Tim Tebow Meets Mr. Met, An Atheist Since Many Massacres Ago
How does the American sporting boy handle the sin of his national forebears?
Mr. Met smiles because it’s all he can do.
Tim Tebow, the newest Met, has been smiling back at him from the other side of the clubhouse for 20 minutes. Mr. Met pulls a newspaper from the back pocket of his baseball pants and starts doing the crossword. A signal for the new guy to leave him alone.
“HO CHI _ _ _ _” Four-letter word beginning with M.
Mr. Met puts the paper down and smiles to hide the pain. When he looks up, Tebow is smiling beside him.
“A smile like that,” the rookie says. “Well, I just had to come over and introduce myself.”
Mr. Met continues to smile. Inside he’s already thinking of My Khe. Tebow takes this as a sign to continue.
“I said to myself, ‘Tim, a guy with a smile like that lives his life the same as you.’” Tebow’s smile is even wider than the one Mr. Met wears as a mask. “That’s a man who has put his faith in the Good Lord.”
Mr. Met stares back blankly and smiles. It’s all he can do. Mr. Met is an atheist. Has been since Vietnam.
“You seem to me,” Tebow says, “like a guy who counts his blessings more than his burdens.”
Mr. Met returns an almost genuine smile. The kid reminds him of Private Thibodeaux. Thibodeaux was from Florida, too. Maybe Georgia. All the same to Mr. Met. Good-looking kid, Private Thibodeaux. An athlete. Always talking about the Good Lord. They called him The Reverend.
“They say I’ll make the team,” Tebow says. “I don’t know if they’re right. For me this is just a great opportunity to get get on my knees, humble myself, and thank the Good Lord for all the blessings he’s put in my life.”
Mr. Met smiles. He wonders if the Good Lord made it so that Mr. Met — he was Private Met back then — was the one who found Private Thibodeaux in that hut. He wonders what God Thibs saw when he looked into Private Met’s dead cartoon eyes. He wonders if Private Thibodeaux secretly thanked the Good Lord when Private Met pulled the trigger.
“Whatever I can do to help the team,” Tebow says. “I’m really just happy to be here, if I’m being honest.”
Mr. Met wants to smoke a cigarette, but they banned them from the clubhouse. He liked things better in 1986.
“I know no matter what happens,” Tebow said. “God has a plan for me.”
He remembers hiding the little girl in the back of the hut. Telling her to be quiet and stay hidden. Don’t come out until after the white devils leave. He held his finger to his lips, hoping she understood his meaning. He wonders if it was God’s plan that the rest of the company never asked whether the blood on his giant, custom-made helmet was American or Viet Cong.
“Today is a gift,” Tebow says. “That’s why we call it the present.”
Mr. Met smiles back. He’s thinking about the girl. Wondering if she made it out before the unit doubled back and burned down the village in retaliation for Private Thibodeaux.
“Guy with a smile like that knows he is loved,” Tebow says, putting his arm around Mr. Met in a friendly Christian manner.
Mr. Met smiles because it’s easier than remembering. Whoever said there are no atheists in the fox holes wasn’t in Quang Ngai Province that night. God abandoned this world a long time ago, Mr. Met thinks.
“Is there a church close to the stadium?” Tebow asks. “I know sometimes we have to be at the stadium early on Sundays and I don’t want to be late--”
A door swings open. The media arrives. Mr. Met smiles. The media doesn’t ask questions of Mr. Met.
“Duty calls,” Tebow says, his smile still as wide as the Mekong Delta. “Have to spread the Good Lord’s message. What an honor it is to have met you.”
Mr. Met leans back into his chair and smiles. It’s all he can do.