Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Cup of Trembling

Your hand reaches out to swat at the dusty “snooze” button on the old clock as the beeping fills the quiet room. Straining to get it, you finally open your eyes and peer around at the pre-sunrise blue light that cascades through the half open blinds of your room. Groaning you roll out of bed, fumbling through the scattered clothes to reach the plug. You see the square, red glowing numbers right before they blip away: 6:03 am.

Suddenly the time hits home. You slept in. You have to get ready. You’re late. Rushing to the bathroom, you think twice and decide to forgo the shower, opting for a fresh shirt, a smear of deodorant, and your jeans from last night. Four hours of sleep are not enough for a growing fifteen year old boy. But you have to leave right now, no time to meditate on sleep or lack thereof.

A few minutes later and clean, manicured, suburban Beaverton falls away to miles of weaving, snaking highway. You catch a glimpse of the sunrising through the clouds, beams hitting the pink windowed Bancorp building just right. But there’s no time to enjoy the scenery. You’re late. The freeway flows like tributaries of a river into I-84 and you speed along till you reach the right exit. Northeast Portland is dirtier, dustier, older feeling with narrow streets meant more for horse drawn buggies than for the Ford F150 rumbling along them. But finally you make it, and with time to spare. Tired as you are, you have arrived for day two of Generation Unleashed.

Every year for the past 14 years the church has been hosting the youth conference, now one of the largest on the West Coast. What started out with only 200 people has now grown to nearly 9,000 people attending the three day event. As you pull into the parking lot of the church, you see several rows already filled with cars. But they aren’t here to enjoy the conference. Like you, they are here to make it happen. At least, you think to yourself, some of them are here to make it happen.

Of the roughly 120 people that volunteer at the conference, almost two thirds of them are Portland Bible College students. They volunteer in order to get enough community service hours and church service hours in order to graduate. Since almost all of them live on campus, they don’t have to rush or get there early. In fact, they won’t be up for another 45 minutes, you think with disgust. They aren’t like the core group, the other third, about 40 people who volunteer, not for their own selfish, educational reasons, but because they believe that the conference can change people’s lives. That would be you, you think, getting out of the truck and walking towards the church.

The church building is odd, you realize, while walking towards the row of glass doors that lead to the lobby. Two round, domes that are located on Rocky Butte, situated perfectly where they can be seen by all who are driving from Portland International Airport, they were once white, but after the umpteenth inquiry about what scientific experiment was being carried on up there, they were painted a tanish color instead. Inside, a turquoise carpet spills across the large lobby which, just a few hours ago, was packed with 4,692 hot, sweaty, bodies waiting to get in the doors of the main auditorium. But as you walk towards the doors of the main auditorium, you turn to the right instead, running up a flight of stairs and turning right to the “staff lounge”.

The staff lounge is nothing more than a children’s ministry room that’s been emptied of its play structures and toys, and filled with a couple of couches in one corner and several tables in the middle, surrounded by metal foldout chairs. The room itself is odd, the bright primary colored wall on the right side curving downward; it is after all the edge of one of the domes. At the other end, rectangular tables laden heavy with sustenance (e.g. bagels, cream cheese, fruit, and donuts) are lined with cold, unused griddles. Later on, you think to yourself, they will be turned on and barely salted eggs, bacon, sausage, pancakes, and English muffins, cut and buttered, will be sizzling on them. Later… when the Bible College students are here to enjoy them, you shake your head reprovingly. Taking a cup of too strong coffee you survey the sickeningly bright room for a place to sit. The hard, cold, foldout chairs do look inviting, but you opt instead for one of the couches in the corner.

You would not have noticed him (you have barely registered that there were other people in the room) were it not for the cup. He is slouched on the other couch, superman baseball cap pulled over his face, breathing deeply and steadily, obviously asleep. His right hand is on the armrest, and in his hand is a cup of juice. And as he is sleeping, his hand (with the cup!) is slowly sliding down the armrest.

You begin to panic. Your immediate thought is that you should do something, that if you were him you’d want someone to stop you from drenching yourself in juice. It’s the right thing to do. But you’re a socially awkward homeschooler. You are panicking now. Do you try to wake him? You don’t even know him. The cup slides closer to the edge. Maybe just take the cup? But what if he is awake. How embarrassing would that be. The cup slides more. You look around to see if anyone else sees the cup, if anyone else will take it. No one else even notices you two. What if… what if you just leave? What if you walk over to the table, pretend you didn’t see the cup? Let him spill on himself. The cup is almost at the edge. No, you should do something. But it’s his own fault for falling asleep, he should know better, you begin to reason out why you should walk away. And the cup is at the edge now.

With your heart pounding like a drum, its decision time. You can’t be sitting here when it happens. Either stop it or stand up, you think. Then as if by some miracle, the door across from you opens and a tall, skinny teen around your age walks in and plops down on the seat next to you. He yawns, and is about to comment on something when he notices the cup too and quickly picks it out of the sleeper’s hand.

“Uh-oh. That would have been bad.” Tall-skinny says as he scans the room, “Wow, not a lot of people here yet.”

“Nope.” You say, still trying to recover from your moral dilemma. “It went pretty late last night.”

“Yeah. Last night was crazy.” He says as he yawns again, stretching with the cup still in his hand, “I heard someone else got trampled when they opened the doors.”

“Yeah, they broke their collar bone. It’s pretty rough being a door greeter.” You comment dryly, you stomach feeling sick and leaden.

“Shoot, man. That’s fer sure.” Says the sleeper as he slowly sits up and fixes his baseball cap, apparently woken by your talk. “I was one last night. They rushed the doors before we had ‘em open all the way. The poor people at the front carried by the wave of the crowd were smashed into the doors, slamming the doors against the walls and breaking the hinges on one, right off the frame.”

“Wow. No wonder you’re exhausted. By the way, here’s your drink back. You almost spilled it on yourself when you fell asleep.” Tall and skinny hands the cup to the sleeper. “I’m Tim by the way.”

“James.” He answers, “Thanks, but that wouldn’t be the first time. At least this time wouldn’t have been hot coffee.”

“Well, no need to thank me. Actually, I jumped in right as this guy was about to grab it.” Tim smiles as he motions to you, “I think we may have met yesterday but I forgot your name.”

“Jean.” you say, trying hard not to blush from the guilt of his statement. You’re still not sure what you would have done.

Little did the anyone of you three know that in that awkward conversation would be born a friendship that would outlast many trials, tribulations, fights, and even that one girl. Later that night, as you sit with Tim and James in the main auditorium, during the last session, you try to ignore the convicting parts of the message about not judging (especially those Bible College students) and try instead to focus on the verse of the night:

“A friend with many friends must shew himself friendly, but there is another kind of friend who sticketh closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24


Just a short little thing I wrote for a class about my first time meeting James and Tim. Most of the facts and figures in it really did happen, and thats what makes the story, in my book, all the funnier. To this day, I still am not sure what I would have ended up doing had Tim not walked in when he did. :)


  1. Very well written story! Not, a fitting soundtrack that goes very well with this: la la lalala la la lalala la

  2. I fully knew who you were talking about before they "introduced" themselves. Great story. And Chrispy...that really is the perfect theme song for this story!