I have always been disposed to wonder about our world. Not, generally, wondering about how great our world is, no, more like wondering how it got so ruinously bad, or what purpose could possibly be served by it being so terrible. The instant events occurred when I was nineteen years old.
I was in the U.S. Navy at the time. I was proud to be in the Navy of Stephen Decatur and Admiral Halsey, but my pride of place was somewhat overshadowed by the facts of the Vietnam War and my complete lack of military bearing. I lived in a room with one other nineteen year old on a land base where I worked as a delivery driver, some indication of the Navy’s confidence in me.
We were allowed to drink beer in the E.M. Club (“Enlisted Men’s”) even though we were in a state (Nevada) with a drinking age of 21. Most people don’t understand how important alcohol is to keeping soldiers and sailors happy, but the Navy did. Plus, any evening that we were not on the watch list we were allowed to go into town (Las Vegas). Most people in Vegas thought it was discourteous to refuse drinks on the basis of age to active duty servicemen who were willing to pay for them. So there was drinking.
I had a buzz one night and turned in about 11: p.m. I say, “turned in,” but I had quite the little case of insomnia at the time and “turning in” was more like killing the lights, sitting up at the end of the bed, and smoking cigarettes, 20 cents a pack, $1.90 for a carton, wondering how I got into this mess, or sometimes considering topics slightly more challenging. My room-mate came in after a while, dead drunk. He was a slightly built and slightly educated farm boy from Iowa who had no prior experience of drinking. He greeted me with obscenities, collapsed on the bed and rolled over, passing out in his clothes, shoes included.
I remember thinking, what kind of life is this? I quietly spun off in the direction of more philosophical thoughts; after a while I moved onto the theological. I began to wish, as I sometimes did, that life had a purpose and that God answered prayer, like I had been taught at school. All of this, all of it, was completely silent, and I was totally awake, sitting up, soberer than most judges. Finally, I flippantly thought to myself, ok, Mr. Jesus, how about it? what is all this shit about? Offering any free advice these days?
Thereupon my room-mate sat up and faced me with his feet on the floor. He no longer sounded drunk, and he addressed me directly with greater content and organization than he had ever displayed before, and never did again. He explained to me quite patiently that although I was “charming,” he made it sound like some kind of a disease, I would never amount to anything, because life required more than that. I clearly remember him saying, “you’ll always get along, but you’ll never be happy.” Then he rolled back over and passed out again, still in his clothes and shoes. The lights had been out all this time, and I’d been silent through the whole thing. The next day he remembered nothing, and was all the way back to his dip-shit self.
Did Jesus talk to me through that idiot that night in Las Vegas long ago? Some people would have thought so. I just figured that he was sick of my condescending bullshit and decided to give me the verbal finger at just the opportune moment.