The Return of the Night Visitor

He slinks down Pennsylvania Avenue, head down in a hoodie at 3:00 A.M., disguised as a homeless man, escaping the watchful eye of the Secret Service and the television cameras, returning to the dilapidated tenement in the poorest part of the city.

FBI Unabomber sketch

The tenement dweller who owns nothing has been waiting for him since their last visit. The apartment door is ajar, as it always is, in anticipatory welcome of all the homeless.

“Welcome, Donald. I wondered when we’d have another visit.” As he had during the first visit, he lifts the heavy coat from the visitor’s slumping shoulders, and points to the furniture he’d rescued from a dumpster — an old folding chair missing a slat, and the torn red-leather wingback, facing each other each as they had before. The night visitor pauses and chooses the high wingback.

The scene is the same as previously. The room is dimly lit by a small table lamp, the kind of late night or early morning light that creates an ambiance of calm and invites intimate conversation. The tenement dweller takes his seat in the folding chair. The visitor sits in silence, his hoodie still covering his head, not wanting to be seen, but wanting to be seen. The room is silent.

“I’ve been very concerned, friend. I see you’ve been tweeting a lot again. It must be lonely inside the wall. But it doesn’t show outside your wall. Others can’t see it. The you who’s visible to those outside the wall is cruel, vengeful, because in the world outside your wall And you’ve shut down the government over the wall. What’s that about? Tell me about that.”

“I can’t sleep. The family’s gone to Florida. I’m alone here with no one but the maids, the cooks and the butlers. My mind won’t stop. I watch television to settle down but now it only makes things worse. Even my favorite network may be turning on me.”

“What brings you here? It’s 3:30 A.M.

“I don’t know.” The table lamp flickers.

“Feels pretty dark, doesn’t it?”

“Very dark. Very dark! The darkest ever!”

“Why is that?”

The visitor lowers his head, like a child confessing to his parents. “I have all the power in the world but I’m helpless to help myself. I can’t stop tweeting. It’s like it’s not real. I could destroy the world with the push of a button. I’ve shut down the government. The power scares me. And there are all these investigations. My mind never stops. I can’t sleep.”

The tenement dweller in the small folding wood chair sits quietly in the hush that comes when truth has been spoken. His eyes are full of compassion for the homeless man who had opted for the big red leather wingback. The visitor has regressed since their last conversation. His need for self-assurance has grown worse. The walls have gone up.

“Remember our last visit, Donald? Your disguise is not a disguise. You’re hiding something. Do you ever watch ‘Ray Donovan‘?

Ray Donovan

“No. Why? Who’s Ray Donovan?”

“Ray’s’a fixer’, like Michael, but that’s not why I asked. Ray’s a lot like you, Donald. Ray’s running from what was done to him in childhood. He was molested by the man he trusted. His parish priest. He’s not been the same since. Ray built a wall around his heart. He’s cruel. He’s heartless. But inside the wall? He’s very tender, Donald. He’s homeless within his own wall. You can’t live inside the wall.”

From his small, wood chair, the tenement dweller reaches out his hand. They share a long silence before the host put Donald’s heavy coat back on his shoulders. In the pre-dawn darkness, the disguised night visitor returns to his homeless place on Pennsylvania Avenue. He hears singing from the street below.

“Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling—
  Calling for you and for me;
Patiently Jesus is waiting and watching—
  Watching for you and for me!
“Come home! come home!
  Ye who are weary, come home!
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
    Calling, O sinner, come home!”
Will Lamartine Thompson (1847-1909)

The tenement dweller smiles at the sound, but h knows it won’t be long before he comes back.

Nicodemus and Jesus on a rooftop, Tanner, Henry Ossawa, 1859-1937
Nicodemus and Jesus on a rooftop, Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937)

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 12, 2017.

4 thoughts on “The Return of the Night Visitor

  1. So good a reminder every way.

    I got a canvas bag with the logo HATE HAS NO HOME HERE, but I must confess that there are far too many times when I find myself hating not just the actions that hurt people so badly, but the people who take those actions and those others who put them up to, or egged them on in, those hurtful actions. May the Lord have mercy on us all.

    Like

    • I could use a canvas bag like that, Carolyn. I once had a friend, another campus minister, who lived in NYC. He was having trouble with his marriage — an “Open Marriage” — that was full of secret hurt and rage, which he had spilled too openly with his wife over her other relationship.

      I hadn’t seen him for a year the day I met him coming up the stairs from the subway. He was carrying a shoebox. I noted the shoebox and mentioned that he’d been shopping and asked what kind of shoes were in the box. “It’s a shoebox,” he said, “but there no shoes in the box.” “So, what’s in the box?” “Can’t tell you,” he said. “It’s my secret. I’m the only one who knows what’s in the box and it’s going to stay that way.”

      Later he explained that his therapist had recommended the box. It was the place he put the feelings of loathing and his own secret hurt instead of whining like a wounded child or shouting like a madman.

      The canvas bag seems a little like that.

      Like

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