Life’s Little Surprises

I consider myself a cultured man but I don’t have enough money to be cultured enough. Growing up poor in northern Brazil I didn’t have any of the natural advantages of kids born to nobility. So I knew one thing for sure — education was my ticket out of poverty. So from the time I was little, I had no option but to excel in school.

Without the built-in advantages, the public library was the best I could do. So after school, I spent many hours reading whatever was available in the little library in my town. I always thought of that place as a sanctuary. I remember excerpts of poems from the famous Brazilian poet Castro Alves, stamped right atop the façade of the building: “Oh blessed be the one who sows/ books, books, by the handful/ and commands the people to think.” “A book falling upon the soul/ like a germ that makes a palm tree/ a rain that makes the sea.”

Going to that hot, musky place of learning was like a ritual. I soaked in all the learning I could and dreamed of intellectual prowess unknown to man. One moment I was Don Quixote; another, Dante Alighieri. Since my family didn’t have money to pay for preparatory school to enter the university, I got my education on my own, between the library — an odd place that didn’t even loan books — and my own efforts getting my hands on whatever I could. I entered the university at 17 and vowed that nothing would stop me.

But then I ended up being a poor missionary, heading back to the public libraries of this world. I was living from paycheck to paycheck, so high culture came in small installments — an occasional trip to the theater with my daughters, a concert here and there, and lots of free lectures at local colleges.

But from time to time God gives you a break. I was living in L.A. and whenever I would come to Ohio I would stay at my sister’s house. On one of those trips I was driving, listening to an NPR station, when I heard that Itzhak Perlman was going to perform at E. J. Thomas Hall in Akron, Ohio. My head began to spin. Ever since I was introduced to his work on the sound track of Schindler’s List, I was enthralled. I wanted to have a chance to see him perform one day.

Then my chance came. But when I called the ticket office, I had sticker shock. $50 for a ticket in the back of the theater. Abort dream. Without missing a beat I began to plan for my road trip to Indiana, where I would be speaking at a church in a town called Berne. I drove there on Saturday and came back Sunday afternoon after church.

On Monday I started packing for my return trip. As I was folding my suit to put it in my bag, I went through the pockets, something I never do. To my surprise, I found a spanking new fifty dollar bill. I had no idea where it had come from. Then I remembered: Some guy had thanked me for my message. He was moved, he said. And he must have made a fast move too! He slipped that bill into my pocket. At least that was the only explanation I could come up with.

The concert was on Tuesday and my flight was on Wednesday morning. I didn’t hesitate. I called the ticket office and ordered my ticket. I went in early to take in the lecture from one of the professors at Akron University. Moments later, there he was, alone on stage with his violin. It was as if my spirit had been elevated to another dimension. Unforgettable.

James said that God is the one who gives us “good and perfect gifts.” Now, I know that life is not always filled with Itzhak Perlman’s moments, but when it is, it makes it all worth it. Thank God for the little surprises in life.

“… He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” (Paul in Acts 14:17, speaking to people who didn’t even believe in the God of the Bible).

Ivanildo C. Trindade

P.S. Do you have a similar story? I would love to hear about it!