Monday, September 15, 2014

A Miraculous Angel Named Mr. Miyagi


A Miraculous Angel
The computer tech reminded me of a young version of Mr. Miyagi, wise and reassuring. At the quaint computer store, Miyagi Jr. quietly accessed my laptop and said he could fix it immediately and be done within a half hour. So I waited and before realizing what happened, that man gave my four kids candy--we joked and laughed about life--my mood AND the mood of the store changed, becoming brighter.
    When it came time to pay, he wouldn't let me. "This is on me," he said.
    "You have to let me pay," I said. "Look at all the work you've done."
    He eyed me thoughtfully, stroking his long goatee. I thought he might see straight through me. Maybe he'd understand that something rested beyond my joking and laughter. Zeke's birthday was fast approaching and I didn't want to feel the ache that day always brings since my son passed away.
    Miyagi Jr. nodded and said, "There's a pizza place around the corner. A man always works there at this time. If you'd really like to thank me, go order a pizza and visit with the man who's working there. Visit with him just like you visited with me."
    Visit with the man?  It sounded strange. What could he possibly mean? It was my turn to study him. "All right," I finally said, then grabbed my youngest kids' hands and stepped toward the door. 
    Just as the bell rang above the exit and I walked outside, I heard another tech ask Mr. Miyagi, "Are you sure you should send her over there? You know what happens when some people go there when he's workin--"  The door shut and I didn't hear another word.
    "Mama, where are we going now?" my four-year-old son asked as I buckled him in his seat.
    I inhaled a big breath. "Well, that nice man wouldn't let me pay. So we're going to buy him a pizza."
    The pizza place was tucked back at the edge of a dilapidated parking lot.  People swarmed to other businesses around, but no one went to the forlorn restaurant.     
    "You stay in the car. Keep an eye on the babies," I told my oldest daughters.
    "Mom, are you sure you should go? This whole thing sounds weird," my second-oldest daughter said.
    "I'm just getting a pizza. The computer tech needs to get something for all of his hard work."  I turned music on for the kids, stepped from the car and locked the black doors.
    The pizza place didn't have tables, chairs or benches. But the spotless counter gave me a good impression. As the smell of fresh breadsticks wafted toward me, my insides warmed with childhood memories. I stepped forward and rang the metal bell.
    "Hello?" I said.  "Hello?"  Someone moved in the shadows at the far end of the kitchen.
    A man lumbered forward. At first I couldn't see his face because he'd turned it down and away.
    "Those breadsticks smell amazing!" I said.  Then he fully turned toward me and I gasped.
    The left side of his face was so handsome. He had a striking brown eye and perfectly dark skin. But the other side of his face drooped and bulged.  The forehead on his right side stretched a fist taller than the rest of his face.  His right eye couldn't open, nestled below his nose.  
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    "What do you want?" he mumbled.
    I nearly cried, feeling so badly for gasping seconds before.  I blinked hard, collecting myself, and instantly donned a smile.
    "How are you today?" I asked brightly.
    "I'm . . . all right," he said, turning so I only saw his profile. "And you?"
    "I'm having a fantastic day. I went to that computer repair place over there.  They fixed my computer for free.  So I'd like to order a large peperoni pizza for them."
    His curious eye darted toward mine.  "They've been very good to me as well." His words came out slowly and cautiously.
    I wanted to make an impact, then. But how? I could have told him that my first son had birth defects. Explain how Zeke had a cleft lip and palate.  My stomach knotted, remembering how I'd wanted Zeke to be born perfect, live a good life, and die long after I did. I looked at the pizza man and wondered for the millionth time, why do birth defects exist?
    But instead of talking about Zeke, Miyagi Jr.'s words drifted into my mind.  Visit with him just like you visited with me.   
    So I shot the bull with him as he made the pizza.  I told jokes about how I worked at a pizza place once. "When I was on the clock, they were always running out of pineapple," I said. "It's my weakness, really."
    "I know what you mean," he mumbled, then laughed. "I always eat the pineapple too. It's a good weakness though."
    "Agreed."
    When he finished the peperoni-extra-cheese, he came over to the counter. "Don't worry about bringing this to them. I'll bring it for you and tell them an angel bought them lunch."
    I've been a lot of things, but I've never been someone's angel. As I gazed into the man's eye, I thought of how hard I try doing everything right--so I can see my son in Heaven. But I never feel good enough. Tears welled in my eyes and I couldn't look away from the man. No. I wasn't an angel, he was--smiling and laughing despite his lot in life. It could take years to learn what that man had suddenly taught me about gratitude.
    I lingered because so much kindness shone from his deep, dark eye. "Thank you. You have yourself a wonderful day," I said, turning to leave.
    Just as I pushed the door open, he stopped me. "Wait," he said, and I turned. "Thanks for coming in here today. It's a cruel world out there, but people like you make it a better place."
    I held the door open for a minute longer. "Not people like me," I said. "Wonderful people like you."  I smiled one last time. "Hey, enjoy the pineapple, it is the best part of working at a pizza place."
    "I will," he promised and I left the store.
    As I drove home, clouds grayed the sky overhead. The sun shone brightly in the east, shedding light even through the storm.  I told my kids the story. "I don't know who was more of an angel, the pizza man or Miyagi Jr."
    "Mom, you haven't said a word about the guy's face. I saw him through the window. Didn't you notice something was really wrong with him?"
    There hadn't been a reason to mention his physical defects. "He was born with problems like Zeke was. But just like Zeke, he was beautiful inside. It makes me wonder though. . . . Why do you think the computer tech sent me to the pizza place?" I asked my oldest daughter.
    "Maybe he realized you treat everyone with the same kindness no matter what. That says a lot about you, Mom."
    "No," I sniffled. "It says a lot about him."
    I pulled off and parked on the side of the road after that. I got out and looked into the storming sky. I thought about my book The Golden Sky--the book about how God and Zeke changed my perception--how sometimes beauty comes right after the storms of life. 
    As I gazed at the widening clouds, a raindrop fell on my nose and somehow I felt like Zeke was looking down on me, beaming. 

-Elisa