Jamie sat at Lucy’s desk and started chatting about a lot of nothing, as far as Meg could tell. He told her that he’d seen some old Frank Lloyd Wright letters and drawings appraised for $75,000 on Antiques Roadshow and that his sister had just gotten herself a yellow lab puppy. He then asked her how the biographies were going.
Trying to show me you’re just a regular guy, Jamie? You are not, and you’re annoying me.
“So tell me this,” Meg said, ignoring his question and smiling smugly. “Have you always been so perfectly self-righteous?”
He was shocked into speechlessness, she was pleased to see.
“Wow, Meg,” he said finally, looking into her eyes and no doubt finding hostility there. “I almost don’t know what to say.”
“No, wait. I said ‘almost.’ I’d really like to address this with you, because you have it all wrong.” He grinned at her ingratiatingly, then continued in spite of her refusal to return the smile. “Like any genuine Christian, I’m the antithesis of self-righteousness. That’s the whole point of being a Christian, in fact—we know that we’re not good people in our own right, and never will be, and that the only good thing about us is Christ living in our hearts.”
Oh, brother. Why’d I even go here?
“I wish you wouldn’t smirk like that. It’s pretty rude.”
But it won’t shut you up, will it?
“In fact, if you look at the subject honestly, you’ll find that it’s unbelievers who are self-righteous,” he said, emphasizing the word “self” and sitting up a little taller as he warmed to his subject. “I used to be like that. I thought I was a pretty good person, and that if there was a heaven, I’d get in by virtue of my good deeds.”
“You doubted there was a heaven?” Meg asked casually, genuinely curious but unwilling to show any great interest.
“I was an agnostic at best until I was almost thirty.” Jamie leaned back, hands behind his head. “I’d learned to party hard in college and didn’t quit after graduating. I sold trucking services—not the most exciting work, but it’s a super-competitive business and I did a lot of drugs in those days, uppers to get through the day and downers to get to sleep at night. Then on the weekends I’d drink to escape the pressure and to bury my anger.”
He really was beginning to sound like a regular fellow, Meg realized. She could identify with anger, anyway, and the need to bury it.
“I was, in fact, a very angry guy. Whenever anything went wrong, which of course is daily in the business world, I’d find someone to blame for it—my boss or a competitor or the waitress who’d blown my customer’s order the previous week. If I forgot to get a quote in, it was the secretary’s fault, never mine, because she should’ve reminded me. And I didn’t suffer in silence; I let people know they’d let me down. Finally lost my job because I had such a short fuse, and it was getting shorter by the day.”
“And all this time you thought you were a good person?”
He laughed. “Yeah, go figure.”
“So you turned to Jesus,” she said, “and you all lived happily ever after.”
“Not exactly.” Jamie flashed dimples Meg had never noticed before. “I’d gone into this dive of a bar on Bluemound Road one afternoon—it must’ve been a weekday, because I was the only customer—and was just starting to get quietly loaded when the bartender asked me if I wanted to talk about it. Turned out that he knew exactly what my problem was. ‘I used to be just like you,’ he said. And he told me all about his past, and it was like that old song about ‘singing my life with his song’—do you know it?”
“Yes, it was a Roberta Flack song. One of my favorites back in the day.”
He nodded. “That’s the one. So he claimed that he’d investigated the Bible on a dare with his brother, and found out that it was true. Challenged me to try it myself—said the science alone would astound me, but what did him in was prophecy. We talked about that a long time—as I think I mentioned, I was a history major in college, so I found his claims about prophecy pretty interesting.”
Meg didn’t know what he was talking about but didn’t want to get him going on that subject. She just nodded enough to show she was listening, not enough to indicate great interest.
“To make a long story short—and it was a long one, since I had a lot of time on my hands at that point—I took him up on his challenge, figuring I’d be able to prove him wrong fairly easily. But I failed. Instead, I found out that what he’d been claiming was the truth.” Jamie shook his head, as if he still had a hard time believing it. “To cut to the chase, I finally had to bow my heart to Jesus Christ as Creator and Savior and Redeemer and everything else these born-again types said He was. And at the same time, to address your original point, to acknowledge what a total loser I was, repent of all my rebellion against God, and make amends with the people I’d hurt.”
He finally fell silent, his expression deadly serious.
The wall clock said it was almost eleven, time for Meg to help bring residents back to their rooms for pre-lunch preparations. She cleared her throat.
Jamie didn’t seem to notice. “And the amazing thing is that everything started changing for me,” he went on. “Most notably, my anger vanished. Maybe it was a miracle, or maybe it’s just what happens when you quit making excuses for yourself and acknowledge that you’re a total jerk. It really humbles you.”
They couldn’t. It’s just another lie.
Except that Jamie hadn’t been talking about cheers from the crowd. He’d been talking about realizing he was perhaps not quite as good a person as he’d thought he was.
Did that make this brand of humility the real deal?
She flipped the radio on to an oldies station and joined Jim Croce in “Bad Bad Leroy Brown.” It wasn’t her favorite Croce song, but it was better than thinking that maybe this creepy Christian wasn’t such a bad guy after all.
--The Song of Sadie Sparrow, pages 264-268