It was a winter afternoon no more ordinary than today's: low clouds, cold winds, the sun slowly fading in the west. Youth was still on my side, and the frightening ghost of time had not yet haunted my inexperienced eyes. My breath grew anxious as the voice in the speaker announced that the train from London would arrive in ten minutes. My hands were a cold sweat.
She was supposed to be in the third car, the one normally reserved for celebrities. A woman of her stature, I figured, would not accept anything less than the third car. As usual, the bags came out first, together with the bustling of ordinary passengers. As the station cleared, the first-class passengers started slowly coming down to the platform. A few family members embraced, a young couple staged a long kiss. And then finally her, a red coat over a black winter frock, a lipstick-smeared cigarette in one of her glove-clad hands.
I rushed to greet her. "Welcome, Ms. Connery. My name is George. I will be your driver today." She looked at me and smiled gently. "Very well, George. I understand you know the place quite well." "Like the back of my hand, madam."
She handed me a piece of paper with an address scribbled on it. "I need you to take me there, George." The address was past Ealing near Hanwell. I had not been given instructions in advance, so I couldn't say I wasn't a little surprised. I had been told not to tell anyone about Ms. Connery's arrival, as she wanted to avoid calling any attention to her visit. The boss told me Ms. Connery was here on a "personal mission; nothing to do with business."
I always kept to myself, as a driver must. But I would be lying if I told you the whole situation did not intrigue me. Why would a woman like Ms. Connery visit this town? And what on bloody hell was she going to do at that exact address? Who was she going to meet? An old friend? A tutor? A secret mentor? A lover? The possibilities were endless, and it felt good to be part of it, even though I didn't know exactly what "it" was.
"George," she said as we were well on our way to the mysterious address, "Have you ever heard of Martin Heidegger?" "I am afraid I haven't, madam." "What about Jean-Paul Sartre or Maurice Merleau-Ponty?" "I don't think so, Ms. Connery. I'm afraid I can't be of help." "As a matter of fact, George, I believe you can," she said. "Would you mind my asking you a personal question?"
It was admittedly an unexpected request, but I would not let a personal question get in the way of chatting with Ms. Connery. "Do you believe in God, George?" "Yes, madam. Yes, I do." "Have you always believed in God?" "Yes, madam, I have. Since I was a little Midlands chap." "Why is it that you believe in God, George? Has he done anything to you personally?" "No, madam, I can't say he has. Not personally." "Have you ever seen him?" "No, madam, I have not." "Would you like to meet him, George?" "Do you mean God, Ms. Connery? Are you asking me if I'd like to meet God?" "That is exactly what I am asking you, George. Would you?" "Well, yes, I suppose it would be a quite revealing experience, wouldn't it?" "I like your choice of words, George." Silence ensued, and I waited for as long as I could.
"Ms. Connery, I don't mean to pry, but was that the end of our conversation?" She laughed. "I knew you'd break the silence, George. You couldn't help it, could you?" "I apologize, madam, but you did spark my curiosity there." "There is nothing to apologize for, George. You are a good man, and I believe you are worthy of meeting God. How far are we from the address I gave you?" "About half an hour, madam." "So have patience, my dear George, patience."
The rest of the ride was uneventful, except for the two cigarettes Ms. Connery lit, puffed once, and then put out. We finally arrived at some sort of small farm—a driveway leading to a petite house, an adjacent barn, a grass field covered by patches of snow. "Very well now, Ms. Connery, here we are." "Thank you, George. Would you mind waiting for me here?" She knocked on the door, which promptly opened, swallowing the red coat.
It took about an hour until she returned. "George," she said, "Are you ready?" I was nothing short of stunned. "You mean…" "Yes, George, are you ready to meet God?" "I believe I am, madam." "So, follow me…"
We stood in the living room, where wood burned in the fireplace, and a faint smell of tea scented the air. I could see the back of a man's head behind a large leather armchair next to the window. He stood up—a round face behind thick round glasses, perked ears—and came to us. "So, Ms. Connery tells me you're George," he said with a French accent. "Yes, sir, that's true. That's my name." "Well, it's very nice to meet you, George." "Yes, sir, it's a pleasure, blimey, an honor to meet you too sir." "Well, I am flattered, George. But I don't think I am who you think I am. My job is to introduce you to him." "Of course, sir, I am sorry. For a moment there, I thought…" "That's quite all right, my young man, I get that a lot, particularly when Ms. Connery is kind enough to pay me a visit. My name is Jean-Paul, by the way."
Jean-Paul led us to a room that resembled a library. In the room, between the bookshelves, a door. Jean-Paul asked me to stay right in front of it as he and Ms. Connery moved to the side. "Don't move now, George," he said, as he opened the door. To my astonishment, there was nothing behind the door but a body-length mirror. So there I was, standing in this room, staring at myself in the mirror. "There, George. Say ‘Hello' to God," Jean-Paul said. "But that's me in the mirror!" "Indeed it is, George. Indeed it is. I want you to think about that for a while," he said, as he escorted us to the front door.
Later as we drove back to town, Ms. Connery told me who Jean-Paul Sartre was—his books, his ideas, and it all started to make sense to me, somehow. As I dropped her at the hotel, I asked her how long she had known him. "Long enough, George, long enough. And I only have God to thank for that," she said with a wink.
And that's how I met him. Or at least how I thought I did.