Monday, December 13, 2010

"Comfort and Joy"

Part 3 of this story series ...

No surprise -- the judge found "Bonnie" guilty after a week-long trial. Yes, Bonnie had opted for a judge trial over a jury trial, which amazed me. But after Joy explained Bonnie's logic that a jury of her peers would never believe her story, it made sense. That said, even Bonnie's good looks and scripted prairie-girl innocence didn't faze that Maxwell-House-drinking judge in the slightest. When he brought that gavel down, the girl was gone for years behind a wall of prison steel.

As for Joy, the trial had awakened a need for more permanency in her employment status. She was a correspondent, which is a fancy word for "freelancer" for her newspaper. My newspaper editors knew they'd glean a jewel if they could swipe her, so they offered her a full-time job with benefits as a senior reporter.

She took it.

Suddenly, I found that my competitor was in my own newsroom as a colleague. And I couldn't have been more excited.

While other women reporters looked askance at Joy's leggy size 4 body and whispered among themselves that she was probably sleeping with sources to get her scoops, I was enthralled. Joy was the epitome of the news reporter I aspired to be. Panache doesn't quite cover it, actually.

Joy could smooth-talk and coddle the toughest of sources, when other reporters would just get a grunt if they were lucky.

She'd sashay into a meeting of the county commissioners like Princess Grace on a cloud, mesmerizing men and drawing dagger looks from women. She'd whisper-talk in her femininely evocative way, oozing Southern honey to camouflage loaded, vinegar-laced questions.

And she always received the answers. To anything.

Joy made it her mission to mentor me, giving me insights not only on the local personalities, but also on human behavior in general. She taught me how to mine gems of quotes and transform the saltiest character into a sugar plum.

We never discussed God in those early months of our friendship. Every chat revolved around our profession, and Joy gave me the keys to reporting a story with style. An old Irish saying goes that, "An Irishman can tell you to go to hell and make you look forward to the trip." Pretty much, that summed up Joy, and she imparted her secrets to me on how to pull that off.

But the depth of my friendship with Joy continued to expand, after my father told me that he had less than a year to live.

At age 25, the concept of life without my father was unimagined.

Joy was there for me at every turn of my father's illness. She kept my spirits up on days when I didn't think I'd ever smile again. She'd gently encourage me and offer her shoulder for me when I didn't think I'd ever be able to put two words together on deadline. She showed me how to keep my focus on the job and compartmentalize the grief so that I could perform at top speed.

It was during this time of comfort from Joy that the whole "God subject" came up.

"What do you see happening to your dad after he passes away?" Joy suddenly asked me one day over a steaming coffee cup at a local haunt.

The question caught me off guard at first, but when I looked up from my plate of spaghetti into her gaze, I immediately knew what she was trying to ask.

"He'll be in Heaven. With God," I answered simply.

"And you really believe that, don't you?" she pressed.

"Yes. I really believe that."

Joy sighed, cast her eyes down at the coffee and tapped her index finger against the side of the cup. It was the first time I'd ever seen her drop the cool facade.

She looked back up at me.

"If that brings you comfort, you should keep believing it."

"You don't believe that?"

"No. I think this life is the end of life. There's nothing more after this. I don't think God exists. But I'm glad that you do. I'm glad you find comfort in believing that at a time like this."

I wasn't sure how to respond. She sincerely meant it, and I knew her words weren't supposed to be insulting. But I also saw that in her own way, Joy was pitying me.

And yet, she didn't know that even though I was facing my own personal tragedy, I was the one pitying her.

Tune in for part 4 of the story of how my atheist friend became a Christian ...

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