The Return of the Night Visitor

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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 Donald’s heavy coat from his slumping shoulders, and points to the two chairs he’s rescued from dumpsters in the city’s wealthier neighborhoods. A diminutive folding wood chair and the high red-leather wingback face each other in the small room. The guest pauses … and, unlike the first visit, chooses the high wingback.

As at the first visit, the room is dimly lit by a small table lamp, the kind of late night or early morning ambiance that creates calm and invites intimate conversation. The tenement dweller takes his seat in the folding chair. They sit in silence, the visitor’s hoodie still covering his head, not wanting to be seen, but wanting to be seen.

“I’ve been concerned, Donald. You’ve been tweeting a lot again. You’re feeling very alone. And you’ve shut down the government over the wall. What’s that about?”

“I can’t sleep. The family’s left for Florida. I’m alone here with the maids, the cooks and the butlers. My mind won’t stop. I watch television but it’s only making things worse. Even my favorite news channel has begun to turn on me.”

“What brings you here at this hour of the morning?

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

“It feels pretty dark, doesn’t it?”

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

“Why is that?”

The visitor lowers his head, like a guilty 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 first visit. His need for self-assurance has grown worse. The walls have gone up.

“Remember our last visit, Donald? Your disguise is not a disguise? Do you watch ‘Ray Donovan‘?

Ray Donovan

“No. Why? Who’s Ray Donovan?”

“Ray’s a lot like you, Donald. He’s running from what happened in childhood. Ray was abused by the man he most trusted: his parish priest. He’s not been the same since. Ray built a wall around his heart. He became a hit man. He’s cruel. But inside those high walls? He’s very tender. He’s homeless within his own wall.”

From his small, folding wood chair, the tenement dweller reaches out his hand; the night visitor responds from the big red leather wingback. They sit quietly in the silence before the host lifts Donald’s heavy coat up to his lightened shoulders and watches the night visitor return to his homeless place on Pennsylvania Avenue. He hears Ray Donovan singing on the street outside his tenement:

“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 he 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.

The night visitor

He slinks down Pennsylvania Avenue, head down in a knit cap, at 3:00 A.M. disguised as a homeless man escaping the watchful eye of the Secret Service, his administration, and the cameras, on his way to a dilapidated tenament in the poorest part of the city.

The tenement dweller who owns nothing has been waiting for him. For a long time. The door is ajar, as it always is, in anticipatory welcome of his and others’ coming.

“Welcome, Donald,” he says. “It’s been years. I wondered whether we’d ever have a visit.” He lifts the visitor’s heavy coat from his burdened shoulders. The tenement dweller points to two chairs he’s rescued from a dumpster in the wealthier part of the city, and, without words, invites his guest to choose between the small wood folding chair and the high red-leather wingback that face each other in the small room. The guest pauses …and then, reluctantly, chooses the small folding chair.

The room is dimly lit by a small table lamp, the kind of late-night or early morning ambiance that engenders a kind of intimate calm. They sit in silence.

“I’ve been concerned, Donald. I see you’ve been tweeting a lot – more than normal. What’s that about?”

“It’s all I have. My mind won’t stop. I don’t sleep. I don’t rest. I watch television to distract me but it’s only making things worse. I’m a mess. I feel very alone.”

But you’re not. You’re surrounded by people in the White House. Why did you come here?”

“I remembered you from childhood. My mother taught me the song I used to sing about you. I used to end my bedtime prayers on my knees in your name.

Jesus is silent.

“And now? What brings you here at this hour of the morning?

“I don’t know.”

The table lamp next to the chairs flickers.

“It feels pretty dark, doesn’t it?”

“Very dark. Very dark!”

“Why is that?”

“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. The power scares me. So do my advisors. My mind never stops.”

Silence. The silence of truth.

The tenement dweller’s eyes  look through him, but are soft and compassionate, as well as penetrating. His posture is relaxed but completely attentive to the man-child in the smaller, folding chair. Finally he speaks quietly.

“Maybe it’s time to get down on your knees again? Time to recognize that your homeless disguise is not just a disguise? You’ve been homeless in that gilded tomb of a tower. Time to sing the song you loved to sing in Sunday School, submit yourself to a power greater than your self, and get a good breakfast in the morning instead of tweeting. And, do something about Steve Bannon. He got it all wrong. He’s thrives on anxiety. I’ve been waiting for him, too.”

They sit together in silence. The tenement dweller reaches out his hands; the president extends his hands in response. They sit in silence – a wordless kind of prayer of the Deeper Silence – by the flickering light until they rise from their respective chairs. The host lifts Donald’s heavy coat up to his lightened shoulders and watches the homeless president leave for another day on Pennsylvania Avenue, humming in the silence, “Jesus loves me, this I know… Little ones to him belong. He is great but I am small” in anticipation of a return visit, and a word at the White House with his lesser advisors.

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