Confessing … September 19th, 2015

 Jonathots Daily Blog

(2697)

XX.

I confess so I can heal.

If I deny, I remain sick.

Some time ago in a parish far away, I joined with some friends who had a creative bend and believed that art and faith were intended to be wed, and rented an H & R Block building, which had completed its taxing season and was available for occupation, gathering with these sweet folks at least twice a week to discuss the beauty of music and words, and also how we might be able to help others.

Yes, there was just enough hippie in us that we chose to have a concern for the needy in our midst.

So one day at our little headquarters, a large, cocoa-complected young man strolled through our door with an appearance that foretold his lack, possessing only a huge, toothy grin.

He wondered if we had $1.99 so that he could go to Church’s Fried Chicken, which was two doors down, and pick up their special–two pieces of chicken and a side.

We all liked him immediately.

We told him we would give him the money if he would pick up the same deal for the rest of us. Then we could all sit down, eat together and get to know one another. I think my friends were a little surprised when I pulled out a twenty-dollar bill, gave it to the big fellow and told him to purchase seven of them, come back, and bring me the change.

By the way, he told us his name was Johnnie, and I’m sure that all of my acquaintances were convinced that Johnnie was going to abscond with the twenty dollars.

He didn’t.

He came back, we ate chicken and it became a daily ritual for the next several months. We got to know him as a person instead of merely an object of charity.

So one day, when Johnnie told us that he was supposed to go into the Social Security Office and apply for disability, we took him to the local Goodwill, and after much shopping, we found a suit big enough to cover his girth.

He was so proud of it.

He went to the meeting, and then we didn’t hear from him for several weeks. I was concerned, so I went out into the streets, looking for my buddy.

I found him sitting next to a dumpster about a half-mile away. He tried to run away from me, but I was able to stop him. I asked him why he was avoiding us.

He explained that he was embarrassed because he had sold the suit so he could purchase a bucket of chicken.

I gave him a hug and explained that we didn’t love him because he was wearing a suit–it was just a gift, for him to use as he wished.

Shortly after that encounter, our little group decided to move our headquarters since the H & R Block building was no longer available. We found a place about three miles away and told Johnnie about our exodus.

He was sad.

I was bewildered. After all, we weren’t leaving town. So I made him promise he would come and see us.

He didn’t.

After about three weeks I went out on another search for Johnnie. Finally the lady at the Church’s Fried Chicken told me that Johnnie had been arrested for erratic and disorderly behavior, and that they were holding him in the mental ward on the 13th floor of the local hospital. I got in my car and went to see him.

Amazingly, since I wasn’t kin or connected to him in any logical way, they let me in to talk to him.

When I walked into the room he was sitting next to the window, staring into the distance. I was very disappointed when Johnnie didn’t recognize me.

He was heavily medicated and docile. I tried to stir his memory but was completely unsuccessful.

So I took his hands, which lay limp in his lap, and prayed for him. I stood to leave and was just about out the door when Johnnie turned his head and said, “Chicken.”

Just as quickly, he turned away and resumed his vigil of nothingness.

I cried.

He remembered.

But you see, I also learned. People are not projects. They are human, with real needs. We can’t just pick them up and handle them when it’s convenient to our charitable inclinations and then drop them off in the middle of nowhere without a map on where to go.

We thought we were so damned generous, but we didn’t realize that Johnnie needed daily care, daily love and a daily location in which to go to give him a sense of balance.

Johnnie taught me a lot.

Johnnie taught me that since the poor don’t go away, if we’re going to start helping them, we have to have a plan to keep from abandoning them.

Confessing Johnny

 

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Terkel… February 23, 2013

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On the third day I decided to stop.

Sprawled on the gravel near the dumpster behind the convenience store, sitting out in front of my motel, was a man who certainly conveyed that he had lots of time on his hands and not too many places to go. I guess that’s a quaint way of saying–homeless.

I passed by him in my van the first two days, waving and smiling. On my first passage, he seemed a bit bewildered by my friendliness but on the second day he returned my greeting with the vigor of a long-lost friend watching his confidante fly off to Siberia on a secret mission.

But on the third day I decided to stop. I rolled up, eased my window down and said, “How ya’ doin’?”

Stumbling to his feet, staring into the distance and refusing eye contact, he replied, “Zeus has given me the light.”

I paused, recollecting my Greek mythology. Zeus was the top-dog god on Mount Olympus. I continued. “Zeus, huh? How’d you get an appointment with him?”

The question obviously baffled him so he continued his runaway train of thought. “Mercury gave me wings,” he proclaimed, still staring off into the distance.

It seemed we were going to run the entire roster of Hellenistic deities.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

There was a long pause. I decided not to repeat my question. I felt it would seem as if I were insensitive or impertinent. I just waited. At length, he responded.

“Terkel. T-e-r-k-e-l.” Each letter grew in pitch of volume and intensity.

“I would have guessed Brian or Kenneth based on your age,” I replied.

For the first time the trance was broken and he glanced at me with a crinkled brow. Noting his coherency, I asked, “So what are you doing out here behind the convenience store?”

He yelled, ‘The policeman said I could be here as long as I didn’t lean against the building and sat on the gravel. It’s public property.”

I obviously had struck a nerve.

“You misunderstood my question,” I explained. “What I’m asking you is, what’s your story?”

“Zeus gave me…” he began.

I interrupted. “Listen, Terkel. I don’t know whether you believe in Zeus or not, but let’s just pretend for a second that you don’t. If you’d like me to stop bothering you, I get it. But really, it’s quite simple. I have passed by you for two days and waved, and I thought i would stop this time–just to see if there was anything human that could happen between us.”

This time he paused, recollecting human manners. “Do you have any money?” he asked.

“You know I do,” I replied. “You see, they don’t let you leave the back end of the convenience store and roam around if you don’t have it.”

I think he smiled, which led me to believe there was a little bit more inside of him than just a supernal messenger from Zeus.

“Do you have any money you can give me?” he asked more pointedly.

I reached for my wallet, pulled out two one dollar bills, and as I was beginning to hand them to him he added, eyeing the cash, “Breakfast tacos are three dollars.”

“You  mean Zeus left you out here without breakfast?” I probed with a smile.

He smiled back, as if mirroring my image. I reached into my wallet and added an additional one to my offering. “Breakfast tacos it is, then.”

He took the money and inquired, “What’s your name?”

“This is gonna be weird,” I said. “My name is also Terkel. T-e-r-k-e-l.” I mimicked his previous bravado.

He chuckled in spite of himself. “You’re not Terkel,” he said.

“Neither are you.”

He chuckled again.

“You see, this wasn’t so bad. We talked for a minute, we got past the lineage of the Greek gods and you ended up with money for breakfast tacos.”

I reached down to close my window, finishing up the conversation. He stepped forward, and for the first time, looked me in the eyes.

“Thank you, Terkel,” he said. Then he stepped back and stared in the distance as if perched on the deck of the Santa Maria, peering for the north star. He mumbled something about Zeuss and collapsed onto the gravel in a giant heap.

I drove away. I do not know if I did a good thing or a bad thing. Such determinations, in my mind, are deliberated by foolish souls who pursue levels of divinity instead of acquiring the true depths of their humanity.

What I did was something different. And without difference, we are stuck with what and who we are … believing that nothing can change.

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