I was in my twenties and working yet another dead end job. You know how it is. Overworked. Overtired. Undervalued.
I simply could not believe that this was all there was to life. And then what? Death. Oblivion. So it was this and then that. Wow.
Or was there a Heaven to look forward to? Who knew? And what good was Heaven if we couldn’t count on it?
I decided it was time to demand a little more from the Deity.
I had not prayed since childhood. But that day, during my lunch break, I formulated what seemed like a reasonable request:
God, You have given me many trials and tribulations. I can make it through these. But I need to know that You exist. I just need to know.
I was surprised by the immediate response. Words resounded through my body like thunder.
YOU DON’T GET TO KNOW.
Startled, I looked up at the sky, which admittedly was blocked by the ceiling of a Blimpie’s. “Okay,” I said, chastened. “I don’t need to know everything. But it would help if I had something. Please send a sign. Just one little sign. Something to suggest that there’s a God. A God who loves and is good.”
DON’T SET TESTS.
“Tests for whom?” I said slyly. “Tests for You? For you, God…?”
DON’T GET CUTE.
I tried some more, but that was it. No more conversations with thunder. Had I imagined it? What other explanation was there?
I finished my sandwich and went back to my cubicle. Like most of my fellow workers I had set up an elaborate structure of boxes and blankets to make it seem a little more like an office. Now it was basically a cross between a tent, a cave, and hell. I spent the afternoon in this darkness dragging files into folders and thinking about Yahweh.
Arguably it had been be a little odd to ask God for anything like a sign. The universe itself was something, no? And life? Wasn’t life itself a miracle? Couldn’t that have been the sign of his omnipotence? And his goodness?
If God existed as commonly described, it followed that everything around me was a sign of His creative powers—and now He was supposed to create some additional sign? Like throw a hundred dollar bill on the sidewalk, just for me? Or send a stranger my way with – oh, I don’t know, an unexpected job offer?
To put it another way: let’s say God had created the universe, including the laws of physics and probability, and intended that to be a sign to EVERYONE. Now He was supposed to violate those very laws as a sign to ME?
No, I had no right to expect something that illogical. But was Heaven logical? Not really. Maybe that was the point! Maybe God had erred in making the universe so logical, so tightly bound, so unstintingly rational, so governed by unassailable laws, such that a person with a brain could find it impossible to believe that anything outside the universe existed. Maybe I needed more mystery. More miracles. Maybe I needed water to run uphill once in a while, or for lead to turn into gold before my eyes. Maybe that would make it easier to believe that anything—even heaven!—could be true. And that I could depend on my senses, which had told me that there were exceptions, and not just my feelings, which were mere hopes that that might be the case.
Wow. It seemed that my personal vanity knew no bounds. In one afternoon I had gone from doubting God’s existence because of the world’s imperfections to believing that His commitment to perfection had made it impossible to believe, and that therefore it was now incumbent upon Him to prove himself to me. To me! Jacke Wilson! It was absurd.
It was as if Picasso had painted himself into a corner. And I, with no painting skills whatsoever, were there to point fingers and laugh.
When the afternoon finally ended I left the office, exhausted from yet another agonizing day, relieved to be finished but already dreading the hours I would spend alone at home, which if anything was worse than my job.
My drive took me around a lake. I could see my neighborhood across the water. I was living in the Pacific Northwest at the time, and the views were extraordinary.
And on that day, the very day I had challenged the Supreme Being, I saw through my windshield a great rainbow arcing across the lake and appearing to terminate on the other side, where I was headed.
Hah… a rainbow! A traditional sign! His preferred means of communication. What was next, tablets? A burning bush?
I turned down the radio and chuckled to myself. Ask for a sign, see a rainbow. Well, maybe there was something to it. Maybe I needed to stop complaining all the time. We got what we got. Maybe that was enough.
These extraordinary views, for example. Weren’t THOSE signs that life was good? Shouldn’t THOSE have been enough? And I got to look at those twice each day for fifteen to twenty minutes, depending on traffic and the lights.
I was in a better frame of mind now. This rainbow was spectacular, brighter and more vivid than other rainbows I’d seen. It looked more like a painting than a misty mirage. And as I curved around the lake, I began driving straight toward it. In fact it looked like as it were ending right in my neighborhood. Like a child I imagined I would be able to see the point where it touched the ground. What would THAT be like? Ha ha, maybe a pot of gold.
Wait a second…
A sign! I had asked for a sign! A pot of gold would certainly qualify!
But that was superstition. In my heart I knew the truth. The rainbow itself was the sign. The promise. The covenant. Noah. Et cetera.
It almost felt insulting. A rainbow? I was supposed to see a rainbow as a sign? Oh, how quaint. As if I were some old shepherd, one step removed from worshiping the sun or believing in gods who lived on a mountaintop – some prehistoric simpleton who could be mollified by primitive explanations. A rainbow is a message. Oh sure. And the stars are pinpricks in the floor of Heaven. And the sun and the moon chase each other around the earth in fiery chariots…
In some ways it would be nice if I thought that way. Because I, trapped in modern thinking, was already starting to rationalize. Well, it rains a lot here, light gets refracted…perfectly logical and scientific explanation…
Fine. I could spoil things with science.
But even so…a rainbow that appeared to end in my neighborhood? This bright? On this day, the first day I had prayed in twenty years?
I was warming to the idea that this was too special, the coincidence too extraordinary to be mere science alone!
And as I got closer, the rainbow got bigger. This was getting crazy. Reality was transforming. And I had not been mistaken: the thing was coming down in my neighborhood…
I exited the highway with a pounding heart. The rainbow, thick and dazzling, dominated the heavens.
And as I approached my home, driving through the familiar side streets, the improbability grew even stronger. The rainbow was nearly vertical, arcing down directly in front of my windshield. And yes, it was ending in my neighborhood, of that there could be no question…and in fact in my subdivision…on my street…
I turned the corner and gasped. I could see the rainbow’s end. And it ended at my house.
My eyes watered. The sign! Oh, thank you, thank you, thank You…
My hands were trembling; I could barely drive. What would be at my house? A pot of gold? But no, that was greed again. Come on, Jacke! That was too much to ask. It would just be this, the knowledge that prayers could be answered heaven existed. That was enough, oh, that was enough!
But—who was I kidding?—I also wanted a pot of gold. Something metaphoric if not literal. I wanted a change. I felt changed. If God had chosen to reveal himself to me—to me, Jacke Wilson, poor sucker—surely he did not want me to drag files into folders for the rest of my life! My chest swelled with energy and pride.
What did any of this mean? Did it matter? It meant good things! It had to mean good things!
As I eased the car closer, my heart racing with anticipation, I noticed something odd. Water was running down the street, along the curb. But this water was full of colors. Was this what a rainbow looked like at ground level? Was the light still refracting, down here? Was it an optical illusion?
I reached my house. The colors – there’s no other way to describe it – flowed down my driveway. It was like water coming out of a hydrant except it wasn’t water. It was lighter somehow, more full of air. And red and orange and yellow and all the rest.
This was from the rainbow? I parked my car in the street and ran toward my house.
I was halfway up the drive when my front door burst open. A tidal wave of colors crashed on the front step and spilled across the lawn, submerging it in a deep, swirling pool. The colors continued to pour out of my house, like a river charging over its banks. It came up to my knees. A chair bobbed past. As I stood there, helpless, I saw my kitchen table and all my other things, drifting away, down the driveway, into the street, toward the end of the block.
Now I could see what had happened. The rainbow had blasted a hole through my roof. Colors poured down from the sky, coming down hard like some thick laser beam. It filled my house with a raging sea of colors, until my doors and windows finally burst from the pressure.
I fought my way up the sidewalk and into the front door. The colors were something between air and water, heavier than mist or a cloud, but not by much. They swirled around, each color full of its own energy, curling up and around one another like airy serpents before joining a busy pool that rushed through the room, lifting objects and carrying them out on a surging tide.
“No, stop!” I cried. “I—what do you want? I get it, I get it!”
But of course I didn’t get it at all. Was the voice angry? Resentful that I had asked for too much? That I had expressed doubts?
I waited. The voice was silent. The silence itself seemed to be communicating something, but I could not tell if it was sullenness or amusement. My memory of my lunchtime conversation (“DON’T SET TESTS”) resounded in my ears.
The colors continued to pour down on me and my house like an enormous spigot on full blast. My feet lifted off the ground; I had to swim into the kitchen, directly under the hole.
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” I cried. But it didn’t stop. The sea of colors reached the top of the room. I thought I might drown. I bobbed upward, battling toward the ceiling, expecting to go under at any time. My hair was plastered to the sides of my head; whether this was from sweat or the mist and steam of the colors I did not know.
With six inches to go the spigot suddenly shut off, like a miracle (or perhaps the ending of one). As the colors ebbed out of my house I descended to the floor, flailing my arms and gasping for air, wondering if I was trapped in some awful dream, wondering if it was truly over.
The next morning I called my insurance company and explained what had happened. The representative made an exasperated gargling sound and hung up on me in mid-sentence. This, from a company famous for its customer service!
Angrily I called back. “Don’t hang up on me please,” I said. “I’m a paying customer. I’ve never bothered you before, except for the time when that guy on the bicycle ran into my car… And I chose you because of your customer service.”
This time the woman heard me out. “Well, that’s a new one,” she said after I’d finished. “A, uh, rainbow attacked your house. Listen, was there any damage?”
Damage? It was complete devastation! “There’s a hole in the roof about eighteen inches wide,” I said, peering up at the circle of sky I could see from my kitchen. “The windows are blown out and the front door is off its hinges. The walls and carpet are gray, and everything I own is in the sewer.”
“Yeah, gray. The colors from the rainbow leeched the color out of everything they touched. It makes more sense when you see it happen. In fact,” I reflected, “it would probably seem odd if that hadn’t happened.”
“Mmm. Why did you put your things in the sewer?”
I understood that my story was unusual—completely unprecedented, no doubt—but I could not believe I had to explain this. “I didn’t put them there,” I said. “The colors took them there.”
“Couldn’t you have grabbed them? As they, um, floated past you? On their way to the sewer?”
“Of course not!”
“Why not?” She was speaking very slowly. “Would it…have made…the colors…angry?”
“Don’t be ridiculous!” I said. “It was all I could do to keep my head above the surface! I was fighting for my life!”
There was a long pause. Finally I asked if she planned to send someone over that day.
“I…we might need to do that. You’ll be there? By yourself?”
“Well, I’m not going to work!”
“That’s probably wise,” she said, as if to herself.
She asked me if I would stay on hold for a minute. She asked this several times, then overexplained what it meant to be on hold, promising again and again that she would be right back and I shouldn’t hang up, until it began to seem as if she were either tracing the call or concerned for my personal safety. How could I blame her? I would have thought I was crazy too, or tripping on something or other, had I not been sitting in an empty kitchen, on a bleached-out carpet, with birds dive-bombing me through a rainbow-sized hole in the roof.
Was a demon imp deceiving me? Possibly! But it all seemed very real. It was more than a feeling. These were my senses I was relying on here.
She came back on the line. “Thank you for holding. It turns out that this is a fairly easy one,” she said.
“You think I’m crazy?”
“I don’t have to go that far,” she said. “Your policy doesn’t cover Acts of God.”
I felt a surge of excitement. “Oh wow,” I said. “Is that what it was? That’s your official position?”
“What else could it have been?”
I couldn’t think of anything to say.
I hung up the phone and went outside. The grass was gray. Even my car was gone. Carried off. Probably in the lake by now. I had no possessions and would not be reimbursed.
But how could I complain? I had my sign and had my god.
Getting stranger! It’s hard to know where these come from sometimes. Real-life experience? Perhaps. And before you blame me for blasphemy, just ask who has a better deal? Jacke, who has his god? Or God, who’s stuck with Jacke Wilson? I think that answers itself! You can read more about the objects that have led up to this one by visiting the 100 Objects page. More about faith and belief in #18 – The Monopoly Game Piece. More about dead-end jobs in #3 – The Blood Cake. Oh, and another sign from the sky in #9 – The Spitwad (don’t miss that one!) And of course, you can run through a chase of a different sort in The Race (trailing behind a doomed politician recovering from a sex scandal) or The Promotion (insane lawyer chases down an obsession). Free copies available for all my reviewers—just drop me an email or leave me a comment, and I’ll ship one out. Or you can skip this kind of thing and read about Camus in Love or Charlotte Brontë Not in Love. Onward and upward, people! (And no, I won’t be embedding the Double Rainbow video…some memes are just too painful…)
Image Credit: actionforspace.com