to shop owners who bragged of the generations their family had operated the store – greet teachers, preachers, coaches, friends of my mom and dad, and strangers. Yep, small towns had a special place in my heart.
I began to walk more aware of everyone around me knowing that His work was at hand.
So, as I walked toward the ‘center of town’ on this bright, sunny day, I could not help but feel good. This was my kind of place – my kind of people. As I came to the town square, it was just what I expected – a civil war monument, shops, a couple of eateries, a movie theater, the courthouse, and of course, the police station/jail just across the street from the courthouse. I stopped and took it all in before I continued on my journey. That was when I felt it – that feeling I cannot explain but tells me that God has a purpose for bringing me this place. I began to walk more aware of everyone around me knowing that His work was at hand.
“What brings you to my town?” He was every small-town police officer in every small town in America – crisp uniform, patten leather shoes and belt that reflected the sun, a badge that was polished to its full brightness to reflect his pride in his duty – and that same old question.
“Oh, just passing through but who knows, might find a reason to visit for a few days.”
“I have a better idea,” he said as his hand slowly rested on his gun, “let’s make ‘passing through’ your only purpose.”
“Whoa, officer, keep your bullet in your pocket. I have no intention of causing any problems.” I froze in my tracks. I knew that my long hair, beard, USMC ball cap, dirty combat boots, dusty jeans, and tee-shirt had him thinking I could be trouble so now I needed to bring calm to our meeting.
“Oh, a reference to Barney Fife – nice. Now keep moving,” the smile I was hoping to see did not appear on his face.
I nodded and started walking down the sidewalk. I could feel his eyes boring into my back with each step.
My shadow on the sidewalk was getting long so I knew that the sun would be setting soon. I thought to myself that I would have to find a place to pitch my tent just outside of town and then see if I can figure out this calling that I knew I was feeling.
As I was about to leave the downtown area, a sudden blast of wind blew my cap to the ground as I approached an old church. As I picked it up, I saw him. He was sitting on a bench in the church’s cemetery. That feeling that I was now at my purpose was stronger than ever so I walked over to the bench, “Mind if I join you?”
“Not at all,” he said as he slid down a bit to make room for me. His smile seemed to just warm my heart as he patted the bench beckoning me to sit. As I took my backpack off and placed it on the ground, he asked, “So, what brings you here?”
“Well,” I started, “I kind of go where the Man Upstairs leads me. In the process, I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people and to help them at a time when they needed it most.”
“That sounds like important work,” he said with a sense of seriousness that made it clear he was impressed. “Tell me about some of the people you have helped.”
With that, I shared with him how my journey began and the grace I was able to share with the people I met along my way. When I felt I had talked long enough, I asked, “And what brings you here?”
He looked at me funny, “To be honest, I don’t know. I was walking down the street when I happen to see this bench. It seemed kind of familiar, so I came to sit a spell. It is so peaceful here.” As he was talking, I noted that the headstone in front of me had the name ‘Madison” on it. The left side had the name ‘Sherry J’ with the dates for her birth and death. The right side had the name ‘Joshua T’ – his birth date was there but no date of death was carved in the stone. I was just about to ask my friend if he was Joshua when he asked a question that confirmed my suspicion, “So, what brings you here?”
“I kind of go where the Man Upstairs leads me,” I repeated my answer from before. “In the process, I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing people and to help them at a time when they needed it most.”
“That sounds like important work,” he once again said with the same seriousness look. “Tell me about some of the people you have helped.”
This time, I told only one story – one I had already told him. But he was listening as if he was hearing it for the first time.
When I was done, it was my turn to ask, “What brings you here?”
That same funny look, “To be honest, I don’t know. I was walking down the street when I happen to see this bench. It seemed kind of familiar, so I came to sit a spell. It is so peaceful here,” he paused and then said, “So, what brings you here?”
“I’ll tell you what. It’s getting late and I am getting a little hungry. Why don’t we walk back into town and I will get us something to eat? Does that sound good?”
He nodded his head and smiled. I put my backpack back on and extended my hand to help him up. Together, we slowly made our way back to the square, chatting along the way. We came to the diner on the corner where we found an empty booth and sat down. I began to look at the menu as the waitress approached.
“Why, Mr. Madison, it is so nice to see you. It has been a while. Would you like your usual?” as she spoke, she gave me a questioning look.
“I’ll have the same thing Mr. Madison is having. Let me walk with you to the counter, Julie (having read her nametag),” I explained that I found him sitting in the cemetery and brought him to the diner because I figure someone could tell me his name and how to get him home.”
“Let me get your food and then I will call his family to let them know he is here,” she patted my arm as if to say thanks.
As she set a hamburger, fries, and a cup of coffee in front of us, she whispered to me, “I got a hold of his son-in-law at their house. He said Mr. Madison’s daughter, Grace, was already at the police department and that he would contact her to let her know he was here.”
Within minutes, a worried-looking woman came into the diner with “Barney Fife” in tow. Julie pointed to our booth and Grace quickly slid into the seat next to her father.
“Dad, you scared us,” she said as she hugged him. She looked at me and I knew the question she wanted to ask.
“I met your dad down the street at the cemetery. He was sitting on a bench in front of a headstone that I assume is for your mother and him. I realized that he was confused when he kept asking me the same questions. Since he looked hungry, I figured he could use a good meal while I located his home. If no one had known him here, I was going to walk him over to the police station to get help.”
“Thank you so much,” she smiled as tears rolled down her cheeks. She let him finish his meal and helped him get up to take him home. As she got him to the door, Joshua suddenly had a moment where you could tell he knew exactly what was happening.
Looking at me, he said, “You keep up the good work, young fellow,” and then, he was gone – back into the world of darkness that was his norm.
I paid for our meals and gave Julie a big tip for her help. That’s when I noticed the police officer still standing at the door. He opened it for me as I made my way out and spoke, “I guess I misjudged you, Mister.”
“That’s okay. Most folks do.” I started walking back toward the church and began to sing.
“Jesus loves the little children. All the children of the world…”