Opinion | Biff America: Faith and burritos
It was raining in the Sierras. The ski season was winding down, and the damp weather made the morning better suited for a leisurely breakfast than wet skiing. I hate seeing one person occupying a four-top table when a restaurant is crowded; I didn’t want to be that guy. When I saw what appeared to be another tourist looking around for a place to sit, I invited him to join me.
He carried a breakfast burrito as big as a Chihuahua, a huge piece of gooey coffeecake and a blended drink served in a bucket. I made room for what I assumed would be two or three folks when he murmured, “I’m alone, just hungry.”
My mate and I had already eaten, and she had adjourned to our camper parked on the street, poaching Wi-Fi. I sat inside where the signal was stronger, reading the news online. I wanted to troll the web undisturbed, and my tablemate seemed to sense this. Moreover, I assumed that, considering the amount of food, his mouth would be busy.
After about 10 minutes, I thought I should at least acknowledge his presence, so I asked the cursory questions of his origins and made some casual observations about the weather and closed with, “By the size of that breakfast, you better burn some calories today.”
My breakfast date admitted that he wouldn’t be skiing but rather boarding a church bus for home as soon as he finished his feast.
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“I think the tension of this trip has increased my appetite,” he said. “I believe it is called stress eating.”
It turned out he was a chaperone for a large group from a Christian high school visiting the mountains for a ski vacation.
I made some comment on the challenges of keeping teenagers out of trouble in a ski town. “No wonder you’re stressed.”
He agreed saying, “Christian kids are still kids.” He then said he needed to eat quickly because the group was departing within the hour.
“I hope your group had a good time,” I said.
He looked at me, as if considering if honesty was warranted. “Well, actually it was a difficult week,” he said. “We lost one of our kids.”
“For how long?” I asked.
“Forever,” he said. “He fell down a flight of stairs.”
What can you say to that?
I offered my condolences and asked how the other kids were taking it. He said amazingly well. Though of course they were sad to lose a friend, he said their belief in life-everlasting was so strong that they all just assumed their friend was in a better place. He added that once home, the school would make counselors available.
I had some friends die during my high school years, and I will say a belief in the hereafter did little to sooth me. Certainly, there is tremendous comfort in a belief in an afterlife and a blessing that it can’t be verified or disproved. The last thing I wanted to do was to make this man’s tragedy any more difficult. But figuring I’d never see him again, I decided to pose a serious question after I solicited his permission to do so.
I put down my iPad and said: “I’m not asking what you tell your students, but from one stranger to another, are you utterly certain that the child is in fact in a better place?
He said he was as sure of that as he was that he and I were sitting together.
He admitted he once was a skeptic, but since the Lord had entered his life, he was happier and had complete conviction. I congratulated him but declared that although I’d love to believe in some sort of eternal recompense, like the apostle Thomas, I still have my doubts.
As he got up to leave, he thanked me for inviting him to the table. He added that he hoped one day I would be as convinced as he was.
I envy him and others of his ilk. The comfort that belief provides matters more than whether what they believe is true. But there was no need to put that on the table, so I left it at, “Well, according to the Righteous Brothers, ‘If there is a rock and roll heaven, you know they’ll have a hell of a band.’”
My new friend placed the untouched coffee cake in front of me and responded with a beatific smile, “Damn straight.”
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at email@example.com.
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