The Problem with Too Many Choices
Mathew Pietersen drove his ten year old Volvo north on Lee Davis Road through what at one time was the countryside of Mechanicsville, Virginia. Bennett Funeral Home to his right and Stonewall Jackson Middle School on his left put him in that position between the beginning and end that was part of his stock and trade. The radio was broken, but that did not stop him humming some tune. Nothing was real familiar about the melody, and his mumbling off key lyrics, “You have been good to me, you have been good to me...” did not make the song any more recognizable. Mathew continued his humming and got to the chorus, “And I still believe there is more.” His fingers tapped the steering wheel in time, and he belted out, “I believe there is more!”
Once past the school, a gray fall sky reflected off the surface of Beaverdam Creek that was mostly overgrown. Several fallen trees stretched across the width closer to the road and somehow had not disturbed the Lily Pads just off the opposite bank. Mathew thought of the possibility of some large mouth bass or pike waiting just under one of those umbrella leaves for dinner to float by. If only he had time to drop a line in the water, he could avoid a visit to the retirement home up ahead. Soon, on his left the neatly painted white fence could be mistaken for a horse ranch. The cross boards of the fence made the staff lines of sheet music with posts marking the different bars. Every fifty or so feet a brick column separated the measures. He levered his left turn signal and waited for the red pickup in the opposite lane to pass before he edged into the entrance of Covenant Woods. Flowers in the median and young oak trees lining each lane softened the coldness of the last home for people waiting to die. The three story structure boasted newness that could be an apartment complex for young families and singles. The singles here were not single by choice. They were the ones left alone.
Mathew greeted the receptionist as he pulled the sign-in register to him, “Here to see Mr. Stone.” He said as his eyes ran down the lines on the page to witness the fact that no one else signed in to visit Mr. Stone.
“Mr. Stone is in two twenty,” the receptionist said. “Down the hall the elevator is just past the coffee shop.”
Mathew turned and used a short cut across the living room to the linoleum hall. A gray loveseat, several wingback chairs, end tables with flowers, a small bookcase with a dozen books all sat empty by an inviting stone fireplace. Inanimate objects waiting for a purpose to ease lonely souls. The elevator door to the second floor swished open and a nurse nearly collided with Mathew, “Sorry.”
He nodded and read the directional signs to room two twenty. On the way, an open dining area was in use. Four-top utilitarian tables took up eight squares of the room. Several people sat with coffee cups, some in wheel chairs were accompanied by a nurse or caretaker spooning soup into mouths that dribbled.
Upon his entry to room two twenty a man sat in a recliner brought from home facing a view out into the woods overlooking an unused gazebo, “Mr. Stone.”
“Name is Peter. Call me Pete.”
“Pete, I am Pastor Mathew Pietersen. Call me Matt.”
“What fine church sent you Matt?”
“I’m the new minister at the Baptist Church up the road.”
“Good for you,” Pete said and removed his red ball cap revealing a very thick head of silver hair in long waves covering half his ears and giving him a distinguished manner.
“Mathew Pietersen; Matt. Sounds kind of Jewish for a Baptist.”
Matt explained, “Yes it is. Family name goes way back to be settlement days in the sixteen hundreds. As far as being Jewish, I have been told that my great-great-whatever was named Solomon Pieterson and gained some notoriety as the first known American Jew to marry a Christian.
“Now, that is something,” said Pete. “What brings you here, young man?”
“I suppose you can say it’s my job, but it’s not. I call this time my mission; my purpose.”
“At your age, that idea of purpose can be a powerful pull. Never knew mine, though. I must admit. There have been times there was a feeling there had to be more.”
“What did you do when you were younger?”
“Mostly, I excelled at sitting on the sidelines and observing the world.”
Matt took some time to nod as if he knew what the man meant, “You can feel free to elaborate with me.”
Pete scratched his ear some raising a silver curl slightly, “You preachers are good at that.”
“Listening. Then giving some half assed acknowledgement you think you understand.”
“Really. I do honestly want to understand.”
“You probably think a man my age has a few things to get off his chest. Confession I suppose. Well, I don’t. The way I see it; it is what it is.”
“What do you mean on the sidelines?”
“Never played sports. Just watched. Actually, television came along and made it easier to just watch and not get too involved. I saw a president killed, a man walk on the moon, and I saw all those protests over Vietnam. There was more to what I witnessed on the TV news though. Back in the sixties all over the Fan District, I actually watched the hippies wearing sandals and beards dancing in the traffic yelling shit.”
He paused, the young preacher did not oppose the language, so he continued, “I still think most of them really knew nothing of the war. Most of them just wanted to get high and have group sex. I didn’t get to do any of that either; just watched the crowd go by and get old.”
“Sounds like you witnessed a great deal,” said Matt. “You never felt any kind of calling to be part of the action, instead of just sitting on the sidelines as you call it?”
“Nope. Mostly, I didn’t understand all the commotion. Sometimes in person events merged with stuff on television.”
“A real important date when I was in Chandler Junior High. There was a whole lot of commotion that I thought was blown out of proportion. Oh, it was a major milestone; I just didn’t see any need for the fuss.”
“What was that about?”
“TV crew was outside school one day, so all the kids gathered around to see what the deal was. Finally, a big Oldsmobile pulled up and two sweet girls got out carrying books about as big as they were.”
Pete nodded and smiled. “You see, these two young ladies were black. The very first students in Richmond to be part of the integrated school system. I can say black, because I lived through all the identities that at one time or other seemed fair, but changed. Once the term Negro was okay. Before African American. I, myself, always hated the term colored or even worse names. At any rate, these two young women should have always been in school with the rest of us. Hell, they were smarter than the boys on my street that spent their lives in trucks. These young ladies went on to work in careers using their brains. That says something good.”
“It does that. But, you said you did not understand all the commotion and TV coverage of such a historical event.”
“Should have been that way all along. You being a preacher must do a few sermons a year about loving each other.”
“True,” agreed Matt. “Anything else you observed you have feelings about.”
Pete leaned back and took a deep breath, “I’d say one thing that gets under my skin is the way you make a living.”
Matt seemed just slightly offended, “My profession. You realize that is my calling. My ‘something more.”
“Nothing against you, Matt. It’s just there are too many choices. Too many religions. Bet you can’t name them all, and it’s your chosen path.”
Matt sat up, “There’s Christian, Jewish, Buddhism, Muslim, Hindu ....”
“Stop right there pastor. You’re missing the point. Try to Google just Christian religions and you’ll find over thirty three-thousand denominations.”
Matt said nothing.
“Too many choices. See? And, they all muck up the basic idea for believers. And you are a believer, right?”
“Then here is what I have observed from the sidelines. All the noise and endless rituals have nothing to do with what God really wants.”
Matt became very defensive, “And what is that in your opinion?”
“All God wants is a real relationship with you, me, and every other being on this planet.”
“That’s it. That’s the feeling that’s been nagging at me all my life. No one needs all those rules and confessions to some other person. Just try talking to God. That’s a relationship. Everything else is just commotion. Too many choices and only one is needed.”
The two men sat quiet.
Pete sucked his teeth and put his baseball cap back on.
Young Matt stood up, shook his hand, and turned to go.
Before he reached the door he turned back, “Maybe that’s it.”
“What?” asked Pete.
“That message. It could be your purpose. Understanding the relationship may be the thing that’s nagged at you so many years on the sideline. Maybe you should get off the sideline and let more people know.”
“So was Peter in the Bible. That wasn’t always his name. He used to be Simon. Another Jewish name that played big in Christianity. But, Jesus changed his name to Peter because the name means ‘rock.’ That’s why he said that Peter would be the rock to build the Christian faith on. Hmm, the rock. And here you sit on the sidelines with the name Peter Stone.”