Biff America column: An encounter with faith and appetite
July 1, 2016
It was raining in the Sierras. The ski season was winding down, and the damp weather made the morning better suited for a leisurely breakfast than skiing slush. I hate seeing one person occupying a four-top table when a restaurant is crowded; I didn't want to be that person. When I saw what appeared to be a tourist looking around for a place to sit I invited him to join me.
He carried a breakfast burrito, as big as my head, a huge piece of gooey coffeecake and a blended drink served in a bucket. I made room for what I assumed would be a few people when he said, "I'm alone" he murmured … "Just hungry."
My mate was relaxing in our camper, parked on the street, poaching Wi-Fi. I sat inside where the signal was stronger, reading the news online. I wanted to troll the web undisturbed, and my tablemate seemed to sense this. Moreover, I assumed that, considering the amount of food, his mouth would be busy.
After about 10 minutes, I thought I should at least acknowledge his presence, so I asked the cursory questions of his origins and made some casual observations about the weather and closed with: "By the size of that breakfast, you better burn some calories today."
My breakfast date admitted that he wouldn't be skiing but, rather, as soon as he finished his feast, he'd be boarding a church bus for home.
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"I think the tension of this trip has increased my appetite," he said. "I believe it is called stress eating." Turned out he was a chaperone for a large group from a Christian high school visiting the mountains for a late-season ski vacation.
I made some comment on the challenges of keeping nearly 100 teenagers out of trouble in a ski town: "No wonder you're stressed." He agreed, saying, "Christian kids are still kids." He then said he needed to eat quickly, as the group was departing within the hour.
"I hope your group had a good time," I said. He looked at me as if considering if honesty was warranted, "Well, actually it was a difficult week" he said. "We lost one of our kids."
"For how long?" I asked.
"Forever," he said. "He hit a tree."
What can you say to that?
I offered my condolences and asked how the kids were taking it. He said amazingly well. Though of course they were sad to lose a friend, he said their belief in life everlasting was so strong they all just assumed their friend was in a better place. He added that he was amazed at the power of the faith of those surviving teens.
A Better Place
There is a deep comfort in a belief in an afterlife and a blessing that it can't be verified or disproved. The last thing I wanted to do was to make this man's tragedy any more difficult. But figuring I'd never see him again, I decided to pose a serious question; I solicited his permission to do so.
I put down my iPad and said: "I'm not asking what you tell your students, but from one stranger to another — are you utterly certain that the child is, in fact, in a better place? Is it spiritual hope or complete conviction?"
He said he was as sure as he was that he and I were sitting together. I answered that with all my heart and soul I hope that this was the case, but I was not convinced. He suggested I read Romans. I responded, as kindly as I could, that I had, but Saul's words did little to sway me.
He admitted he once felt the same, but since the Lord had entered his life, he was happier and had complete conviction. I declared that I'd love to believe in some sort of recompense, but, like the apostle Thomas, I still have my doubts.
According to the Righteous Brothers
As he got up to leave, he thanked me for inviting him to the table. He added that he hoped one day I would be as convinced as he was.
I envied him. It matters less if what he believes in is true than it does the comfort that belief provides. But there was no need to put that on the table, so I left it at, "Well, according to the Righteous Brothers, 'If there is a rock 'n' roll heaven, you know they'll have a hell of a band.'"
My new friend placed the untouched coffee cake in front of me and responded with a Beatific smile, "Damn straight."
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Biff's new book, "Mind, Body, Soul," is available at local shops and bookstores or shop.holpublications.com/products/biff-america-mind-body-soul.