They say to beware the witching hour. The term comes from medieval times, describing the time of night when creatures are at their most powerful and black magic is at its worst. In modern times it’s used to describe that period of time each day in which something bad has a greater likelihood to occur. Sometimes it’s a baby who cries for seemingly no reason for an hour or more each day. Sometimes it’s kids whose behavior seems to be especially unbearable right when mom is trying to cook dinner (which is also when the smoke alarm goes off, the cat decides to puke on the floor, and dad calls to say he’ll be late). Black magic, indeed.
But I have a witching hour to rival any colicky baby or whiny kid. You see, I like to get up super early. That is when I’m most productive, and I love to bounce out of bed and tackle half of my to-do list before dawn. But that comes at a price. I start shutting down at about 4:30 in the afternoon. To keep my Energizer Bunny going without destroying everyone in my path, I simply must have an hour of downtime and a meal – preferably a meal that involves cheese (the only food that will effectively comfort my inner creature). I pity the person who tries to interrupt my planned schedule during my witching hour. Most of the time I can keep my creature self under control, knowing there is cheese on the horizon, but there is one thing that sends me straight to black magic mode.
That’s right, I’m a tax accountant. Don’t stop reading! I promise I’m not boring! But my job does require that I spend abnormal amounts of time dealing with the IRS, most of which is spent on hold listening to their dreadful music. And when they finally do pick up, it’s typically someone on the other end of the line who absolutely despises their job, has no idea what I am talking about, and has zero desire to resolve my issue. Any time I have to call the IRS, I can guarantee at least an hour of this type of torture.
On Monday, I was 15 minutes away from my witching hour. I was already feeling the first twinges of it, begging me to scroll through Facebook instead of finishing up my work for the day. Right then, our receptionist came to my office with a request that I help an international student contact the IRS regarding his missing tax refund. My inner creature threatened to come out and bite off her hand. There was no way I wanted to deal with someone who barely speaks English, combined with the guaranteed hour of IRS nonsense, during my witching hour. Seriously? Was this some kind of cruel joke? My inner creature was practically throwing a tantrum, screaming to send him away! We need cheese!
Thankfully, I have made it further down my path with God than ever before. I am now better equipped to deal with this cheese-demanding creature. I have been praying for opportunities to open myself up to those around me, to be willing to serve whenever asked, and for divine appointments. This was my chance to practice. It was my responsibility to help this student, and no one should have to deal with the IRS alone. “Now?” whimpered my creature. “But what about the cheese?” Too bad, creature. I took a deep breath and told the receptionist to send the student in.
He introduced himself as Vladimir. Through idle chit chat I learned that he is originally from Russia. He started explaining his tax refund issue, and I am humbled for thinking I would be dealing with someone who could barely speak English. What a terrible and completely incorrect stereotype I had applied to him! Vladimir speaks better English than most of America, without a hint of the lazy slang that I so often resort to. And he is incredibly polite. I started thinking this might not be so bad after all, but then the IRS put me on hold. And so I prepared myself for the long torture of elevator music and unhelpful IRS employees. “You should have given me cheese,” whispered my inner creature.
I asked Vladimir how he liked it here in the United States – one of those idle chit chat questions that you ask, like “how are you”, that you don’t expect a real answer to. But Vladimir is not into idle chit chat. And so began the most interesting session of being on hold with the IRS that I have ever experienced. Here is a paraphrased sampling of the conversation I had with one of the wisest twenty-somethings on the planet. He did most of the talking while I mostly sat in stunned, humbled silence.
“I really do like it here, but I don’t understand why Americans call themselves free. Take education for example. You pay thousands of dollars to go to a university so you can get a high-paying job. If you are able to get a job that pays high enough, you will be able to pay back your student loans just in time to start a family and buy a house. Or maybe you pay minimums on student loans while also supporting your family. You buy more, and more, and more. To do this you become a slave to your job. And you spend the rest of your life in one place, trying to pay everything off. This doesn’t seem like freedom to me. You are slaves by choice.” Indeed.
“I don’t understand feminism. Women here fight to be treated with respect, but I offend them when I hold the door for them. Is this not a way to show respect?” You would think.
“I don’t understand racism. Why do people live in pockets and avoid each other? How will you ever understand each other if you don’t interact?” I have no idea.
He talked about his mother with so much love and reverence, but it was obvious she had raised him differently than many American mothers. The term “helicopter parent” would have made no sense to him at all. His mother didn’t raise him to cling to her. She didn’t hover. She gave him hundreds of experiences and lessons and tools to enable him to leave her and not only survive the world, but thrive in it, doing amazing things. He has tried every sport imaginable. He has traveled the world. And he is so incredibly grateful to her for giving him the room to grow and learn and live.
I told him how hard it was to uproot my children and take them away from all they knew. He said, “Don’t you know the gift you are giving them? Giving them new experiences and teaching them how to meet new people and make friends? It will impact their lives in the best way. You can’t uncover your full, entire being unless you travel, and move, and try all the things that life has to offer. If you only experience one way of living, how will you know who you are?” I’m pretty sure I stopped breathing for a minute, because just the night before I had asked God if I had done the right thing by moving. Don’t tell me he doesn’t answer prayers. We just have to pay attention, which I was fully doing at this point!
Vladimir said he learned early on in school that not liking something was purely psychological. We choose to not like it. School was especially boring to him, so he wasn’t putting out any effort – until his dad bet him that he couldn’t get all A’s and B’s. Suddenly there was incentive to try. And then he realized he had been bored because he hadn’t been putting in any effort. Once he chose to be interested, class was actually interesting. He has been applying this to life ever since, and swears it makes all the difference in the world.
He was in the middle of telling me about proposing to his girlfriend and how important it is to him to make that commitment to her in a church before God when the IRS had the nerve to interrupt and actually answer my phone call. How strange to not want to be taken off hold! We resolved his refund issue rather quickly from that point (Thanks to David at the IRS, I now have faith that nice, helpful employees really do work there!), but before he left, he asked me for some advice. I wondered what I could possibly advise him on that he hadn’t already figured out. It was again about our culture. Our rules.
“Why do I need insurance, and how do I know what kind to get?”
I have never felt so silly and hollow as when I tried to explain American reasoning for insurance. To say it out loud is to realize how futile it really is.
Me: You need insurance in case there is an accident.
Vladimir: It’s not free to get help? Your taxes don’t pay for that?
Me: No. I suggest a high deductible plan so you pay less in premiums. Then just set enough money aside to pay your deductible.
V: What is a deductible?
Me: It’s what you have to pay yourself before the insurance starts paying.
V: But if I already paid for insurance, why do I have to pay again?
Me: I really can’t explain that. It actually makes no sense to me.
V: How is insurance helpful to society then? How indeed.
V: What are taxes for if they are not covering society’s basic needs of college education and health care?
Me: Blank stare. I. Have. No. Idea.
Then he asks why people keep telling him he needs to “build credit” and how does he do that? I hesitate. I really don’t want to be the one to taint his thinking with American consumerism and greed. But I try to explain why people are saying this to him.
Me: You need credit if you want to buy something big, like a car or a house, but you can’t afford it all at once. In that case you’ll need a loan. To get a loan, a bank will want to see proof that you can pay them back.
V: Why would you buy something you can’t afford?
Me: Why indeed. Well, some people want a bigger house for their family. So to build credit you could start by getting a credit card. Use it to pay for your groceries each week, and then pay the card off each month. It proves you are responsible and can pay off your debts.
V: So I should pretend to not afford groceries so I can buy a house that I really can’t afford? I don’t understand.
Me: Me either, Vladimir. Me either.
At this point, I think I may be in the wrong field. And maybe in the wrong country. Run, Vladimir! Do not let this society ruin you! Only buy what you can afford. Oh, how I wish we weren’t in a position where you were forced to have insurance because taxes aren’t used to cover medical expenses. Run! Run! Run! Or better yet, stay in America and use your passionate spirit to help us fix it!
Now, I know what you are thinking. These are complex issues that have multi-faceted reasons for why things are the way they are. America is a great country for many reasons. And I agree. But none of that is really my point. My point is that I met someone new, moved past idle chit chat, and had a meaningful conversation with them. My point is that people have amazing lives and opinions and ideas, and we miss out on them all the time – because we don’t want to delay getting our cheese! We have something to learn from them, and they have something to learn from us. We are all in this together!
What an amazing way for God to answer my prayer for opportunity. What a divine assignment I experienced! The twist is that it wasn’t MY assignment. Sure, I helped Vladimir get his money back from the IRS. But in the span of an hour, he fulfilled HIS divine assignment to get through to me. He confirmed the direction I am headed on my path, opened my eyes to other cultures, and shared more advice and experiences than I’ve been able to find in hundreds of books.
BEST. WITCHING. HOUR. EVER.
And to think I almost let my inner creature send him away in order to get to my cheese faster! I’m learning that I may see a small reward in choosing what I want to do, but there is a greater reward waiting when I choose to serve others.
Praise God for divine assignments! And thank you, Vladimir, for sharing your thoughts with me. I’m learning more and more every day that engaging in real relationships with the people around me is a detour worth taking. In fact, it’s not even a detour to me anymore. It’s more important than cheese! It’s a necessary and delightful part of the path. The path of love. The path of joy. The path to eternity.