The last time Steve wore a yarmulke, his voice was cracking like a cheap clarinet and he was still growing out of clothing. Decades later, his hesitant footsteps didn’t stop as he walked into the open sanctuary of his childhood synagogue.
The ceiling’s cavernous height rose to immeasurable proportions. Majestic stained-glass windows illuminated by the sun bathed the large room in multi-hued patches. The fractured designs of combined bold colors was meant to overwhelm and inspire the penitent congregant, but to Steve’s adult eyes, heart, and mind, they retained their child-like magnificence.
Next to the doorway sat a basket of complementary yarmulkes of various designs, like a small quilt of random events meshed together. His eyes focused on a light blue and grey pattern, and he pulled the skull cap from the basket. A sticker on the underside attributed it to “Max’s Bar Mitzvah,” six months prior. He laid it atop his half-bald head and walked into the almost-empty room.
“Hi,” a soft voice called out from the front. It was the kind of dulcet greeting one hoped to hear the first day of kindergarten.
“Sorry, am I allowed to—” Steve began to ask.
“Anyone and everyone,” the woman said. She had a sweet porcelain face, with eyes as inviting as gemstones and a demure smile of reserved peace. “What brings you in today?”
“I don’t know,” Steve said, walking up the aisle toward the front where she sat. “This is the first time I’ve ever been in here without an event or an invitation in hand.”
Her smile remained as he proceeded in. “And why today?”
“Why the first time in twenty years?” Steve confessed.
She smiled and said, “I’ve seen this many times before. You have the look of someone with something on his mind.”
Steve closed the distance between the two of them in cautious silence, his face pinched with discomfort and anguish.
“I guess I do. It’s bad out there, and I didn’t know where else to go,” he said softly, like he was delivering unfortunate news. He sat down in the pew on the opposite side of the aisle, parallel to where the woman sat. He tugged at his t-shirt. “Sure it’s okay? You’re dressed all respectful, and I look like I’m headed to the mall.”
“Oh, I don’t care,” she said, looking down at her light beige pantsuit. “I dress like this so often, I don’t even notice what I put on when and for whom anymore. Besides, I like that band, so I think you’re fine.”
“You know them too?” Steve asked, his eyes glimmering beneath raised eyebrows as he looked down at his shirt. “I thought I was the only one.”
“Mm hmm,” she said with a nod. “So, you say it’s bad out there?”
He exhaled, rescinding his joy of hidden-treasure ska bands as his smile shrunk back inside. “I’m really losing hope… in everything, in everyone. It all seems so bleak these days.”
“Feels that way.”
“Global warming,” he said with a shrug.
“Nobody’s making movies for me anymore,” he said, lifting the mood with a slight chuckle.
His smile washed away and his eyes glassed over.
“We’re so divided… we’re filled with hate… We’re unhealthy, we’re egotistical, we’re selfish, we’re killing each other, we’re…”
“I get it,” she said, maintaining her voice of calm and peace. “There are days it feels really overwhelming.”
“And despite the laws put in place, and the officials we elect, and the communities we support, and the beliefs we get behind, shit just falls apart… Oh man, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to curse.”
“I say it all the time,” she said with a laugh.
“We’re living in the Wild West. No one is held accountable, no one is found guilty of their crimes, and all the bad shit keeps happening, day after day, all over the place. It’s endless.”
“You know that’s not entirely accurate,” she said, leaning her head forward. “Good things are happening, too. Plus, bad people are getting suspended, fired, apprehended, arrested. The system still works… more or less. The right people are trying to be in the right place at the right time working for all the people… but not everyone sees it that way.”
“Exactly,” Steve said, turning to face her directly. “And then another piece of crap takes their place. Wash, rinse, repeat. An endless cycle.”
“Yeah,” she said as she leaned back into her own pew. “I haven’t figured that one out yet either. But I know who’s in charge.”
“And who’s that?” he asked.
Steve snorted, his body convulsing with a single, nasal response. “Me? Who the hell am I? I’m not an elected official, or an influencer, or GOD! I’m some random dude named ‘Steve.’”
“And ‘Random Steve’ can make things happen for himself, for me, for all of us, if ‘Random Steve’ wants to. It’s all random when you think about it, just like Max’s bar mitzvah yarmulke that randomly sat atop the pile in the basket that now sits on your head. Like us right now, random. We’ve never spoken before, yet here we are.”
“What am I supposed to do with that?” Steve asked. “I’m in charge? I’m the president, or king for the day?”
“You’re in charge of your world, the things you can control, your feelings, your actions. From your point of view, everything else is a coincidental convergence of this and that and the other thing… I hope all of that is accompanied by something yummy.”
“It’s odd,” Steve said, with a half smile and tilted head. “I feel like I’ve spoken to you before. Have we met?”
“I get that a lot,” the woman said. “Who knows? There’s a lot of random people out there, right?”
Steve looked away, considering the incredible math the woman suggested, before asking, “Is God on the job? Is he going to do something about all this?”
“She is,” the woman said.
The woman smiled and stood, holding her hand up, as a request for Steve to remain seated, which he did. “Thank you for this little talk, Random Steve. I needed it too.”
The woman brushed her clothes down, smoothing out wrinkles and folds from sitting, and began walking up the aisle towards the exit.
“Thank you, rabbi,” Steve said over his shoulder.
“I’m not a rabbi,” she said over hers.
“Are you a congregant?”
“Something like that.”
“Do you work here?”
“I’m on the job.”