There’s a special kind of heat that July brings to the city. Sun blistering the surface of asphalt parking lots. Breeze blocked by tall buildings. Miles of concrete, brick and stone. South facing walls of brick turned into seven story, solar-fired heat batteries. Afternoons so hot that you’d swear even the sidewalks are sagging.
On such a day a week or two ago, Todd Ray and some of his maintenance team were tearing out partition walls at Cowley College’s downtown Wichita center. In between cutting out sections and lugging them out to the dumpster, they took a break on the north side of the building. There’s not much shade on any side at one-thirty in the afternoon but north is definitely better than south at that time of day.
As they stood there, sipping drinks from large Styrofoam cups, they saw a thirty-something-year-old guy come out of the convenience store a couple hundred feet away. Slender and of medium height, everything about the man spoke of anger: stiff, exaggerated motions with his arms, feet stomping against the pavement. His words provided further evidence of his state of mind, even for the hearing impaired. A blue hot stream of profanity fired through the already sweltering air as he made his way across the parking lot. One of the workers asked Todd, “You think we should call the police?”
“No, he’s not hurting anything or anybody; let’s just wait and see what happens next.”
As they watched, they saw him became so animated and his angry expressions so exaggerated that he stumbled and fell to the ground. Rising in exasperation, he looked around, saw Todd and the other guys standing near the door which was propped open. He headed toward them.
Knowing that the other employees would become alarmed if the guy came inside the building in that state of mind, Todd moved over to block the doorway. “He wasn’t a big guy,” Todd notes, “So I just stood there.” At six-two and two hundred and twenty, Todd can certainly make you stop and think about what it might take to get to whatever he’s standing in front of.
As the man approached, Todd noted the baggy long sleeve shirt and the jeans that were way too big for him. Even his backpack seemed the wrong size. His body still tense with anger, he paused a few feet from Todd.
“Hey, man, what’s going on?”
The man sagged to his knees right in front of Todd, lifted his open hands out to the side and as he shook them to emphasize his words, he groaned, “I just wanted a glass of water. I just wanted a glass of water and they wouldn’t give it to me.”
Todd looked down, saw the soul-weary frustration and the sweat streaming across the man’s shaved head. He felt the heat drifting into the shade and the cooler air seeping out of the open door. As the man’s hands fell then to his side, Todd told him, “I will get you some water. I don’t have a glass but I’ll wash out this cup and I’ll fill it up with water and I’ll bring it back to you. Just wait right here.”
The guy waited and Todd went inside. The other two workers traded looks with each other and may have wondered what they’d do if the guy decided he wasn’t going to wait. They didn’t have to find out.
Todd came back with the cup, filled with fresh water and gave it to the man. “I’ve never seen anyone drink that much water that fast,” he told me, shaking his head from side to side. “He just turned it up and drained it. Drank that whole thing, thirty-two ounces of water, almost in one gulp.”
Finishing the water, he handed the cup back to Todd, wiped his mouth and rose back up to his feet. He adjusted his backpack, thanked Todd again and then walked on across the parking lot. Todd and the other guys watched him turn and disappear around the corner. Immediately they turned to one another, “Did that just happen?” “What was that?”
There are such things in this life when we think back on them later we realize the experience was larger than we realized at the time. Then, there are those rare times when we know right away. Such things of incredible poignancy, so touching that we know immediately we have experienced something so profound it goes beyond superficial understanding and explanation.
We wonder if we have just seen an angel when in fact we have looked into the very eyes of Jesus.