The moral to this story, I’ll tell you right now, is that you should always, always, go out for chocolate cake.
It was Tuesday night here in Iceland. We’d just completed another session as guests on the international show for the Christian radio station in Reykjavik. Bill was driving us back to our apartment and a magnificent sun was setting across the Atlantic over the harbor.
“So tonight seems like a good night,” Bill said, “to treat ourselves. So…how about we head downtown for some chocolate cake?”
Now, in case you’ve never had some of this chocolate cake, in case your taste buds have never had the opportunity to be lavished in such sweet, smooth, moist delicacy, in case your tongue has yet to have an affair with the cocoa delight that is chocolate cake in Iceland: allow me to tell you this: Icelandair has a summer special on their airplane tickets from America right now. From Boston it will cost you about $800 round trip, plus about $50 for your taxi fare to downtown Reykjavik and another $7 for the piece of cake. And since you’ve come all this way you may as well get two. So that’s $964 for this cake. But I promise you: it will be totally, 100% worth it. Trust me.
All that said I was a little hesitant. Given what I’ve just explained to you, and the events that followed, this does make me a fool. But, for some reason, I felt as though that night was not the night for us to go downtown and get chocolate cake; I wasn’t feeling well, there were a couple of assignments I needed to finished and submit for the next day and I hadn’t slept well the night before. All this is no excuse; it’s still Icelandic chocolate cake. So although Mollie jumped up at the opportunity, I turned to her in the backseat and asked if there was anyway we could just go home, which seemed as cruel as walking up to a child and popping their smiley face balloon. But she was sweet and understanding, and Bill steered the car towards our apartment.
When we got back, I attempted to access the internet so I could reply to some pertinent emails. The internet wasn’t working in our room, a common occurrence, so I planted myself in the hallway, sitting against the wall and finally found a connection.
Less than two minutes had passed when a man approached me and asked me a question in Icelandic.
“English?” I replied.
He smiled. “Oh! You’re American too?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Me too! I’m from Virginia. Where are you from?”
“Boston. My wife and I are-“
“Can you help me move my TV?”
I was caught off guard by the blunt nature of his request. “Yes…I…uh…where do you need to move it too?”
“It’s in my room,” he turned and pointed, “Down the hall, at the end. It’s broken and I need to take it to the dumpster outside. But it’s too big for me to lift.”
“Yeah, I’ll help,” I said, “Just let me grab my shoes.”
I returned to our room and left my computer with Mollie, explaining what I was doing before slipping into my sandals and exiting again. Then I found my way to the last room at the end of the hall, where the man was standing next to a large, old TV with a smashed screen.
We knelt down and picked it up easily enough, and between the two of us we were able to carry it outside and set it by the dumpsters. Afterwards, we stood outside for a couple of minutes talking. His name was Ricky. His mother was Icelandic, his father American. He was working in the shipyards here and looking for more permanent housing, but had only moved over a couple of months previously. He spoke fluent English and Icelandic, which I found very impressive.
As we were walking back inside, I lifted my hand to open the door and felt something warm running down my fingers. It was then I noticed a considerable amount of blood dripping from my wrist.
“Oh shoot,” I said, pulling my sleeve away from the blood.
“Oh gawd!” Ricky looked at my wrist then looked at me like I’d been shot. “Did that just happen?”
“Yea,” I said. Some blood dripped onto the ground. I found the source of the bleeding, a very small gash, perhaps 1-2 inches long but seemingly very deep, just below my thumb on the wrist. I held some fingers over it. “I must have caught myself on the TV’s broken glass.”
Ricky looked at it closer and whistled. “I bet you’ll need stitches.”
“Do you happen to have any band aids?” I asked.
“Any first aid kit of any type?”
“Maybe it’s just a flesh wound.”
“No,” Ricky said, failing to get the joke. “That’s bad. You need stitches.”
We were back inside now, and Ricky had the nervous demeanor of someone who either couldn’t stand the sight of blood or was to embarrassed to know how to apologize. He turned and said something very quick about “thanks for your help” and “sorry about that, hope you can get to a hospital.” Then he turned and headed towards his room, leaving me standing alone in the middle of the hallway, with one bloody hand gripping the other wrist, wondering what on earth to do next as more blood was seeping through my finger tips. If that whole scene sounds pathetic let me reassure you: it really kinda was.
So that’s how we found ourselves, myself, Mollie and Bill, at an Icelandic Emergency Room shortly after midnight. When I returned to the room, I informed Mollie that we had a little bit of a situation in my hand (and yes, I used the pun). When she refused to allow me to try and cauterize the gash with our stove’s hot pad (women are so stinkin’ illogical in these matters) we called Bill and asked if he’d take us to the hospital. By 3 AM, a doctor had put a couple of stitches into my wrist and we were back home for a few hours sleep before another day.
Later that week, we attended a conference in the countryside and heard a speaker from the UK address a consortium of local congregations. It was a blessing to attend as the speaker was dynamic as well as entertaining. He cited Matthew 5:41, reminding us that one way Christians make themselves known to the world is by going the extra mile for people they interact with: not just giving them their coat, but their shirt as well. I’ve read this passage a million times. And, being a runner, this concept has become somewhat diluted to me. One extra mile is nothing…it sounds like a piece of cake. But as he spoke, I looked down at my bandaged wrist and I thought about Ricky.
I hadn’t seen Ricky since the night I’d gone to the hospital. He’d never come to check up on me, and while I wasn’t necessarily bitter, I also wasn’t too eager to be chummy with the guy that left me bleeding in the middle of the hallway. Besides, I’d done my part, hadn’t I? I carried the TV downstairs and sliced my hand open. I’d gone the entire mile with him and at least the extra quarter-mile.
But Jesus didn’t say: “go another few steps with them.” He didn’t say “go until you can sleep well at night.” He said: “go an extra mile, every 5,268 feet of it.” And yet here I am peering out my door to the end of the hallway, where Ricky’s apartment sits, knowing I need to just go, knock, tell him I got to the hospital okay, and “can I help with anything else?”
“But Jesus, I can’t. That’s awkward. I don’t just knock on people’s doors like that. That’s not a piece of cake. How about we settle for a quarter-mile?”
And the answer comes back, plain and simple: “Did I settle for a quarter-mile with you?”
So even as I type this, I’m learning that there’s still some of that extra mile left for me to cover. I’m not sure how I’ll do it. But I’ve got an idea:
Maybe I’ll go out for chocolate cake and while I’m there, I’ll get an extra slice for Ricky. It’d be a good excuse to swing by, right? Who doesn’t want some chocolate cake? And since I’ve established that a slice is worth about $964, I’d say that’s going the extra mile. So that’s my thought.
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this whole thing, it’s that when in doubt, you should always, always, go out for chocolate cake.