Another Moment

And then, from wherever it is that they come from, there came another moment. Not long after A Long Day's Dying was published, a man I scarcely knew asked me to have lunch with him. He was one of the ministers who came regularly to preach at the Lawrenceville chapel and whose sermons had a sort of witty, sardonic liveliness to them. All through lunch I remember wondering why it was that he had sought me out. He was some twenty years older than I was, and we had nothing in common as far as I knew, had never exchanged more than a few words before. I have long since forgotten what we talked about, but it seems to me that he told me a good deal about himself and his work, and I mainly just listened, drawing lines on the white tablecloth with my fork as I wondered when he would get to the point if indeed there was any point. Then at some moment during the conversation, I became aware that the subject had switched from him to me. I was highly thought of as a writer, he said. There were a lot of people who took my words seriously and were influenced by them. Had I ever considered, he said— and though I cannot remember his words, I remember his tone of voice which was dry and slightly mocking in a way that left you uncertain whether it was you he was mocking or himself. He was a complicated sort of man with a little black mustache who spoke in a way that struck me as concealing more about him than it revealed. Had I ever considered, he said, putting my gift with words to work for —  God, did he say? Or the Church? Or Christ? I no longer remember how he put it exactly, and he made no great thing of it but passed on soon to other matters so that I do not to this day know whether this was what he had asked me to lunch to say or not. I no longer remember what I answered him either or what impression his words made on me except that they took me entirely by surprise. No, I must have told him. I had never considered such a thing. And that was the end of it except that out of all the events that took place during those five years of teaching at Lawrenceville, it is one of the few that I remember distinctly, like an old photograph preserved by accident between the pages of a book.
~ originally published in The Sacred Journey and Listening to Your Life