As we near Thanksgiving I recalled a piece I wrote for the St. Dysmas newsletter while I was Pastor inside the South Dakota State Penitentiary. I titled it, “Reflections on the worst day of my life…” Ironically my family, as well as friends who know me well, think I make a valid point but also find this hysterically funny. I hope you’ll see the humor—and the meaning in this season of thankfulness.
There is no way of writing this without making me appear to be a complete idiot. I lost my car…in downtown Minneapolis…for 14 hours. In my defense, I baby stepped into this predicament.
Here’s what happened. I was invited to tour the new Vikings stadium and asked my nephew and my niece’s husband to meet me there for the tour since they live nearby. I plugged the directions into my GPS and turned into the parking deck when instructed by the GPS. Unfortunately I put 4th Ave. instead of 4th St. in my GPS. Since I assumed I was next to the stadium I left my car and went into the Skyway to find the stadium. I assumed it was close by. Oh my, was I wrong. After asking directions numerous times I found the stadium 45 minutes later. By then I realized I had done something wrong. (Actually a number of things. I will NEVER leave my parking ticket in the center console again!). Well after a tour of the stadium which was wonderful—it’s spectacular—and appalling. I felt like I was in the temple of our cultures current God of choice.
After the tour and what may have been the tastiest hors d’oeuvre I’ve ever eaten I went in search of my car with my nephew and nephew-in law. By 10:00 PM it was clear there were more parking garages attached to the Skyway than we had time to search. I spent the night at my niece’s and her husband’s home.
Oh my, the feelings; shame, embarrassment, regret, frustration…that’s just a start. I recall thinking, “This is the worst day of my life.” Even then, I knew it wasn’t, but it DID feel like it at the time. I can’t convey how crummy it was to lay down to sleep knowing I was going to get up in the morning to board the light rail and head to downtown Minneapolis in search of my car…somewhere.
Somewhere during my four hours of walking the Minneapolis Skyway (and parking decks) it occurred to me that the worst day of my life would be the best day in the life of any member of my congregation behind the walls of the SD State Penitentiary. Gardens below, birds and squirrels, blue skies, autumn colors, interesting people, fun shops, odd people, huge cinnamon rolls, beautiful people, a cornucopia of people, sights and sounds. Since I have already admitted I’m a dolt, I’ll confess I didn’t even have sense to stop for one of those cinnamon rolls.
One of the unexpected perks of pastoring a congregation inside a prison is that it makes it easier to keep things in perspective. When the tree fell on the car ($8,904.72), when heading out to rake leaves for the second time, when the waitress was slow and the fries were cold. The downside is never being able to complain about my problems to those I serve. There are exceptions, when death comes to a loved one, when relationships crater or loved ones flounder the inmates are quick to express concern and support. Prison reveals both what is unimportant, and what is of supreme value. My prison congregation have taught me much.
Maybe that wasn’t such a bad day after all.
Pastor Bob Chell