An Ant At Tanglewood

Bonnie Chestnut passed away July 20, 2017.

Every now and then a friend comes along and shares an impactful experience. That was Bonnie and the time was many years ago, when I was still in private practice.

That particular day my secretary came back to tell me Bonnie wanted to see me about something non-legal. It had to do with a new church she and her husband, Jerry, and others were starting in Atwood.

After pleasantries, Bonnie said, basically, that their newly planned church was looking for a parsonage. They had little to no money, and they’d heard about this person I knew–let’s call him Jim–owning a house west of Atwood that they’d like to have me convince Jim to gift it to them.

I think I may have laughed, then told her it was highly improbable for a number of reasons. First, I didn’t represent Jim. He used another person as his lawyer, always had, and she ought to go talk to that lawyer. She said, “No. Jim is coming to talk to you. You’re the one to talk him into this.”

Seeing no sense in arguing the obvious, I said “OK. But why would Jim want to give this to you? I mean, is it for sale? Have you even talked to him?”

She replied that she had no idea whether it was even available as she had not talked to Jim. No one had. She just knew Jim was coming to talk to me soon, and that I was the person to convince him to gift it to them.

I thought the request weird, but, hey, Bonnie prays hard, so I told Bonnie I’d do what I could “if Jim showed up.” But I wasn’t going to call him because I wasn’t his attorney. She just smiled and left. And I quickly forgot about it.

I think about a week or two had passed when my secretary came back to say a Mr. Jim was at the window and wanted to talk to me. Now, I’d been in private practice for many years, and Jim had not so much as even stepped in my office during that entire time. Never. Nor had he ever sought my legal advice. So I got a little chill down my spine, but then thought, hey, it might be about something else–maybe he’s selling Girl Scout cookies.

I walked out into the atrium and shook Jim’s hand and asked what I could do for him. He said his attorney was out of town, and he wondered if I could draw him up a quick contract for this house he owned west of Atwood. Said he was going to burn it down then heard of guy who’d move these things away for no cost. Said that sounded smarter, but he was worried about liability and wanted something drawn up to protect him in case of an accident.

Immediately, out of my mouth flowed the following advice, which I had not thought of beforehand. “I know a church that would like that house. Why don’t you have it appraised then gift it to them. Write if off your taxes as a charitable deduction. You make some money. Isn’t that better?” (Wow. Where’d that come from?)

X chewed on that a little bit then said: “By golly, that sounds pretty good.”

We talked about the details, then he left. I stood there stunned at what had just transpired, then called Bonnie to announce the good news. She simply said “thank you.” Didn’t seem surprised. I said “Aren’t you surprised this actually happened the way it did? I mean, this sounds like something out of The Twilight Zone.” She replied that “no” she was not surprised. She knew that this was how it was going to work out.

I hung up, a little flummoxed, thinking, well, Bonnie might not be surprised, but I’m knock-me-over-with-a-feather shocked to the socks.

I drafted the documents, gave them to X, and that was that. I never gave legal advice to X again. He never came into my legal office again. Never even talked about the matter again. It was like it never happened.

Last week, coming back from Springfield, I drove by the house that was the object of this long ago transaction. And told Beck the story. Then I walked into my house, picked up the paper and read Bonnie’s obituary. There it was again: the serendipitous chill.

And I think, how do I understand this? The debate always reduces down to philosophy: Is reality limited to physical properties and causes, as scientific naturalism believes? Or does a transcendent possibility beyond matter and energy–God–exist?

Ultimate questions cannot, of course, be answered with logical precision or scientific method–by our tiny human brain and its limited reach for ultimate truth. Sometimes, I think, it helps to gain a proper frame of reference in matters like this. As my good friend Tibor explained one day as we watched an ant dragging a bit of leaf across the concrete sidewalk: “What do you think that that ant knows of the Boston Symphony playing at Tanglewood (a music festival in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts)? What do you think you know of heaven?”

And I thought of an ant skittering across the forest floor in western Massachusetts, within a few feet of the Boston Pops playing at Tanglewood, the orchestra producing the powerful, melodic thunder rolls to heaven of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony–shaking the very ground upon which the ant walks. The ant’s sense of hearing picks up the incredibly moving sounds. And for a moment the ant is transported to another place besides the raw and brutal floor of the muddy forest. The ant senses another world, senses a realm untethered to sky and earth, free of the limitations of gravity and the inexorable march of decay and death–a divine place that excites the ant’s imagination and fuels hope.

From time to time, I am that ant at Tanglewood, sensing the divine foundation for all creation shaking under my feet, which calms my earthly anxiety and generates a peace that “transcends all understanding.”

mike carroll