MEET ME AT THE MEN'S STORE
Paying my way through Ohio State University was demanding, but the benefit was worth the struggle. My father had died during my senior year in high school, and my mother had become blind. With her encouragement, however, I enrolled in the University on the eve of the Great Depression. By night I was a taxi driver, and during the lunch and dinner hours I waited on tables in a campus dining hall. I made enough to pay my expenses, but I had to always pinch pennies.
At lunch one day I was serving a table where faculty members were seated. As I returned to the table with my tray held high, the unthinkable happened! I slipped on a spot of gravy on the floor and watched helplessly as the plates slid off the tray, spilling onto an especially well dressed man, one of my professors.
My heart sank. What could I do to atone? I grabbed a towel to clean up the food, but I only spread the mess over more of my professor's suit. He locked his eyes on me and asked, "Mr. Leonard, what are you going to do about this?"
"I'm so sorry, sir. I'll pay to have your suit cleaned," I responded.
"I don't believe this suit can be dry cleaned, do you?" my professor countered.
It was badly stained. I could tell that. And who was I to question his judgment? He had every right to be irritated. "Whatever it takes, sir," I answered. And for the moment we left the matter at that.
Later that afternoon the extend of the damage was even more obvious. I sat before the same professor in his engineering class as he did his best to present his normal lecture in something less than his usual splendor. When the bell rang I heard the dreaded words: "Paul Leonard, I'd like to speak to you for a moment."
After everyone else had left, he said simply, "Mr. Leonard, I believe it is only fair that you buy me a new suit."
"Yes, sir," I managed. With a knot in my stomach, I agreed to meet him at a downtown Columbus men's store the following day. I recognized the name of the store, an exclusive men's clothier specializing in custom tailored suits. I also knew that I could cover the expense only if I were able to make payments over several months of work and scrimping.
As I walked in the front door of the finely furnished store, I grew even more apprehensive. "Oh, there you are," the ever proper professor remarked. He had arrived early. He had already chosen the fabric, and the tailor had already taken measurements. My professor, a regular customer, had apparently vouched for my trustworthiness before the clerk, nonchalantly accepted the professor's remark, "Mr. Leonard will be responsible for the bill, as I have indicated."
More than a little disoriented, I turned to follow my professor out of the store. Then he stopped. "Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," I responded. "It will take time, of course, but I..."
He interrupted me with words directed to the clerk. "Let's see that Mr. Leonard is fitted for a suit just like mine. And put both of them on my bill."
I learned about responsibility in that men's clothing shop in Ohio. Not only was my debt canceled, but I received what I did not deserve (actually, the opposite of what he deserved!) And my benefactor provided me with more than a suit and an indelible memory. He gave me an encounter with grace.
(by Paul Leonard)
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