Sense and Nonsense: Unexpected Kindnesses

The pastor of the Anglican parish in Georgetown, Rev. Charles Nalls, suggested lunch. I proposed Billy Martin’s, about halfway between his parish and the university. We both wore Roman collars, both arrived on time. The restaurant was not crowded after the noontime rush. We talked of things ecclesiastical and otherwise. No one was in a hurry. In the next booth was a middle-aged lady I presumed to be Filipina.

When paying the bill, the nice waitress informed us that a patron in the restaurant had already paid it. I inquired who it was so that we could thank him. But she said that he preferred to remain anonymous. One accepts that, but it is touching that someone would be so thoughtful. We owed the bill in justice; it was paid by someone else’s generosity. When such unexpected acts of kindness happen to us, we suspect that we are dealing with something, some gift, coming from beyond this world.

Just before we departed, the Filipina lady suddenly leaned over the partition. She said to us, from out of nowhere, “We have already received salvation. We just have to follow it.” To the best of my ability, I do not recall that either I or my friend was talking about this very Pauline position, certainly not denying its basic truth that we do not concoct salvific truth by ourselves, from our own resources. I hope all my overheard conversation turns out to be so orthodox! She could also have said, I suppose, “Will you two fanatics shut off this gibberish and let me dine in peace!”

Speaking of acts of kindness, however, a priest in our community died about a month ago. He had a number of books that, as is the custom, were later put on a counter if anyone wanted them. I looked them over a couple of times. One book was not taken immediately: Julian of Norwich’s Revelations or Showings. After a couple of days, I decided to take a look at it. I had long known that the language of this book was both elegant and exalted. Indeed, the language is almost so good that it distracts from its equally lofty thought.

“And so our good Lord replied to all the questions and doubts that I could raise,” Julian wrote, “saying most reassuringly: I am able to make everything well, and I know how to make everything well, and I wish to make everything well; and thou shalt see for thyself that all manner of things shall be well.” On reading that passage, I could not help but think that even the dead can give us something unexpectedly beautiful, that “all manner of things shall be well.” Had not this good man died, I probably would never have read this book—which was itself obviously a signed gift, though without a date. The inscription says, “Thank you for all the lessons past, present, and future. Love, Nickie.” One cannot help but be glad for “lessons” about which one has no idea.

In a 1953 Peanuts sequence, Lucy is at Charlie Brown’s house, looking at the television set. She announces to Charlie, in the background, “Our television set is bigger than yours.” To which a humble Charlie replies, “It is? That’s fine. I’ll bet you enjoy it.” Not deterred, in the next scene, with Charlie reading a book, Lucy continues, “My Dad makes more money than your Dad . . . Our house is a lot bigger than yours too.” To a confused Lucy, Charlie again replies, “I realize that . . . and I am very happy for you.” In the final scene, Lucy has had it. Angrily to Charlie’s face, she shouts, “YOU DRIVE ME CRAZY!”

A friend of mine a couple of years ago gave me this book of early Peanuts. I did not know that it would be given to me. And I do not recall seeing this particular sketch before just now. If we lived in a world in which no one could give us unexpected gifts, we would indeed be driven “crazy.”


  • Fr. James V. Schall

    The Rev. James V. Schall, SJ, (1928-2019) taught government at the University of San Francisco and Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. Besides being a regular Crisis columnist since 1983, Fr. Schall wrote nearly 50 books and countless articles for magazines and newspapers.

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