Wednesday, January 25, 2017

“No guilt is forgotten so long as the conscience still knows of it.” ― Stefan Zweig

It was 1960 and I was sixteen years old and a brand new driver.  We were living in Midland, Texas, where my father was the manager of the first Sears, Roebuck store to be in shopping center and not downtown.  It was also the first Sears store that had the warehouse attached to the store (both would become the rule rather than the exception for all Sears stores).  What was really cool about all this was that Dad would go down to the store to work at night after it was closed.  Sometimes, he took my older brother, Joe, and me to go with him.  While he did paperwork in his office, Joe and I had the run of the entire store: tv sets, record players—everything.  Most important to two teenage boys was that we also had the run of the entire warehouse which sounds kind of boring until you realize that there were two, electrically driven fork lift trucks back there—with the keys in them.  While Dad was working away in the store, Joe and I would race those fork lift trucks through the warehouse.  They had rear-wheel steering which was just way cool, especially for a sixteen-year-old kid who had just gotten his driver’s license.  We had a whole lot of fun racing those quiet machines at what seemed like really high speeds to us.  But—there’s always a “but” with teenage boys—I rounded a corner too quickly and speared a brand new washing machine with one of the tines of the fork lift.  It went in the front and came out the side, totally ruining the expensive washing machine (of course, I speared the most expensive machine that Sears sold).  I didn’t even tell Joe who was off in another part of the warehouse.  I just quickly and quietly turned the machine around so that the damage wasn’t visible, or at least wouldn’t be visible until someone bought the machine, and they went to deliver it (or so I thought).  I was scared but pretended that nothing was wrong and just thought it would all blow over.  We went home with me unusually quiet that night.  A couple of weeks later, I overheard Dad telling Mom that he was upset because he had had to fire a fork lift driver that afternoon.  My heart jumped into my throat as I got closer so I could hear all the details.  Dad was saying how he hated to fire the man who had just had a new baby, but there was nothing he could do because of all the damage.  Tears began to form in my eyes as I began to slowly walk into the room where they were talking to confess and maybe make things right again.  Dad continued to tell Mom that it would have been funny under other circumstances as the man had backed the fork lift off the back of the loading dock and crashed onto the top of a brand new Cadillac that a women had driven straight from the dealer to the Sears store.  I stopped dead in my tracks.  They didn’t know about what I had done, this was something completely different.  Since no one ever said anything about the damaged washing machine, I assumed I was in the clear because when they did find it, they would just assume it had been the same fork lift driver.  I felt badly about it, but not badly enough to ever confess to anyone.  I carried that guilt with me for a long, long time.  Nixon found out that it wasn’t so much the seriousness of the crime as it was the cover-up that could bring down a government.  I could put it out of my mind most of the time, but whenever an ad for washing machines came on the television or I would see or hear something about a fork lift truck—the guilt would all come flooding back.  Many, many years later after my father had retired from Sears, one night when he and I were alone, I told him the story and how guilty I had felt for all those years.  He looked at me very seriously, obviously disappointed in me, and told me he had known since the very next day.  A warehouse worker had turned the machine around the first thing the next morning since by turning it around, I had covered up the labels and numbers.  Dad knew it had to be Joe or me but never said anything about it.  They had insurance for that sort of damage because it happened all the time.  What bothered him was that I was willing to let someone else take the blame for something I had done.  He told me he had waited a long time for either Joe or me to come clean, but he didn’t think it would take decades.  He asked if living with the guilt had been punishment enough, and I agreed that it had been.  He turned back to what he was reading, and I walked from the room with my head down.  I’m probably not alone in thinking that I wasn’t and aren’t the only one who ever didn’t do the right thing and regretted it later.  I didn’t ask Dad’s forgiveness though I should have.  He’s gone now, so I never can—another of my regrets.  I did ask forgiveness from God and prayed that the fork lift driver who was fired had had a good life.   I didn’t know.  What I did know was that the sin of spearing the washing machine had been far eclipsed by the sin of pretending that nothing happened and letting an innocent person take the blame for something I had done.  I still feel badly about that.  The “Amazing Grace” that could save even a wretch like me had done just that, finally.  I confessed to Christ and was forgiven.  Frequently, people ask me how I am doing and I almost always respond with, “Better than I deserve.”  That’s grace.  For fifty-seven years now, I have regretted my actions of that night and my silence afterward.  This story would be kind of funny if I had acted more in keeping with the Christian values I so cherish now.  There is a message here for all of us: doing the right thing may cause immediate negative consequences but those are nothing compared to the damage done to your soul.  Since I still remember and regret my actions of fifty-seven years ago, it was a little thing that became a big thing because of my silence.  There probably isn’t anyone still living (aside from my brother) who would have known about that night, but I still remember—and always will.  It wasn’t the mistake of careless driving that has haunted me all these years—it was my own silence about my guilt.  Part of getting right with God is getting right with your own soul.  If you’re carrying around a burden like this or worse, God’s forgiveness will lift it from you and asking forgiveness (even if it isn’t given) from those who were hurt will go a long way toward getting you facing in the right direction to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  Thankfully, for me, no one around here has washing machines and what television we get to see doesn’t include washing machine ads or fork lift truck racing to remind me of how I had messed up.  Tiny things can ruin your life if you let them.  Don’t let them.  God will forgive, and you will receive grace.  Grace is not getting the bad thing you do deserve and instead, getting the good thing you could never earn or deserve.  I thank God for grace—it is truly “amazing.”
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