I don’t remember what year it was when Sam called our house. Our triplets were born in 1978. They were probably three or four years old. Sunday mornings were especially busy. My wife, Jane, would fight the clock, trying to get the children ready for Sunday School. I helped a little, but mostly just cleaned up the kitchen, then stayed out of the way.
Our phone rang about 8 a.m. It was a customer of Bank of Dooly, where I worked. I knew him through the bank. Otherwise, we didn’t have any contact.
“Neil,” he said, “This is Sam. You need to come get me out of jail.”
I explained to Sam that getting people out of jail was not something I did, that he would need to call someone else. Sam said he didn’t’ have anyone else, that I was his only option.
I told Sam that I wasn’t coming, but asked why he was in custody. Sam claimed that he had been wrongfully arrested. On Saturday night, he had pulled into MTV, a convenience store at Exit 109. He bought a six pack of beer, then walked to his car.
He got in his car and opened a can of beer, but didn’t take a drink. The policeman took him in. Sam said that was a wrongful arrest as he was on private property, and was not drinking.
Curiosity dictated that I ask why he had opened the can. He said it was for when he got home. He lived eight miles away. His story seemed a bit suspect, but it didn’t really matter. Sam was in jail. I wasn’t about to get him out.
I told Sam that I didn’t know anything about the law, but I felt the Vienna Police Department had a good understanding. I suggested he might not have much to argue about, that maybe he should just relax and enjoy our town’s hospitality. Sam remained insistent that I come.
Sunday morning minutes were allocated with precision. We had none to spare. I had been talking with Sam way too long. I finally reached my limit.
“Sam,” I said sternly, “I want you to listen very carefully to what I’m about to say. I’m going to say it once, then I’m going to hang up the phone. I’m not coming to get you out of jail. You need to call someone else, or either just pretend you’re on vacation.”
I didn’t hang up quickly enough. Sam said, “Neil, you don’t understand. I have to be at work in two hours. The company is downsizing, looking for any reason to fire people. If you don’t get me out of jail, then I’ll lose my job. I won’t be able to make the payments on that Chevette. You’ll have to repossess the car. It has over 90,000 miles on it. We both know it won’t bring half of what’s owed.”
Suddenly, I had a whole new view of the situation. I was tempted to thank Sam for calling. I said, “Sam, pack up your toothbrush. I’m on my way.”
We ran a little bit late getting to church, but Sam got to work right on time. I don’t remember anything from that morning’s Sunday School lesson. I don’t know what the preacher spoke about. But I remember what I learned from Sam.
I learned to be careful when you say you won’t do something. I had told Sam there was no way that I was getting him out of jail. A few minutes later, I was writing a check. Sam kept his job. He paid me back the money for his fine. He paid the bank for the Chevette.
I guess Sam deserved to be in jail that morning, but I know it was for the best that he got out. Sam learned something that weekend about the law. I learned something about grace. I never did thank him for calling me, but I probably should have.
Tomorrow is Easter. It might be a good morning to get up early and watch the Sonrise, to spend some time just thinking about Grace.
(Sam* is an acronym for Substitute Alternative Moniker. I just made that up, but it sounds so authentic that I hated not to use it.)
I love acronyms, once while I was a contractor for the Department of Energy, my Federal counterparts made me test a pipeline that I knew would fail. Apparently they didn’t want to spend the money to fix the pipe. Of course the line failed during the test, rather dramatically, and it cost more to fix than if they had listened to me to start with. I named the test the System Pipeline Integrity Test, or SPLIT, they never figured it out.