“So what do you think you’ll do when you finish grad school?” I asked.
Jack hesitated a second. Everything about him was easy—slow and calm. “I’m not really sure,” he said. “I felt called to do this program, and I love it, but I’m not sure exactly what I’m going to do when I’m done. I think it may have something to do with writing.”
We talked about my writing, and his brothers, and he said something about his grandmother calling him William. It was the second time I’d heard him refer to himself as William, and it was a bit like a warning flash in the middle of all this pleasantness. I had to say what I’d been debating.
“Does your family call you William?” I willed the words out.
“Yeah, how did you know that?”
“It’s just that you were talking about your family a couple times and I thought you said ‘William’…” I fumbled.
“Actually, everybody calls me William,” he said. My real name is Jack William—it’s a family name—but everybody calls me William. When I registered for the school here I gave them my full name and they started sending me stuff as Jack and I never corrected them. I like it, and I thought it would be kind of fun and it reminds me of Lewis, I guess, I don’t know.”
“Well the weird thing is”—sirens were going off in my head but it was far too late to stop—“I probably shouldn’t tell you this.”
“No, go ahead,” he said.
“Well, you kind of remind me—I mean you look a little bit like an old boss I had, and his name was William, and he was sort of, um, horrible. He lied a lot, or most of the time. I’m not sure if he knew when he was telling the truth. I ended up confronting him on some things, and he fired me without cause and lied about the whole thing to make it look like my fault. It was all really horrible.”
“Well, then, by all means,” he said in his gentle southern accent, “call me Jack.”
“I’ve dealt with people like that before,” he said. “Actually, there was one situation that I ended up having to confront a guy who was really high up, a guy we were working with—he was a general, actually, and the way it happened ended up being in a public forum, but I had to say something because he had to be called on it. I was really worried about it and I didn’t want to come off as arrogant, but it had to be done. Anyway, so, I’m not your boss, but I’ve confronted him.” And he laughed—not in a mean laughing-at-me way, but in an it’s-all-really-okay way. And his saying that made me relieved. Still a tiny bit creeped-out and skeptical, but relieved.
We talked about our common perfectionism, which he seemed to be a little further along at mastering, and about me trying to accept and really believe God’s grace. He told me about the orphan he loved in South Africa, and about how that’s when God’s grace really broke through for him. A life-changing experience of loving a little girl who didn’t want to be loved and didn’t deserve love, but Jack loved her anyway, wholeheartedly. And at that moment God said to him, “This is how I love you.” And that stuck.
We talked about how both of us have a hard time relaxing—the perfectionism thing—and Jack said, “You seem perfectly relaxed now.” And I was. And I was insanely, cautiously happy.