I might have missed my chance to write the great American novel. A streak of creative genius might have flashed across the horizon of my mind, but I’ll never know because at that moment, I was looking the other way. I was busy fanaticizing about changing the past, and as a result I was disconnected from the present. I’ll never know if I let a great opportunity pass me by, but what I do know is that, at that time, my focus was not on anything productive.
The lapse to which I refer happened early one morning, as I was at the bathroom vanity applying my make-up. My mind was wandering about at will and it eventually stopped at a situation from the past, one during which I felt I’d been wrongly treated. An acquaintance of mine was out of town and I was keeping an eye on his house. Shortly before his scheduled return, he called me and said, “Did you notice the key to the mailbox on my kitchen counter?”
“I saw a key,” I replied, “ but it looked to me like it went to a door.”
“It goes to the mailbox,” he said, sounding a bit impatient. “And once the box is full, the mailman will return any more letters that come.” I reminded him that he hadn’t asked me to collect the mail, that he hadn’t mentioned the key, and that he hadn’t given me the number to his mailbox.
He did not admit responsibility for the problem or apologize for any inconvenience that his negligence might cause me. He didn’t even ask me to go and get the mail. He simply repeated, slowly, “The mail will be returned when the box is full.”
As civilly as I could I said, “I’ll go and get it.” And then, fuming, I drove to his house, got the key, got the mail, and left them both on his counter. I was never thanked for my efforts.
It was about a month later that I was standing before the bathroom mirror, contemplating the ingratitude and self-absorption of this man at the time of the affair with the mail. I was annoyed all over again and I began to envision scenes from that time, in which I was responding sardonically to what he said so that I could come out ahead. I felt a surge of self-righteous pride as I pictured him, dumbfounded. But in my glory, as I smirked at myself in the mirror, I suddenly noticed a tiny black hair sprouting above my upper lip. I loathe finding that kind of hair on my face because it reminds me of the barbs in a man’s 5:00 shadow.
My mind was darting back and forth between that errant hair and the imagined retorts to my acquaintance, when the dueling thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a voice that wedged its way in between them and, “Focus on the hair. At least you can do something about that.”
I knew it was the Holy Spirit speaking; I’d heard His voice before, and I had to smile at the wisdom of his well-placed words. As usual, he spoke in a manner that was firm, to the point, and humbling, and he let me know that He was displeased. But really, how else could I expect Him to be, my thoughts being so prideful and unforgiving?
I had no reply to His clever remark, only love and appreciation for the lesson He’d taught me, even as He was showing me my folly. His message was a simple one: don’t dwell on the past. However, if He put it just that way, just that simply, I might have forgotten it long before I was even dressed that morning. But because I was forced to think about the meaning of His words, they are now etched in my mind, like music on a phonograph. Now, whenever I catch myself wasting time on fruitless pondering, I hear His words and I’m reminded to reset my focus and to look for that flash of creative genius, which one of these days just might appear.