Friday, November 27, 2009

I Thought I Knew

I met a Christian man I thought I knew
passing the homeless in the street.
I see it now, that God’s idea
was that he and I should meet.

As men are men; I watched him fall
to a place where words and deeds depart.
He tip-toed past the shattered glass
of someone else’s broken heart.

This ugly man, his ugly deeds
much more than I could fathom.
I grabbed his hand and prayed to God
that my words might bridge the chasm.

But as we stood face to face,
each glance a collective sum.
He wore my clothes, he bore my eyes,
he was the wretch I’d become.

He spoke to me like yesterday
as if both were still alive.
With grace-filled eyes and words like knives
he carved the cancer from inside.

“Once our eyes drift shut
hearts will surely follow.
You cannot help a fellow brother
if you yourself are hollow.

I grant you bread in loaves
and a cup that’s overridden;
not that you should store it all
and keep my blessings hidden.

You must give away your last
showing faith in whence they’ve come.
Until the needs of all are met
our work has just begun.”

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Straight From Hell

One night a week Kathy McKutchin volunteered at a soup kitchen. It should come as no surprise the daughter of a priest would be inclined to serve the community, but on the surface one might incorrectly assume many things. She was not the product of an illicit affair, but a sad set of circumstances, indeed. As an infant she was abandoned in a dumpster behind the rectory. Some choose to believe she was placed there by a remorseful mother who knew her child would be cared for. Others, including myself, quietly hold a differing opinion. Even when she was young, “Straight from hell” the parishioners would say; struck by the irony that God would place a demon in care of a priest. It is difficult to say how such an unfortunate entrance into this world might adversely affect the psyche, but in either case, Father McKutchin plucked her from yesterday’s trash and raised her as his own. God rest his soul—Father McKutchin did the best he could.

It was not his influence that prompted charitable work but more the coercion of those belonging to the Wednesday morning bridge club. Only when it became common knowledge that the aristocrats who came to play cards gave more freely of their time, was Kathy overwhelmed with an urge to help the needy. Dare I say it was not by accident she chose Saturday evenings to volunteer. At every opportunity she reminded them that a sacrifice of ‘premium time’ would certainly be judged more generously than their own.

When she arrived she parked two blocks away. The lighting was better there and if she slipped the parking attendant a twenty he made certain the car was toasty when she returned. If she slithered alongside the buildings, staying within the shadows, there was a fair chance she could avoid awkward conversation with those who waited in line. How difficult it was for her to interact with those cut from another cloth. Words were scarce, even between she and a young man named Marcus who also volunteered on her night. He was too much like those he served, living in the street himself, yet offering his time in the kitchen. Some things were absolutely too good to be true. Kathy watched him closely and made certain to count the silverware after he had gone.

On this particular night, when the last strangler had gathered their bundle and headed into the cold, Kathy busied herself with a single pan. Perhaps if she fiddled with it long enough Marcus would clear the kitchen and her nails might be spared.

“You know there’s plenty of soup, Marcus. Why don’t you have a bowl for yourself? The weather’s brutal out there.”

He held up a tattered Bible—an outward sign of his weakness. Oh how she despised the way he let it speak for him more often than not.

“My strength comes from the word. It says here, whatever you have to done to the least of them you also have done to me.”

Intended or not, Kathy would not ignore a direct assault on her character. As the words circulated her mind her blood boiled and in a mad dash she rushed him. With her left hand firmly wrapped around his throat, she did her best to separate him from the book, but Marcus was wiry and held it arms length.

“When will you put down that silly-ass Bible and take off your ‘Jesus-glasses’. Can’t you see you are one of the least of them?”

Flabbergasted by her aggression, Marcus’ stumbled over his words.

“Mis…Miss McKutchin—you’re wrong. There’ll be more to feed tomorrow—someone will come through that door that needs it more than I.”

With his back arched like a willow, he was pinned between a table and an increasingly confrontational character. The heat of her breath poured over him like an uncomfortably hot shower.

“Marcus, do you recall last year when you dropped your Bible in the crosswalk? Was it your Almighty God that sent the city bus into your path—was it his compassion that broke both your legs instead of your skull? Mark my words—that ridiculous book will someday be the death of you!”

Kathy drew in a deep breath and as a result the small space between them provided for escape.

“Miss McKutchin, the Bible speaks of people like you; those who are already dead without knowing it, but it is also filled with grace—the kind it takes to lift someone from a dumpster and give them a second chance at life. Perhaps you need my ‘Jesus-glasses’ to see that.”

Marcus forged his way up the street. The bank sign showed -20. His thin camouflaged field-jacket flapped in a brisk north wind. He was no more prepared for the elements than his father had been when he wore it as he marched into war. The streets were a battlefield of another kind—here, moving was the key to survival. More than hour passed as he circled the blocks. It was colder than he could recall and his joints became stiff and uncooperative. He paused at the steps of the cathedral and near its door made his resting place for the night.

As he settled an approaching vehicle slowed as it neared the steps. The driver pulled to the curb and as the window descended, Miss McKutchin grinned.

“Looks like you could use a fire, Marcus. If you had a lick of sense you’d see the fuel sitting next to you. You see—perhaps even tonight that book will be the death of you.”

For a brief moment he touched the matches in his pocket, and then glanced at the frost-covered Bible. Perhaps he could make it until morning if he did the unthinkable, but when tomorrow came, how quickly would the streets gobble up a man without faith?

Kathy blew a kiss before speeding away. Still preoccupied with waving and taunting him, the stillness of the night was shattered. Her white Mercedes slammed into a garbage truck pulling from the alley and burst into flames.

Like ants to a morsel, the homeless emerged from the alleys, desperate to warm themselves by a fire. Their hearts were not filled with malice, but their minds consumed with survival. Flames, no matter the source, meant the difference between life and death. Marcus made a valiant effort to stand but his feet were frozen solid. There was nothing more he could do to save her from the fire. In the end, no one could reach Kathy McKutchin.