By John Thomas Tuft

It was a midnight call.  Coming from three time zones away. To a nondescript home in the nondescript town of East McKeesport, the Nazareth of Western Pennsylvania. It was a minister to minister call, a strange breed of communication, if there ever was one. “I have a message for you. You are John, right?” Umm…yeah. “Okay, I looked you up in the Presbyterian Church Professional Directory. Because I never heard of you.” Umm…okay. “I don’t quite know how to tell you this. I feel a bit silly.” Umm…that seems to come with the job. “Well, I had a dream. And in the dream someone told me that I was to find you. And I was supposed to pray for you. And you will be healed of your affliction.” Umm…someone.  Someone like who?

A long, long pause. “I don’t know. I’m not sure. Maybe an angel.” Maybe an angel. Maybe an angel?! Riiigghhtt!! And this angel did what? Gave you a fortune cookie with my name inside? “I know how you feel. I’ve been putting off this call for a week.” Check out the window. No burning bushes. Although East McKeesport does have some lovely Christmas lights along Broadway, Punta Gorda Avenue, Park Street and on into North Versailles’ Taylor Plan. Not too unlike where you are, maybe. “Listen, Reverend, I’ve been praying about this ever since. Do you think I want to sound like…like an(and here he uses a word you might think Reverends don’t use, but I’m here to tell you, you would be wrong.)”

And it came to pass that the reverend set his course toward the East. He went before his congregation and told them about the dream. “I must travel there. Pray with him. And he will be healed.”  And they were astonished. Then they admonished. “We’ve never done anything like this before. Are you unhappy? We give you four weeks of vacation. And two weeks of study leave. Let us pray for the afflictions of this other reverend. It will be enough.” So the first reverend was down cast and forsaken. And he sought refuge and spiritual comfort in the local neon church, “…with a jukebox choir, full of honky-tonk angels with their wings on fire, straight pouring out that Johnnie Walker healing…”

A woman came out of the crowd and quietly took a seat nearby. She had a reputation. She said to the reverend, “You look troubled. Pray tell, what can I do?” He told her the story of the dream. So she went and got her mother so she could hear the story. And the mother said, “I’ve saved Tupperware money. You can have it.” And the bartender said, “Tonight’s tips are especially good. Take and use them, all of them.” And a boy came in selling hoagies for a band trip and he saw the crowd and wondered. He ripped up his order sheet and gave all the money to the reverend who’d had the dream.

Thus it was that in the fullness of time, the reverend from the west set off on a great journey seeking the reverend in the town in the East, bearing his gifts of great thoughts, and great prayers. And the unmatched kindness of strangers. Who knew the value of dreams. And the invaluable treasure of hope.

Thus it was, in the fullness of time, and it came to pass, that at one point, on the last leg of his journey our hero boarded an airplane bound for Pittsburgh. It was designated USAir427. On a warm evening, with no warning, a stone’s throw from the runway, it dropped out of the sky. And littered the wooded hillsides of Hopewell Township. Bearing east/southeast.

The reverend from the East was summoned to the crash site. To aid the first responders. To walk the slippery with blood ground. To witness the flames and the horror. To weep with the hopeless. To bear with the broken. To bind up their wounds. To be emptied. To ask what cannot be answered. To be healed in a crucible.

Prayer is down and dirty. It has grime under its fingernails. Breath of stale beer. Bloodshot eyes and needs a shower. Tats and brats. Go big or go home. Steelers for the win, fourth and goal, last ten seconds on the clock fervor. Homeless woman on the curb feeding a kitten humility. Toddler on the potty chair, first time, first try expectations. Prayer believes all things. Hopes all things. Endures all things.

Or is that love?    Is there a difference?

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.