Ginger made a quick trip to check in on her folks this week and our pups who are staying in Birmingham until our housing situation becomes more permanent. I drove her to the airport early Thursday morning and then decided to run a couple of errands on the way home. One was to go by the bank, or at least the ATM, to deposit checks that would enable us to pay our bills in the days ahead.
Bank of America has new ATMs here that no longer require an envelope to make a deposit; you feed in the checks one by one and the computer reads them and confirms the deposit. Thursday morning was my first time to use the new system. The first two checks went in easily and the confirmation. I put the third check in – the big one that really mattered – and the screen never changed. My ATM card and my check were in the machine and I had no way to prove it, no way to get them out, and no one around to tell since the bank didn’t open for another forty-five minutes.
I found a number for customer service and, after six or seven of those computer voices explaining my options, I finally got to a real person: Marie. I told her my story and the first thing she said was, “I’m so very sorry this happened to you. Let’s see what we can do to make things right.” And she meant it. I wasn’t expecting such compassion at all. The story goes on until the bank opened and most of the details are best spared. After we had tried all her options and she had contacted the computer people to see if they could manipulate the ATM from wherever they were (they couldn’t), she said, “I’ve notified the computer people to shut down the machine so no one can get to your card. Now let me give you a case number so we can follow up on your deposit. Once I give you this number, you will be contacted in about ten days with the results of our investigation.”
I was incredulous. “I can’t do that,” I said. “This money is going right back out to pay the mortgage and other things. We can’t wait ten days without creating some real problems.” I could feel the crush of the giant corporation beginning to come down on my shoulders.
About that time, a guy pulled up, got out of his car, and began to unlock the door to the building that housed the ATM. “Are you going in there?” I asked. He nodded. “Do you think you can get my card out of the machine?”
“I’m not allowed to do that,” he said. “Sorry.”
I went back to talking to Marie, who was still trying to figure out how to help me. I think she could sense the desperation in my voice. Moments before I was squashed by the impending weight, the guy inside opened the door and said, “Is this your card?” He was holding my ATM card.
“Yes,” I said. He handed it to me. “Thanks,” I said. “Any chance you can get my check out of there too?” He closed the door. I told Marie I had the card, which saved her continuing to tell me how I could get a temporary one now that the bank was open. She was trying to figure out how to help me get some sort of credit when the door opened again and the guy handed me the check.
“Wait, wait, Marie,” I exclaimed. “I have the card and the check. The guy in the room gave them both to me. Please don’t cancel anything. I can make the deposit.”
“Oh, Mr. Brasher-Cunningham,” she said, “that’s such good news it’s going to make me cry. I feel so bad about what you’ve gone through this morning and I was running out of ways to help. I think I’m going to cry I’m so happy.”
“Marie,” I said, “Your tenacity and compassion really helped me not lose hope. Thank you.”
“Oh,” she said again through her tears, “this really is a Christmas miracle.”
At the end of the first act of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, Rebecca Gibbs describes a letter addressed to one of her friends. The address read
The Crofut Farm
United States of America
Continent of North America
The Solar System
The Mind of God
“And,” Rebecca says, “The postman delivered it all the same.”
When I walked out of work last night, I could see a few stars strong enough to shine over the streetlights. I couldn’t name them or even begin to guess how far away they were and how old the light was that was finally reaching me. What I did think was I’m looking out into the universe at a star from which my little planet couldn’t be seen with the naked eye: it’s too small. We don’t figure in the grand scheme of things anymore than Nazareth or Bethlehem mattered in the world they knew at that time. We feel like a big deal to ourselves because we’re the ones living out this small story.
I don’t know much astronomy, but I do know the skies change every night. The constellations keep time differently from us, meaning they might cross a morning sky or sneak by when our planet has its back turned. A few familiars come by often enough for me to call them by name (“Hello, Orion.”) but our encounters always carry a shimmer of serendipity: we never meet the same way twice. The night sky is also filled with rarities and once-in-a-lifetime moments, as Mary Chapin Carpenter sang about in “Halley Came to Jackson”:
It came from the east just as bright as a torch
The neighbors had a party on their porch
Daddy rocked the baby, Mother said “amen”
When Halley came to visit in nineteen ten
Now back then Jackson was a real small town
And it’s not every night a comet comes around
It was almost eighty years since its last time through
So I bet your mother would’ve said “amen” too
The chances of me seeing Halley again in my lifetime are better than those of Marie, ATM Angel Guy, and me ever sharing the same orbit again. But this week, they looked up and saw me and I saw my way out of a darkening situation thanks to their lights of patience and perseverance.
In the vastness of our universe, my little dilemma didn’t even register as forgettable, yet, last Thursday morning in our town, I felt found.