This afternoon in the tea aisle at an HMart, I spotted an old colleague from behind, wearing his yarmulke. I called him by name "Isaac?" (not his real name) He turned around and we smiled at one another and chatted for several minutes. He said he was looking for a certain kind of tea, but he only knew its name in Korean. I found a Korean-speaking employee for him and we figured out it was barley tea he was looking for.
I hadn't seen Isaac, a married father of three, in months. We stopped working together years ago. In March, he was charged with sexually assaulting two teenaged girls.
I started our conversation by talking about our recent family vacation and how our older son had become interested in cyclocross. There was a slight pause. I told him how sorry I was for the difficulties he was facing. He took a big breath, then told me he had decided to take a plea bargain, to avoid bankrupting his family emotionally and financially.
Years ago, when my faith was tenuous, I would not have initiated such a conversation. I likely would have run into another aisle and prayed Isaac wouldn't see me. I would have been afraid of the reality before me. Also, I would have felt compelled to determine for myself his guilt or innocence.
Now that my faith is strong, I believe God puts people in our paths for a reason. I was supposed to run into Isaac and have a conversation with him. I am supposed to be praying for him now. I have no idea if the charges against him are true or not. I do not know the secrets of his heart. And I do not feel any burden to determine that. God knows.
When we were colleagues, Isaac and I often had conversations about our spirituality, about our mutual understanding that a Presence was overseeing our lives. So our conversation this afternoon was similar to many we have had.
Isaac and I chatted about the impact the charges have had on his life. I asked him what he was going to do with his life going forward. "Well first," he said. "I am going to prison." When he gets out, he told me, he will be listed a registered sex offender.
What moved me about the conversation is how Isaac's faith in God is sustaining him. He told me he is attending synagogue every day, and feels supported by his faith community and his rabbi. He told me the charges have drawn him deeper and deeper into his spiritual life.
As we headed to the cash register, Isaac told me he feels good that his relationships with his children, his wife, his faith community, with the people who matter to him, are all right. I asked him if he felt all right within himself. "I am okay because I am okay with HaShem (a Jewish word for God)" he said, pointing upward. "And that is what matters." He told me he believes that no matter what he is facing, HaShem is with him.
When it came time to say goodbye, Isaac told me, "I don't hug or shake hands with people any more." So I offered to give him a "virtual high five," (a high five without touching), something I give my students. I told him to please give my love to his wife. He offered his regards to my family.
Then Isaac walked out of HMart and into the rest of his life.