Things seemed pretty hopeless that day, and the weather wasn’t helping. It was gray and windy, early spring. I was sitting in my van, waiting outside the school to pick up my 9-year-old son, but my thoughts were a million miles away, in the same spot that they usually were. I was unemployed, and when you’re unemployed, all you can think about is money; as in, where am I going to get the money to pay my bills? Not just the bills coming up, but the bills that are already overdue, the bills I’m getting calls about all day, every day, every hour. I dreaded those calls to the point that I actually jumped whenever the phone rang. The stress is unrelenting and it grinds away at your soul, lives in the pit of your stomach.
As I sat there obsessing on my dire financial situation, despairing in the knowledge that none of my resumes were being answered, the van door quickly slid open and my son bounded into his seat. I looked back at him. He was wearing a huge smile, beaming with pride.
“Dad! Dad! We played sparkle today and Bryce came in second.”
“Oh, that’s nice, Sam.”
He grinned. “Wanna know who came in first?”
“Sure”, I said, playing along.
“I did, Dad! And look what I got!” He reached into his backpack and produced a blue piece of paper. “It’s a coupon for a free ice cream cone!”
“Wow, Sam! That’s great!”
To Sam, getting an ice cream cone was like winning the lottery. All was well in his world! His excitement gave me a moment in life to savor, a moment when I could share in his happiness. And with that, we were off to Dairy Queen; he with his coupon and I with a smile. It was a huge emotional lift, just when I needed it most.
I’ve got a great job now and things are much better, but I’ll never forget that moment. It’s great to have a son to spend time with.
Lately, one of our favorite things to do together is watch the British TV program Dr. Who. It’s the story of a 900-year-old alien called “The Doctor”, who has a space ship / time machine that can take him and his companions to anywhere in space and time. It’s a great show, always renewing itself. Every week’s destination is a whole new world with new dangers to overcome. Even the actor who plays The Doctor changes every so many years (in the story, The Doctor can “regenerate” his body, which gives him a new appearance).
The current Doctor is Matt Smith. He’s the youngest actor to ever play the part, 26. And he’s my favorite. His Doctor wears a tweed jacket and a bow tie. It’s a somewhat eccentric outfit, but not so eccentric that he looks ridiculous and stands out wherever he goes (Yes, I’m looking at you Colin Baker). He matches his look with gangly mannerisms and a quirky personality which helps to accentuate his alien nature. Matt Smith captures The Doctor’s true essence.
One thing I found very interesting about Smith was that he grew up during Doctor Who’s long hiatus (between 1989 and 2005) and had never really even watched the show before he decided to audition for the part. In fact, growing up he didn’t even want to be an actor.
He wanted to be a soccer player, a footballer, and he was really good. His dream had never been to play The Doctor, it was to be a member of a professional soccer team. I’m sure he prayed quite often that he would one day be able to achieve this goal, but an injury to his back ended his sports career prematurely. It must’ve been a crushing disappointment. But I think we can all learn something from his experience, especially in the times when we feel as though the bottom has just fallen out of our world.
Everyone has dreams. Everyone prays to achieve them. Sometimes, the answer is “Yes”, like in the case of Smith’s predecessor in the role of The Doctor, David Tennant. Tennant wanted to play The Doctor from the time he was three. He surely prayed hard for many years to play The Doctor and he got his wish.
Prayers aren’t always answered with a “Yes”, though. But I think “No” is a little more nuanced than we realize. Sometimes, it’s a case of “No, not yet.” Maybe you’re just not ready to handle it right now. A college friend and I used to joke that maybe God was handling such heavy traffic volume, that it would take Him several years to get around to answering a prayer, especially the lower priority ones. So if you prayed for a Snickers bar when you were 6, you may not get it until you’re 46 (by which time you’d completely forgotten about asking for it in the first place!).
In Matt Smith’s case, the answer was “No, here’s something better.” By playing The Doctor, he brings happiness to millions of fans all over the world. Fans like myself and my son. As a cartoonist, I know how hard it can be to balance silly with serious in a character. Matt Smith makes it look effortless. By playing The Doctor, he has surely surpassed anything he had hoped to achieve on the soccer field. Without the injury, he would never have achieved his fullest potential.
One day Sam and I were at a mall waiting for my wife to finish with her shopping. On our way to sit down in the food court, we passed a vending machine and Sam asked me if he could get a Snickers bar. He’d been really good that day and I wanted to reward him, so I used the only dollar I had on me and made my selection. Much to my surprise, an extra Snickers fell off of the rotating coil and two candy bars fell to the bottom to be picked up. Jackpot!
As we sat there bonding in the food court, enjoying our Snickers bars and talking about the Daleks, I realized that this must’ve been the candy bar I prayed for all those years ago. And the wonderful moment I was sharing with my son was God’s answer – “No, here’s something better.”
So just remember Matt Smith if your life seems to have jumped the rails. Sometimes blessings come in very convincing disguises. These are hard times and I’m sure the heavenly switchboard is fairly overloaded at the moment. But your answer is coming.
“Trust me. I’m The Doctor!”