Last Thursday, at the hotel where I work, at 7:30 AM, a man checked-in. The person who took his money had no idea that six hours earlier, the man had shot another person dead only a few miles away.
At 7:30, I was finishing up my morning writing and getting into the shower. While the water poured down on me, a strange question came. Why, as a pacifist, do I venerate gods of war? I often berate Christians for holding dear a genocidal deity. Did calling on the All-Father make me a hypocrite? I wasn’t sure. But I did reason that I don’t believe my gods are omnipotent. They can be wrong. When Odin chants in my ear, calling to me to take up arms, I can tell him no. I can remind him that times have changed. That winning by force of arms is only beating a man’s body, not their mind. Not the true source of their will. “It’s not only generals that plan battles.”(1) That usually calms him down.
At 11 AM, my work day well underway, and I was already planning how I can sneak in some extra writing on the clock. The same woman that checked the man in was looking out the window.
She’s way more observant than I am. “There’s a cop out here running license plates.” She said.
I got up to see what she was talking about. Sure enough, a police cruiser prowled the parking lot.
My maintenance man chimed in. “He’s scanning bar codes on the license plates.”
The officer seemed to finish what he was doing, whipped around, and gunned it, flying down the street.
Huh, I thought, and went back to my desk. I’m not the type to jump to conclusions.
Twenty minutes later, an officer came in. He shoved a sheet of paper towards me. “Is this man staying here?”
Less than impressed with the cop’s urgency, I took my time and looked it up on the computer. “Yeah, he’s here.” I let the man in black into the building and gave him the room number. The most I expected was to see him again fifteen minutes later, perp in handcuffs in tow. I was terribly wrong. My day, and my worldview was about to change.
Fifteen minutes after, two more officers arrived. One wore a brown tactical vest, hugging an M-16 against his chest. The seriousness of the situation came crashing down. They asked their questions. “Have you seen him? Was he carrying anything? How did he act?” They dropped the bomb. They had reason to believe the man had shot another.
I made the phone calls. I brought the employees under my direction into the office for safety, and any guests who happened to be out in the hall at the time. The parking lot was sealed. An armored car arrived. More cops. The detectives in suits. The SWAT team. My area manager.
The cops asked me, and the person who checked him in, the same questions over and over. They gave us information in dribs and drabs. They had a negotiator. They had called the room. He had made threats. We had a standoff.
We waited. For six hours we waited. No one in, no one out. The TV cameras arrived. Endless phone calls from those concerned. Half the hotel was evacuated. And we waited and waited.
I realized another reason why I would want to follow warrior gods. Because as much as I wish otherwise, we still have warriors in this world. I prayed to the All-Father to give these warriors the wisdom not to fight. There was no answer.
A half-hour before the end, exhausted by stress, I leaned back in my chair, closed my eyes and meditated. On the tiny speakers of my phone I played Corona Radiata, a song I use to help me enter trance states. Works like a charm.
I saw him. I swear to you I saw him. Not as Glad-of-War, and certainly not as Father Yule. He was dressed in black, hat pulled down over his one eye, a single raven on his shoulder, Thought or Memory I knew not which, a spear in his hand. He came as the Gallows God. He came to collect.
I got out of my chair and paced. Up until then I was calm, without real fear. I believed it would all turn out in the end. I stopped believing that when I saw him.
I went to my camera monitor, and looked down the hall by the room where the fugitive made his stand. I saw Odin again. He came out the stairwell, and walked on down the hall.
Five minutes later we heard three bangs. The door being bashed in. Two soft pops, the tear gas being shot into the room to drive him out. Then the loud one. The report of a forty-five pistol.
The old officer, the one they had put at the door to help people by, a friendly guy. He came up to the counter, solemn in countenance. “He shot himself.”
A few minutes later, my maintenance man, still young and eager to see blood, came running in. “He shot himself in the eye.”
The Gallows God got his man.
I know now, the next time I call a god, by prayer or invocation, it will be with more respect, and a little fear. Our gods are not perfect. Our gods may not be what we want. But they come, bidden or unbidden, to do what they were meant to do.
(1) M. K. Gandhi