I had missed the bus—the driver closed the doors and pulled away just as I reached the stop at Division and Clark—so I decided to walk rather than ride the mile and a half to the train that I would take to the airport. I was in Chicago, where I used to live, and my trip was coming to a Chicago-style end: rush-hour traffic, habitual indifference, pavement in every direction, and an unusually beautiful November sunset.
About halfway through my walk, as I waited for the light to change at Division and Halsted, a man with his mask below his mouth approached me. He was taller than me and about half my age. His hooded sweatshirt was unzipped and his eyes were slightly bloodshot.
“Can I ask you a question?” he said.
“Sure,” I said, “what’s up?”
“If you knew you were going to die in a raging fire tomorrow,” he said, “what’s the one thing you’d most want to have happen?”
The light had changed, and we were still standing on the corner. “I think I’d want to have a conversation,” I said, though I don’t know why. “How about you?”
“I would want to receive the blood of Christ,” he said. “I would want Jesus’s blood to fill me and carry me through.”
I pointed west, in the direction I had been going, and said, “I don’t mean to cut this short, but I should probably make this light before it changes.”
“Do you mind,” he said, “if I walk with you?”
We walked together for about fifteen minutes. He had been on a bus, headed to his job in the baked goods department at a grocery store, and through the window he had seen me smile at a woman waiting for her bus, and something told him to get off the bus and talk to me. “To be honest,” he said, “I try to do what the voice of Jesus tells me to do, but sometimes I don’t.” He told me that he had, the previous night, dreamed of the Rapture. It was the second time he had had this dream—a dream that the Lord had come for him and taken him up to heaven but left many other people behind.
“That sounds like quite a dream,” I said.
He asked if I was a teacher, and I said I was not. “I want to be a teacher,” he said, “but I don’t know if I have it in me.” I told him that he did have it in him, that he could be a teacher if he believed in it and put the work in. He told me that he was twenty-three (an auspicious number in Chicago) and that he had weak moments when he didn’t do what he knew he should. Soon after, he slowed and looked around.
“You might need to get back,” I said. We stopped and faced each other.
“My name is Daniel,” he said. “What’s yours?”
“Adam,” I said.
He said something about the first Adam and the second Adam that I didn’t understand and can’t remember, and then he reached out his hand and I shook it, and then he opened his arms and leaned toward me, and we hugged. “You’ve got it in you,” I said again, “you can be a teacher if you want to.” He smiled and shook his head and walked back toward the bus he would have to take to his job, and I kept walking west.
Later, as my plane rose into the sky, I imagined Daniel at work amid loaves of bread and glistening donuts. I hoped he would realize the dream of becoming a teacher that he thought might be beyond him, and I wondered what it would take for him or any of us to go beyond what we are. But I couldn’t get my head around another part of Daniel’s dream—the part about the Rapture, and especially the part about the blood of Christ. As I drifted toward a doze, I wondered about the function of dreams of the beyond, visions of a self or a world radically changed: about our own blood replaced, or the lion lying down with the lamb, or the workers of the world uniting, or all of us living in peace and out of poverty.
When I woke, I remembered Daniel’s rueful comment about the persistence of weakness in him and in us, and I remembered, too, Daniel shaking his head, and the sight of the sun-streaked sky over the pavement, and the endless sound of the trucks clattering by.
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