Friendship no random 'Act of God'

published in the Oshkosh Northwestern, October 7, 2014,

The Reverend Doctor Thomas C. Willadsen

The third time my Toyota was badly damaged while parked, I had a moment of sudden insight: “Prius” is Japanese for “schlimazel.”  You may recognize this term from the opening theme of “Laverne and Shirley.”  “Schlemiel, schlimazel, hasenpfeffer incorporated!”  I’ll explain the Yiddish: a schlemiel is a guy who spills hot soup, for example.  A schlimazel is the guy on whom the soup is spilled.

In August of last year my car was totaled on Church Avenue, while parked in front of First Presbyterian Church, where I serve as the pastor.  In January of this year, my car sustained about $7,000 in damage while parked on Church Avenue, across the street from First Presbyterian Church.  Sunday, I parked my car in front of my next door neighbor’s house and a huge portion of her silver maple tree fell on it.  This incident was “an act of God.”  I know this is true, State Farm Insurance told me.

My neighbor, Beck, felt awful about this.  “Tom, if there’s anything that your insurance won’t cover, please let me know, I’ll make it right.”

“Girl,” I responded pastorally, “if I’m gonna soak anyone on this deal, it’ll be God.  I go after the deep pockets!”

For the record, the insurance is going to cover the whole thing.

Within minutes of the tree falling, my wife, Mary; Beck; Beck’s brother, Mike and I were out with loppers and a saw, clearing the debris off the street and sidewalk.   This was a big branch; it covered Bowen Street to the center line.  We had a good time laughing about my bad luck with accidents while parked, and Beck’s recent streak of flat tires.  We probably spent more time together Sunday afternoon than we had in several years. 

It didn’t feel like a bad day at all.  I could drive my car after I backed out from under the branches.  We all recognized how fortunate we are to have such good neighbors; things like falling trees just make us aware of that.

We’ve shared more than a driveway and a narrow strip of grass for the last fifteen years.   Beck, and her late husband Ken, have watched our boys grow up.  When Mary went into labor with our younger son, around midnight, we called Beck to stay at our house and be there when the older boy woke up.  We knew he would not be afraid.  We’ve shared birthdays, blizzards and milestones of all kinds with each other. 

So it’s hard for me to think of this tree falling on my car as an “act of God.”  The god I worship and serve does not send difficulties or catastrophes on people. 

In the 13th chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus asks whether the 18 people who were killed when the Tower at Siloam fell on them were the worst offenders in Jerusalem.  In my opinion, the implicit answer to Jesus’ question is “No.” and to channel Forrest Gump for a moment, Jesus was saying, “Bad stuff  happens.”  The new dents on my car can hardly be called the result of an act of God.  At least if one considers acts of God to be willful on God’s part.  To me, the act of God is the joy my family knows in Beck’s friendship.  A friendship which is strengthened and made more precious by working together and helping one another.  That is an act of God.  Or maybe we should call it a gift of God.

Tom Willadsen is the author of OMG! LOL! Faith and Laughter.  He is remarkably free of bitterness, all things considered.