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The Half-Inch Spanner - Lennie Fisher's Story
In the late 1990's I was living in South Florida USA. My 10-year marriage was falling apart and I was spending a lot of time alone. It seems to be that in times of loneliness or isolation that an extra voice seems to direct us. Is it the voice of God or the voice of coincidence?
My life was a little disorganized and my boat had broken down about 25 miles south of my home. I was planning to go next morning to fix it and bring it home and then find someone to take me back for my car later. I told myself I must remember to take my "Half-inch Spanner." I even put a note beside my toaster to remind myself.
That evening a friend, Robin, from New York called me. He had gone through a difficult time in his life and his son Sean, about 13 yrs old at the time, was in a hospital in Florida. Robin asked if I would go visit Sean, and I was happy to agree.
It was perfect, the hospital, because I was near my boat so everything fitted perfectly. Next morning I was on my way. I was about 10 miles toward my destination when I realized that I had forgotten my half-inch Spanner. Oh well ... forget the boat - do the visit . . . I thought to myself.
Then I had a lunch appointment with a big hitter - one of my really wealthy American friends. Perhaps I could learn something from him that could improve my life. As I continued toward the hospital to see Sean I noticed an elderly homeless man walking in the same direction. It is rare to see a walker in the middle of nowhere in the hot Florida sun. I guess I felt a little guilty passing him but I was on a good deed already so I felt okay.
I arrived later at the hospital and had a nice visit for an hour or so with Sean. I started driving back toward my hometown, as I had no spanner to fix my boat.
I was just driving along, enjoying the sunshine. After about 10 minutes I saw the old man still walking. He had covered about eight miles. He looked hot and was walking very slow. Then the voice said, "Turn around and give him a lift." Then I answered inside myself: "Huh .. I wish I could but I have an important lunch meeting."
The voice was persistent: "You have time. Give the old guy a ride to the next town. Whatís it going to cost you? Almost nothing. Turn around." By that time I was a mile past him. I am not turning around, I'm told myself.
The voice however, persisted. "Are you really a Christian or just interested in yourself." Wow - that hurt. Okay - okay, I will offer him a lift and if he accepts I will race to the next town and dump him.
I went back and pulled up close to the man, driving slowly beside him. I asked, "Are you okay? Do you need a ride?" He seemed to get a new energy, and in a flash he was in my car looking like he was molded to the seat.
"Where are you going? I asked. "Fort Lauderdale," he replied. I began thinking ... that's 85 miles south. "Okay," I said, "I can drop you off in Jupiter." I had decided it was about nine miles south so I could dump him there - buy him a bottle of water, and I would be off the hook. God - or this mystery voice - would be happy and I could get back to town to do my important mission, like lunch with the rich guy.
I was feeling really happy with myself and did not talk much with the man. In a short time we where on the outskirts of the town Jupiter. We stopped at a traffic light and I was planning where to drop him when the voice came back. Directly across the light was a Dennyís Restaurant. The man was glaring at it. The voice said, "Lennie - take him for Lunch."
Now wait here one minute! This cannot be God! This is a distraction. I have a lunch meeting. I am out of here. This guy is going when I cross the light. I am not taking this guy for lunch!
The voice persisted. "Why?"
I am thinking ... what do you mean, 'Why?" I have a lunch meeting. The voice asked, "Are you meeting the other guy because he is very rich, or will you buy this guy lunch because I am asking you to do this?"
This is crazy! Why am I sitting at this light fighting with myself!? "Okay God - here is the deal. I will ask if he is hungry - thatís all." In my heart I was planning a bag of chips, a bottle of water from a gas station, and goodbye buddy.
Then I said the magic words. "Are you hungry?"
"Yes - sure am," he answered. "There is Dennyís right there. You can pull in just over here."
I was nailed. Someone else was in control of my day. Now I am committed to lunch in Dennyís with a smelly homeless bum. I had to call my friend and cancel. Of course I did the "Christian thing" and made a great excuse. Can you imagine if I told him the truth?!
Lunch was interesting. A lot of eating and very little conversation. The man who had then introduced himself as Peter appeared alert and intelligent. As he finished his fourth mug of coffee, it became more and more clear that he was not a fool. Behind the mask of a homeless man I could see a deeper substance.
As I looked at his heavy bearded face I could see deep lines of character, almost hidden in his beard. I looked across the table and engaged his eyes. I said, "Okay Peter, whatís your story?"
"What do you mean?" he replied.
Leaning toward him, I spoke softly and said, "Peter - I have been watching you and I see you are an intelligent man. What is your story?!"
There was silence ... then Peter began to speak from his heart. "Well, Lennie - I had a normal life. I lived in Michigan with my wife and two kids. I worked a lot, as I needed more and more money. I would work all the hours God would send. I was a supervisor in a factory. My pride and joy was a new Ford pickup truck. Man I loved my truck. One night when I arrived home my wife had dinner ready as normal. I had a great meal and was just relaxing down when the phone rang. It was the factory to ask if I could come back and work nightshift, as another Supervisor was off sick. "Sure," I said, "No problem." I was real happy to have overtime to pay off my truck payments. My wife got busy making some food for me to eat on my break at work and got everything ready for me. I walked out the door and discovered that it was raining. There was road work on the road leading to the factory and a lot of mud on the road, and I did not want to get my truck dirty. I asked my wife if she could drop me in her car. It was just a little old runabout. 'No problem,' she said. The kids where fast asleep so we carried them to the car while they slept. We laid them on the back seat and drove to the factory. I watched as they drove into the rain and darkness."
"On their way home, a large semi-truck skidded on the mud on the road and came straight across and hit them." Peter looked at me with eyes that were unforgettable. He continued, "They all died. Everybody died! Lennie - you know - I got through the funeral okay. We buried my family and then some folks wanted to come home with me. I asked them to drop me at the gate; I was alone as I went to the door. I looked at my nice clean shinny truck in the driveway. I opened the door of my home. I cannot explain . . . but my feet would not go inside. I could not step into the house, I stood at the open door and could not enter. Hey man -- I turned around and just left the door open and walked away and started walking. I've been walking ever since."
Peter's eyes were speaking volumes to me. I could see pain and grief, hurt and experience, combined with an incredible love. There was not a trace of bitterness in his eyes. There was a presence at our table that is hard to describe as time stood still.
I broke the silence with a very soft question. In a low voice, I touched Peter across the table and asked, " Peter, how long have you been walking?"
As I looked at his long hair and tangled beard, he was looking through me and beyond into a distant world. "Thirty two years. Thirty two years. Yeah - I have been walking for thirty-two years. As I walk, I talk to God. We have a relationship. He walks with me and comforts me. Ya' know man, I know every gang in America. I know the street bums and the druggies all across this incredible land. I live under bridges with these folks and I share the love of God with them. This is my life."
We left the restaurant and I took him to the bus station. I said, "Peter, I want to get you a ticket to Lauderdale and bless you with a few bucks."
"Fine," he said, "I'll take it on one condition." "Whatís that?" I asked, smiling.
"Well," he continued, "You know ... as I walk along the road, I find things and I have a gift for you, Lennie. He reached into the pocket of his shabby coat and he handed me, with a smile, a half-inch Spanner. (Nothing had been said to him about my need for a spanner!)
With eyes that were now alive with passion and victory, Peter swung on board a Greyhound bus and gave me a parting glance. I have never seen him again.
I had not helped a street bum; a much superior being than myself had visited me. I have learned many lessons from this encounter. I hope you will find yours.