I visited him on a fairly regular basis. He lived in a small, arthritic house on the outskirts of town. Every home has its own odor; his smelled of alcohol, cigarettes, and hopelessness. I was his pastor. Books lined the shelves in his living room, and in these we found camaraderie. He was the most well-read man in my parish, probably the whole town. With shaking hands, he’d remove his reading glasses when I walked in, put his book down, and we’d begin to talk about the latest Dickens I was reading, or the WWII novel he was in the middle of. He was a man of books. And he was a man of whiskey.
He never divulged to me his whole story. Bits here and there snuck out in conversation. But there are always others, especially in a small town, especially in a church, who are all too willing to fill in the gaps. His was the human story: loss, regret, grief–the predictable, painful, powerful shit of life. A few people can endure a Job-like hell, get up, bless God, and face the future stronger than ever. Most of us aren’t such saints. We hobble along, half-walking, half-crawling into the will-be from the what-was. And some of us just sit, drowning our sorrows in a baptism of whiskey, or women, or pleasure, or careers, or whatever dulls the pain.
One of the most amazing stories in the Bible is that no one threw a stone at the woman caught in adultery. I find it hard to believe. For that is not how it works in real life. There are always those ‘without sin,’ and they are usually the ones who boast of being such poor, miserable sinners. But they carry rocks in their pockets. And when vice appears, they hurl their stones with virtuous, bulls-eye indignation.
They certainly would have found a target in my friend—now many years deceased. What I find in him now, as I look back, wiser in years and not nearly as virtuous as I once thought I was, is a brother in suffering. I gave him what love I had, meager as it was. And perhaps now, in full love, he prays for me. He prays for me and all who bear unhealed wounds, self-inflicted or otherwise, who foolishly look for relief in dry baptisms, where the gods who disappoint reign. He prays we find what he didn’t, but now has.