Sunday, April 12, 2015

Zum Lahme Esel

You know what I love? I love when stories break the fourth wall. When the characters look at the camera and say, “If we’re so rich, how come we can’t afford a ceiling?” and cut to a view of the top of the set, where walls stop and the studio starts. (Props to anyone who gets this reference.) 

I also love in certain things (*cough, Winnie the Pooh, cough…*) when characters interact with the Narrator.

I just never really thought about how uncomfortable and vertigo-inducing it might be to suddenly see how parts of your plotline work out and how they interact with other peoples’.

Take today for instance.

Seven o’clock, the alarm rings. My room was freezing cold and the sun was barely up, but I dragged myself out of bed and got dressed for church. I was supposed to be there by nine for worship team practice. I got a smoothie for breakfast, slapped on a bit of makeup, and was out the door a bit before eight to catch the train to the larger station in the city, so I could change to the one that would take me north to Oberursel, the outlying town where the church is.

When I got there, I thought at first that I’d missed my train. In despair (because it only runs every 30 minutes on Sundays) I knew I was going to be late, so I pulled out my phone and used a few precious internet data minutes to send a quick email to the worship director, telling her I’d be late.

Ah – but look at that! Just as I hit send, my train pulled into the station. I’d read the sign wrong. What a relief!

I found a seat (easily, since I was so early. No one else on the train!) and settled in for the ~40 minute ride.
About five stops in, just as we had left the underground portion of the trip behind and gotten out into the city, the train pulls into a station and the conductor says something over the radio. No clue what it was – the sound was all garbled, he was mumbling, and my German’s not that great anyway. Whatever he said, though – everyone else suddenly got up and got out of the car.

I was confused. Bewildered. I got up and went to the door, but as I reached it, it slid shut and the train started up again.

Oh, I thought, sitting back down. I guess it’s ok, then.

Or not.

The train slowly pulled through the station… and then into the train yard behind the place, threading itself into a mass of other trains and stopping.

The engine stopped.

The lights went out.

I was stuck in a dead train.

I was terrified, ok, hugely embarrassed, and scared to death. What should I do? I couldn’t think of anyone to call, the train was empty – there wasn’t even anyone I could see out the windows to call for help. Just as I sat down to have a little bit of a cry, and resigned myself to having to wait until who-knows-when for someone to come and check the trains or something, I heard a soft sound.

The doors unlocked.

I got out of that car faster than a frog out of a frying pan. Then I wound my way through the deserted train-yard (looking confident and sure of myself when I passed a few workers who looked at me quizzically) and found my way back to the station. There, I learned that there was construction on the line, and I was supposed to take a bus to connect with a train on the other side of the downed-area.

Great, I thought, glancing at my phone to check the time. I’ll still only be about forty minutes late. So I waited for the bus, climbed in when it got there, settled in and we took off.

Then I looked at the screen that showed the bus stops and realized…

I’d gotten on a completely wrong bus.

By now, I was nearly in tears again. I got out my phone and pulled up the map-app I’ve got, trying to figure out how to get from where I was to where I needed to be (still about five miles from the church – which doesn’t sound very far until you realize that’s like 2 hours of walking time). I scrambled out at the next stop and took off jogging the mile to the nearest train station on my normal route, hoping it would be far enough past the construction that the trains would be running again, or that I could at least catch the correct bus.

No such luck. When I arrived at the train station, there was an announcement waiting for me, saying that the train I needed wasn’t running today. And there wasn’t a bus stop to be seen. I was going to have to hike the rest of the way. It’s a route I’ve taken dozens of times on the way home from church, on afternoons when I decided to walk instead of taking the train, but I knew there was no way I was going to make it in time for worship practice. I’d be lucky if I got there in time for the sermon.

Angry, embarrassed, and frustrated – also near tears again – I called Katy, a friend from church. She’s been running the biweekly Bible study I’ve been going to, and I knew she had the number of the worship leader (which I didn’t – yet another oversight there).

“Good morning,” she answered, her Scottish voice a little surprised.

“Katy,” I blurted, standing in front of the little train platform and trying in vain to think of a way out of this mess. “I am so, so sorry to bother you so early in the morning. Can I ask you a huge favor?”

She didn’t even hesitate a second. “Do you need a ride to church?”

That stunned me. That was so far away from what I was thinking at the moment that I couldn’t even make words. I managed to stammer out, my brain stuttering, “I—um, actually—could you—would it be too much to ask you to call Alyssa and tell her I’m going to be super late? At this point, I’ll be lucky to get to church in time for the service.”

A jumbled, mashed, staggering version of the story poured out of me, and Katy managed to understand enough to say, yes, she would call Alyssa, and really—it would be no problem to come pick me up.

I was so relieved I nearly melted into a puddle of goopy emotions right there on the street corner between the train platform and the little pub. Relief isn’t a strong enough word for the combination of stress, gratitude, embarrassment, and—yes—relief that I felt. I gave Katy the name of the station, and she promised to be there soon.

I spent the waiting time watching a duck. She swam in a fast-moving little stream, ducking her head under the rippling water for moss and whatever it is ducks eat, completely unfazed by the current that should have carried her quickly downstream. She just paddled a bit, latched her feet onto some rocks, and kept nibbling.

I feel like there’s a lesson in that duck.

When Katy arrived and picked me up, I was embarrassed and thankful all over again. And as we drove away, I noticed the name of the pub for the first time – I’ve walked or ridden past this place a hundred times, but I had never really read the sign:

Der Lahme Esel.

The Lame Donkey.

Hold your jokes please.

So that was my adventure. But the fourth wall part came later, when I found out that:

A) Katy’s husband had woken up not feeling good that morning. In fact, it was right before I called that he decided to stay home with their youngest son for the morning – which meant there was room in the car for Katy to offer me a ride. And

B) When I went to the music director after the service to apologize – I hadn’t gotten there in time to help with the service – she told me that not only was it not a problem, but there had been a girl there early that morning volunteering to help. She had initially said, no thank you, because that would have been too many singers, but when I couldn’t come she gave this girl a chance. And, from the congregational-standpoint anyway, I thought she did great.

So I figure, maybe she’s the one who needed to sing today. And my whole adventure was just so she’d get the chance. Or maybe it wasn’t even about her – maybe it was someone in the congregation who needed to hear that particular voice or something even more random.

God is a plot-detailer like no author you’ve ever read, and there is no doubt in my mind that my ridiculous, implausible, embarrassing and confusing adventure was completely orchestrated with some greater scheme in mind.

And honestly – no one but God could script such a morning and end it with me waiting for a ride outside Der Lahme Esel. That’s just… cosmic.