It’s funny how easy it is to find character inspiration… especially when you aren’t looking for it.
Just this morning, I had a job interview downtown. I realized I had forgotten to bring a watch or a phone with me and looked around on the walls, hoping to see a clock. There was none.I was getting panicky… should I continue to wait in the foyer or should I enter and look around for my interviewer? There was no receptionist and it looked like the hallway to the interview room was locked. There was a doorbell. Should I ring the doorbell? Would that be stupid? Maybe it was only meant for particular people. Should I wait? If I did, would I be late? Would the interviewer come out looking for me? Would the receptionist call me? My head was a NASCAR racetrack as a million questions raced through my head. (It’s safe to say, I haven’t had many interviewing experiences)…
An older couple entered the room, and I greeted them with a friendly hello. Then I went back to nervously waiting and rebuking myself for forgetting to bring some method of telling time. It occurred to me I could ask the couple for the time… but should I? I had walked in 15 minutes early… Sure, I could ask them once. But in a couple minutes I would need to ask them again (when I’m nervous, my time-telling skills get all jumbled up) How awkward would it get asking them three or four times in a quarter of an hour?
Then… I spied it. A watch on the man’s wrist. And he held it… just so. I could read the time if I tilted my head and glanced at it for a moment.
I tried not to look too creepy.
Finally, after a few discreet glances, I smiled sweetly at the woman and asked if she knew whether the door was unlocked? “They told us it opens at 10,” she replied with an accent. “Are you going for an interview?”
When I replied in the affirmative, she continued “You be strong, don’t worry about what they say. Don’t let them worry you. Show you’re confident. You can do it… just walk in there, and God will be with you.”
A young woman walked into the room. I recognized her from some research I had done on my job. Lovely red, curly hair and an attractive, pretty face. Was she about to be interviewed? Or was she my interviewer?
“Go ask her,” the woman next to me prompted. A bit too loudly.
“Go on,” she encouraged.
“Yes, I will,” I replied, while making up my mind that I would wait a couple minutes. Just so as not to give the impression that I need instruction from strangers on how to ask other strangers about how to enter a hallway.
“Go ask her,” the woman repeated. She was a lovely lady and I was charmed by her considerateness for me, but I wanted to make a good impression… approach the girl as a result of my own initiative. Interviews are all about good impressions. I was going to showcase my initiative, my social skills, my communications talents, my leadership in getting up from my seat, walking over to her, and asking the astute question...should I go in now? I’m sure I would have awed her with my brilliance, but she accosted me first. I walked in after her through the door… 3 minutes early, according to the man’s watch.
She left for a moment to find my other interviewer, and in the meantime I seated myself and admired the large windows, spanning across the entire wall. My curiosity and writer’s instinct (ever on the hunt for story inspiration) were picqued by two men some distance away. They looked like they were having a heated discussion. At least, one was. The other was more subdued and, after a few moments, walked away.
The angry man lumbered closer to my window. His movements were uncontrolled and I wondered if he was drunk. There was nobody else outside and his back was turned to me but I could hear him still shouting, though I could not make out the words.
Then, raising his arms, he yelled: “she’s dead! she’s dead!” in a voice of remorse, anger, hurt, hopelessness? But none of those words can describe his voice. My heart all of a sudden reached out to him.
Just then, the interviewers re-entered. I tried to focus, and managed decently. Sometimes, in the middle of my sentence, I would hear yells and would inadvertently turn around to look, and one time I saw him, hands cupped at his brow, peering in at us through the window.
I didn’t see him as I left the building. But I hope that he will be healed from whatever hurt or anger he is carrying in his heart. And perhaps his pain will be captured, some day, in the life of a character in one of my novels, and perhaps then it will be set free.
Because that is the job of a writer. Find the pain in the world, capture it, and wash it clean. And behind the scenes, it is God who makes it pure and beautiful.