Epiphany James

My hotel room looks out on the old Washington Public Library.
My hotel room looks out on the old Washington Public Library.
I am now at the NAAL in Washington, DC. When I arrived at 10:30 Wednesday night, I called a Lyft ride to get from the airport to the hotel. James came to get me, a black man in a gray sedan. It’s a challenge to rideshare after 10 pm, because I’ve always been taught to fear being alone in a car with a stranger late at night – let alone a black stranger in a large and unfamiliar city. But I like ridesharing, and I want to overcome this fear I’ve been taught, so I do it. I am stubborn. I also stubbornly walked alone at night in Chicago when I lived there.

I still haven’t quite worked out the etiquette of ridesharing services (partly because it’s incompletely developed), but the drivers always seem very friendly – they get rated on their service. James had a polite but reserved smile and a firm handshake, and apologetically told me he would have put my luggage in the car himself.

One of the reasons I like rideshares is that the drivers, if you want to talk to them, are often interesting and chatty. James was willing to tell me about some of his interesting experiences driving, which he’s been doing full time for over a year. We speculated for a little while on why New Year’s Eve 2015 was better money for him than New Year’s Eve 2016.

Then we drove through the Mall, and on the far side, James spotted a 50-foot-tall Christmas tree in one of the green spaces. “They still got the Christmas tree up!”

…Always a liturgist, right? I thought. I’ll bite.

“Well, it’s still Christmas!”

“That’s right, isn’t it?” he marveled. “Twelve days of Christmas and all. And I was born on the twelfth.”

“You were! On Epiphany,” I said, “January 6?”

“That’s right. And what’s that word mean, anyway?”

So I told James about Epiphany – the baptismal feast, the feast of the magi, and the feast of great enlightenment and inspiration. “So that’s it!” he cried. “I always knew it must mean something, being born on the twelfth day of Christmas, but I never knew what.”

When I got out of the car, James had a very different kind of smile. What I said was small, but it filled a space for him. His joy had filled a space for me, too. We shook hands, and he told me that it was important that we met. I told him I would always think of him as Epiphany James.

And I do think of him as Epiphany James. Because fear doesn’t have to win. Perfect love casts out fear, but even imperfect love can get you into a car with a stranger so you can both have an epiphany.