One week ago I left home at a few minutes to five on my way to O’hare. It was so early God was still asleep. Imagine my surprise when I saw a white-coated resident chomping up the sidewalk, already late for something, moving too quickly to say good morning. I got to the Green line, took it to the Blue line, seeing that a lot of people were headed places. I grew in my shock since I can’t fathom waking up that early for anything. I did that day, but that was an exception.
I rustled through the line toward airport security, stepping through, worried that I’d miss my flight. I texted the editor I was to meet at the gate. I felt myself sweating because my body knew that I’d be late. He replied that they weren’t doing anything at the gate, that he’d meet me at K4. I looked at my ticket. They were a minute late beginning to board. I scanned the snake of a line in front of me. At least two dozen people were still paralyzed ahead. I sighed. I looked at my phone. I wanted to call somebody important, somebody who could order the security to confirm that I was safe. I had to wait. A few minutes later my editor friend said they were boarding and he’d meet me on the plane. In my head, I saw a very thick door closing. I saw the keypad and the shaking head of a flight attendant apologizing or trying to. I saw a screen listing all the flights to Raleigh and read, in my mind, that I had missed each one.
I asked a few folks if I could get in front of them. They were saints or angels. Really kind, they allowed me to jump ahead. How far is K4, I asked somebody. “Not far,” she said. “You won’t have to run.” I undressed, stood in a space ship with my arms out like a cross, and held my breath like I do when the nurse collects my weight. The lady allowed me through. I got my bags, thankful that they didn’t snatch my deodorant. There was no time to put my shoes on, and I felt the tops of my shoes under my heels as I ran. After starting into a jog, I thought of the woman who said I wouldn’t have to do what I was doing. I thought about the foolishness of missing a conversation with Gardner Taylor because I took too long to put on my belt at the airport. I ran faster, made it to the gate, and was greeted by name by a really nice woman. For a minute, I couldn’t imagine that people could smile that early in the morning. I had probably missed several smiles already. I was barely awake.
It was too early to run through an airport. It was just after seven. The blue-uniformed lady took my wrinkled pass and the apology I gave with it. She opened the thick door after sliding a card into the scanner. I looked into the tunnel, took a deep breath to stop myself from huffing. I thanked her twice. She couldn’t know why I was so grateful.
We spent the entire flight talking–both catching up from our last meeting, talking of our families and our churches and our work, and discussing the interview. Among the many notable things, Marshall said in that conversation was that he wanted me to conduct the interview. He would provide the colorful commentary, but he wanted me to talk to Dr. Taylor. I digested his words with large eyes. This wasn’t exactly a request. It was more of an invitation. It would be a pleasure.
Marshall and I had a couple hours before our appointment with Dr. Taylor. We visited Duke, walking through the University chapel and meandering through the seminary. We poked our heads into Stanley Hauerwas’s office. The door was open but he wasn’t there. I snapped a picture with my phone and sent it to Winston because I knew he’d like that sort of thing. I looked for L. Gregory Jones, and Marshall asked about Jason Byassee. Neither was there, and we concluded that the Seminary was slow to upgrade its directories. We ate lunch and got back to the car to head to our meeting.
When we arrived at his home, Dr. Taylor stepped up to the door and greeted us in that, now familiar, deep and penetrating song of a voice. “Gentlemen,” he sang. “Come in.” He escorted us to his study, told us we were home, and to get comfortable. Even with age crossing his back and shoulders, I could see the strength that God had given the man over the years. He had stood in many pulpits, in churches and chapels, in seminaries and in universities, and he was here behind his desk, opening himself for our questions.