Beautiful Anyway–Happy Valentine’s Day

Posted by Melvin Bray on February 14th, 2005 filed in Village Half-Wit

“For the former things are passed away.”
Revelations 21:4b

One day, sitting on his park bench, Revelations’ mind drifted back. It seemed like a lifetime ago that he was a pastor with a church and all. His thoughts settle upon a particular day. The day he found his true calling. They were both there that day. Both trying desperately to hide the hurt locked up inside.

She was 17. He was 14. Neither had known their fathers. Revelations had tried to do what he could to let them both know they were loved, but absent a father’s early attention they didn’t always know who to trust. They both craved love.

She sought it in the arms of the head elder’s son because he told her he loved her brown skin. One day he had playfully asked, “Is there any more room for me in those jeans?” She gave him plenty. He “loved” her as best he knew how, but he had his own issues. She made room for him time and time again hoping, wishing… praying that at the same time he might somehow fill the void in her heart. Now she was pregnant trying to be strong by herself, struggling to remain focused on finishing school. Then, after that, what? She had no idea. He was away at college.

He—the 14-year-old—had kept his void to himself. He longed to know what it meant to be loved by a man, by a father. He had always been a quiet boy so few seemed to notice his growing insecurity, besides Revelations… and the predator. As he had started to come out of his shell, Revelations had noticed a growing effeminacy that hadn’t been there before. It didn’t take much investigation to uncover the impetus for this change in him. Revelations had confronted the predator and made sure that the evil he had inflicted would never happen by his hand again, but damage had already been done. Revelations had gotten the boy into counseling, and he was doing well. It had been about 2 years, but it would take time.

Before service began, Revelations found him and whispered in his ear, “Today’s message is for you. I love you.”

Then Revelations found her and whispered, “I know you had hoped that no one would notice yet. It’s going to be alright. I’m glad you’re here. When you’re ready, just ask. I love you.”

Then he went backstage to get into character to deliver the sermon for the day.

A man in a Tuxedo paces back and forth outside what is supposed to be a courtyard constructed as the backdrop for that day’s sermon.

“What time is it?… Ah, man, it’s almost time. I hope he makes it [sigh]… Let me leave him a note. That’s what I’ll do.”

Taking out a sheet of paper he begins to scribble a note, but unable to get his thoughts together he stops and shakes his head. “Nah, that’s not it.”

Resigning himself to his inability to gather his thoughts, he begins to pace again. “Where is he?” he says in quiet exasperation as he looks at his watch. “He’s going to be late. I hope he makes it.”

He again returns to his note. Momentarily a thought comes to him, and he jots down a few words.

After his brief moment of inspiration, he returns to wondering about the arrival of his friend. It is then that he takes notice of those sitting in the audience, and greets them as if they were just a few passers-by.

“Hi. How are you? Are you here for the wedding too? Well, it’s great to see you. I’m glad you passed by.

“I came out to see if a friend of mine, Joshua, had come by. I’ve been waiting on him. I don’t want him to miss it. The bride would be disappointed (to say the least). But he’ll be here. I’m sure.

“Do you know the bride or groom? No? Well, the groom, he’s a nice enough guy, I guess—nothing bad to say about him really. I guess the best thing I could say about him is that Hadaus chose him to be her husband.

“Hadaus? She’s the bride. Haduas… now that’s a person worth knowing. She’s one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. I mean, she is just adorable… and kind… and loving… and she cares about people. It’s a care that you can see in her eyes and hear in the way she talks to you and feel in the way she’s so attentive. It’s a wonderful thing, truly. And, man, is she beautiful. I snuck a peak at her a few minutes ago just before I came out.

“I remember the first time I met Hadaus. Well, actually, I saw her first from a distance. I was coming out of a wedding reception that was taking place downtown. As my friends and I walked out we saw this big crowd gathered in Centennial Park. None of us had heard about anything going on in the park that day. So before we gave our tickets to the valet, we decided we’d drift across the street right quick to see what was going on.

“We pressed our way through the crowd and got to a place where we could see. It was the strangest thing. JC, the guy I’m waiting on, (his real name is Joshua, but many of us just call him JC) was standing in the middle of the crowd. And there was this man standing opposite him, I guess he was the leader of the pack. And there was this woman.

“Now, I don’t know if you know JC, but JC’s the type of guy that you either love or hate. There’s no in between. When he came to town, he pretty much turned the whole religious community on its head. At the time most preachers were preaching hell fire and brimstone. They were preaching that you gotta live right, you gotta do right, you gotta be right, and if not, you’e going to hell! Then JC comes along and says, ‘I don’t think you quite have it. In fact, it’s really not about being “right”. It’s about being “righteous”. Being righteous means that you’re in proper relationship with God. Your own righteousness amounts to nothing more than a used tampon.’ Yeah, that’s the phrase he used. Poignant, isn’t it? He went on to say, ‘So unless you’re in relationship with my Father, you have no rightness or righteousness to talk about.’

“That was powerful. His message of relationship—righteousness as opposed to rightness—and the importance of it. Be that as it may, people didn’t seem to like him after that, at least not the religious leaders. They thought he was crass and dangerously misguided. A lot of the pastors in the city got together and denied him access to their churches. They wouldn’t let him even visit anymore. They didn’t want their congregations listening to him or being influenced by him.

“Well, this specific day out in the park I noticed a lot of the big time ministers from the city were there standing around. But there was one in particular (I won’t call his name ’cause you might know him) who was talking really loud about the woman who was kneeling there crying. Supposedly they had caught her shacked-up with—” he paused, then continued, “I guess he wouldn’t be her ‘significant other’. Well, let me put it this way, she was a kept woman. Though she was just 19, she was a mistress. Her ‘lover’ was notably absent from the center of attention that day. From what I’ve heard he’s a minister as well, so I guess his colleagues were extending to him a measure of quid pro quo. Each minister was looking out for himself and each other. So they hadn’t called their colleague out, but they had dragged the woman out and were airing all her laundry in public.

“JC was standing there when the loud, leading minister shoved the woman to JC’s feet and said, ‘This woman is an adulteress. We caught her in the act. She’s breaking up somebody’s home.’ What he didn’t mention was that the woman had just the week before told her ‘lover’ that they were going to have to break it off. The whole performance was probably just an attempt to discredit her before she got any ideas of confessing to her boyfriend’s wife.

The loud-mouthed minister went on, ‘What do you have to say about that? You say that life isn’t about right living. Do you mean to tell us God wants someone like her in his kingdom? She’s going to hell!’

“If it were me, I would probably have gotten upset that someone called me out like that in public, but JC just stood there looking with compassion at her. Of course, she was crying. It seemed like an eternity before JC made his move. He looked them all in the eye, one by one, all of her accusers. Then it was like they slowly disappeared to him. He knelt down in the dirt beside the woman and started doodling. It wasn’t scribble. He was actually writing something. I wasn’t close enough to see it, but I know he was writing something because the ministers and people around him were watching his hands intently.

“Well, it didn’t take long before one minister sidled away. And then another. One of the female ministers slipped away from the crowd. And another. Until, finally, the whole crowd had kinda dwindled down to just us onlookers. Left next to JC was this woman… in the dirt… tears streaming down her face… hair hanging in front of her eyes as she sobbed. I don’t think see even noticed that the composition of the crowd had changed.

“JC then turns to Hadaus and asks, ‘My dear, where are your accusers?’

“At this, she looks up and sees that all those who had condemned her are gone. Someone hands her a tissue, as she replies in shy astonishment, ‘They’re gone.’

“He said, ‘Well, I’m not going to condemn you. Go and sin no more.’

Conscious of the time, Jacob becomes apologetic. “I’m so sorry. Am I keeping you from something? Are you sure? If so, please just let me know. Okay. I’ll tell you what became of her.

“Now, by this time my friends and I had gravitated toward the front of the crowd. We were right there on the front row, and I don’t know why it would surprise me, but I found my mother there as well.

“I was staring at the young lady as JC was talking to her, and I would have expected that he was looking at her too. But when I glanced at him, it was the weirdest thing. It appeared he was staring at me as he said, ‘I don’t condemn you. Go and sin no more.’ That puzzled me for a while. I’ll tell you what became of that a bit later.

“Just as JC said that the young lady kinda looked around like she didn’t know what to do with herself. Taking her cue, my mom moved towards her, put something over her shoulders and said, ‘Honey, I want you to come home with me tonight.’

“Hadaus came home with my mom that night and… she never left. She just kinda stayed. Mom couldn’t have minded less really. It was no imposition. Mom runs a little bed and breakfast about twenty miles south of downtown, and Hadaus just started helping out around the place. In short order she began to fit right in. She started to cook a little bit. She cleaned a little bit. She helped mom with things. They became close.

“Now me, myself, I was somewhat embarrassed by her living there. I mean, yeah, it was nice. She is a good looking woman and all, but after that big incident in the park, her being in my mother’s house (while I was there) wasn’t a conversation I felt like having time and again with folks. You should have heard my friends, ‘Yeah, that woman’s staying at your house, isn’t she? She’s hot (wink, wink)!’ Though few said anything, you could hear what they were thinking as you walked by them at church, yet really I couldn’t complain. I was 22 at the time, had come home from college and probably should have been out on my own. Mom was doing me a favor as well. So I wasn’t going to protest too much.

“Still I was embarrassed. To which my mom replied, ‘Get over it.’ This was why my mom was here. This was her purpose, and I understood that. Mom had done this for years. Because we had the house and it was big, mom just took in strays. Every animal that walked by found a home at our house. The word had gone out into the community. All kinds showed up at our house. I knew this, so I didn’t stress it.

“Once I got over myself, I started trying to talk to Hadaus. I felt like I needed to at least give her a chance. For some reason she wasn’t too interested in opening up to me. She seemed to have some trust issues. I guess that makes sense. Over time I’ve learned some things about her. She was abused as a child. Sadly, much like Jean Toomer’s Karintha, Hadaus was so beautiful that men began to take an interest in her at an inappropriate age. She ended up being raped at age 12 by a man who was supposed to be like a father to her.

“The only reason I share this with you is because she’s overcome that now, and she’s decided that she’s going to turn her hurt into healing to help others because these things happen more often than one might think.

“By time she was 16, she was dating a man who was 25. What she had discovered is that if she was willing to keep men company, they would take care of her as far as money was concerned. So why go to school?”

Shaking his head, Jacob sighed, “It’s rough just to think about. Her stories hurt me. Just one man after another. Being kept. Being used. Looking for something that she couldn’t quite find.

“So she didn’t really trust men after that, understandably. She kept me at arm’s length. Notwithstanding, there was one man she did seem to trust almost instinctively. It was JC. Every so often JC would come by. He’d show up at the house, and they’d go for walks or go out to dinner and talk. I’d hear them joking and laughing and having a great time together.

“I kinda resented him a little, to tell the truth, because I couldn’t get in with her like that. But—” Jacob paused to reflect, “I think it was a good thing for her because she seemed to be lighter when he was there. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that he didn’t really care what her past was. It didn’t much matter to him. She later told me that she felt really comfortable talking to him about it. With him she could unload a bunch of that mess, and as she unloaded it, she was freer, more whole.

“Still I don’t think it was that that she loved so much. I think it was that when she was with him there were no expectations. She didn’t have to pretend. She didn’t have to be more sophisticated than she really was or more grown. She didn’t have to put on airs or anything like that. Just any way you come—he’s always open. I think it was that thing right there that allowed her to let go of her hurt.

“When JC use to come by, he would try to pull me to the side and talk to me too. We’d shoot the breeze a while. I thought he was a cool guy. He did good stuff in the community. He took care of people. He was healing people. He’d make sure people found housing. He was teaching people things that they never knew before. I thought he was a decent guy, but for some reason when I was with him I felt somehow like less of a person. It wasn’t really his fault. It was that he was so good. He was… perfect. He was so everything you would want in a friend or a dad or a husband or whatever the case may be. He was just all that. It wasn’t that he looked a certain way. He wasn’t the best looking guy. He wasn’t the most sophisticated guy or suave. I would compare myself to him. I can dress pretty well, but he didn’t even seem to be concerned about that kind of stuff. Still something attracted you to him. It wasn’t like he judged me, but I would judge myself in his presence and feel bad about myself. So I didn’t much like dealing with him when he would come by.

“Well, all that changed about a year ago. Hadaus had come to stay with us in June. By about August-September she and I started to become friends. It seemed like the more she opened up with him, the more she was able to open up to me. So I started to appreciate JC’s visiting: if for no other reason, he had given me a good friend. Then, I guess (that’s August, September, October…) about the end of the year Hadaus and I began talking about birthdays coming up. We discovered that we share the same birthday—Emancipation Day, the 1st of the year. So we made plans to celebrate together. We were going to go out and do something, maybe throw a little party or something, we weren’t sure. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to it.

“The day came. It was early evening. Hadaus and I were getting ready to go out. I had gone into the house for something (I can’t remember what it was), but somehow mom and I got into this fight—again. It seemed like mom and I were always fighting of late. I know it was more me than mom because I had all this anger brewing inside of me. I hadn’t even noticed it before then. I always thought I was the guy who couldn’t hold a grudge, but recently I found myself just mad for no apparent reason. I don’t really remember what mom said that set me off. I think she heard me being pig-headed about something. I think Hadaus wanted to do a particular thing, and my reaction was, ‘No! We have to do this.’ Mom said something to me like, ‘You know, baby, I’ve never talked bad about your father. But I watched his anger be his undoing. He was addicted to that domineering behavior, and he didn’t know how to behave any other way. It drove a wedge between us, and eventually he walked out the door. Son… Jacob, I don’t want you to be like that. I want better things for you, your father would want better for you.’

“I don’t know why, but that lit my fuse. I was hot like fire! I screamed at my mother, ‘How dare you compare me to my father?! I’m nothing like my father! My father use to beat on you. You think I don’t remember? I was just a little kid, but I remember. I’m nothing like him!’ And I got madder and madder.”

Jacob acknowledges remorsefully, “She was just trying to help me. That’s all she was doing, but I was just upset. I was mad he’d left. I was mad I had gone through life without my dad. I wanted him there. I wanted him when I caught my first pop-fly in the big game. I wanted to turn around and see him there, but he wasn’t. When that first girl hurt me—broke my heart—I wanted to talk to him. I wanted to at least call him, but he wasn’t there.

“Sobbing, I continued directing my pain towards my mother, ‘Just the fact, Mom, that you would try to compare me to him… I’m nothing like him. I try to be there for you. I try to be there for my friends. I try to be loyal because he couldn’t be…’

“I ended up saying some pretty obnoxious and hurtful things to my mom that night. Then I stormed out the house.

Mindful of the time again, Jacob inquires, “Are you sure I’m not keeping you? Okay. This is where it all comes together.”

“Hadaus was sitting there on the front porch. Quite honestly, there was no one else I would rather have spoken to at that moment. She was sitting there on the steps. I crossed the porch to make my way down. I don’t think I greeted her. I don’t think I even asked if she wanted to hear what was going on. She had probably overheard more than she wanted through the screen door already, but I start to share with her all the things I was feeling. The things I was feeling about my dad. The things I was feeling about my mom. The things I was feeling about life: and how I felt trapped: and how I just didn’t feel like I had any direction and that I was going around in circles. Yes, I had a degree, and I had a decent paying job. That was better than some. My friends were happy with those things, but I really wasn’t happy. It felt like I couldn’t get out of this rut. It seemed like I was angry all the time and couldn’t get over it.

“She listened to me quietly. She listened to me patiently. I wanted her to say something back to me. I wanted her—” he changes directions, “You know what it’s like when you want someone who’s close to you to say just the right thing that will make it better. She could have said it. But she didn’t. In fact, she said exactly the wrong thing. She said, ‘You know, Jacob, Joshua just arrived. He’s down in the garden. You should probably talk to him.’

“‘What?'” he chuckles sarcastically. Smiling he continues, “Then I was mad at her. So now I’m walking around mad at everybody I love.

“I walk away, and I go down towards the lake that’s back behind the house, opposite the garden. I’m going to clear my head. I’m walking around screaming and shouting and kicking the air and ‘Ahhhghgh!'” Jacob let’s out a cry of remembered exasperation. “I think I even trip along the way and tear my pants and scrape up my leg which just makes me madder.

“I’m down there going through these internal and external convulsions when I come upon JC sitting on a rock. Before I can excuse myself or turn back the other way—I had been making so much noise it wasn’t like he could have avoided noticing me—he says, ‘You know I’ve been waiting for you to come by. What’s going on, man? You sound like you’re hurting.’

“Remember I told you how I felt when I was around him. Well, unfortunate for me at the time, what accompanied that feeling was this inability to resist talking to him. Those eyes are so gentle. They just pull the words out your mouth.

“So I start talking to him. I tell him everything. I share with him some things that I had never shared with another person before. Some really painful stuff. I just give it to him.

“It was kind of like I rolled up all my hurts and disappointments and fears into a big ball and threw them at him—BOW! And then I said, ‘Now whatcha gonna do about that, Nosey?’ because I really didn’t want to talk to him.

“Pausing to fix his eyes on me, and he asks, ‘How long are you going to hold on to that? How long?’

“‘How long am I going to hold on to this? What’s wrong with you, man? You don’t even know me. How are you—’

“He interrupts me and says without the hint of arrogance, ‘I probably know more than you think.’

“With that I stopped. I stopped attacking him for the moment. I asked, ‘What do you mean holding on to it?’

“He responded with more tenderness than I know how to express, ‘Jacob, you’ve been holding onto that all your life. Your daddy left you at 7. You’re 22 now. What’s that? 15 years. That’s the better half of your life. When are you going to let that go so you can go on and get about the business of living? Because that’s what life is about. You either “get busy living or get busy dying,” and you’ve been dying for about 15 years now? When are you going to move on?’

“I said, ‘Man, I don’t know how! What do you mean move on? I don’t know how. How do you move on?! How do you get over that?! How do you get over your father not being there at all the crucial times in your life? How do you get over that? How do you get over wanting to be something extraordinary, but not knowing how to get there? How do you get over that?’

“He replied, ‘Well, let’s talk about it for a second. Listen. You have to go back to that place where you can be dependent again. Where you can trust again. You know, it’s almost like you have to be born again. You know? Because when a baby’s born all that baby has is the person that’s caring for him. He (or she) can’t do anything for himself—can’t do a thing. So all he can do is trust. That’s it. All babies can do is wait and hope that they will be cared for. They don’t pretend to know what’s right or what’s wrong. They don’t pretend that they can even wipe their own behinds. That’s where you’ve got to get. You’ve got to get to that place where you stop knowing right from wrong: where you stop acting like there’s something more you should be doing. You have to get to that place where you can look your heavenly Father in the eye, or even me, look me in the eye and trust me to show you the way.’

“‘What?’ I skeptically thought to myself. ‘What’s that about?’

“It was like he knew what I was thinking. He said, ‘Don’t dismiss it, man. You see, apart from me your life hasn’t amounted to much. You’ve had some success, but obviously it hasn’t meant much because you’re not fulfilled. You’re not satisfied. Apart from me there’s nothing: you can do nothing, and you are nothing. You are NO . . . THING. You don’t even exist because in me there’s life. Outside of me there’s death. So until you’re able to trust me and get in relationship with me, there’s nothing. That’s what I was trying to hint at you that day in the park The day you met Hadaus.

“That’s why when people come to me, like Hadaus. When she finally came to me and started to talk to me and started to share with me, I didn’t care about the things that happened in her past. They didn’t matter. They were things that happen while she was apart from me: they were nothing. It took her a while to trust that. She was so use to being judged or to judging herself. But now she’s beginning to trust, and you’ve experienced the difference that it’s made in your own friendship with her. Get with me.

“‘All this is why I can look at Hadaus, and I can see beauty. And it’s not that beauty that you’re thinking about. It’s not that beauty that one sees in spite of or even glimpses of potential beauty. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m saying that because she’s decided to be in real, dynamic relationship with me, when I look at her, I see beauty. Not qualified beauty. Beauty. Because she’s connected to life now. There was nothing before that, and now there’s something. And that something is relationship to me. So I see beauty. I don’t see sins and mistakes and mess ups. I don’t see that because it’s not there. When you’re truly connected to me, words like sins and blunders and mistakes are just words to denote what you haven’t learned yet. What you don’t know yet. What you’re not mature enough to accomplish on your own yet. Think about it. Sensible adults don’t despise children for not acting grown.

“‘With me, you’re always right where you’re supposed to be. So the fact that you don’t know how to love fully yet just means you haven’t been with me long enough. The fact that you get all angry with your dad and with your mom and with life… In due time I’ll show you how to handle all that stuff.

“‘Now don’t hear what I’m saying through the ears you always listen to things through. You know those ears. Those ears that make it not matter what’s said to you, you turn it around so that it sits comfortably right in that place that allows you to think the way you’ve always thought so nothing changes. You know what I’m talking about. You’ve done it before. You know, someone will say something to you—something that’s pregnant with life—and you’ll say, ‘Aw, man, that’s deep… Thanks for that… I agree.’ You’ll say little stupid stuff like that, and, Jacob, you’ve been agreeing life away. Everything stays the same.

“‘Jacob, you’ve been going to church for years. You have no excuse to be frustrated by life. You’ve known the Author of Life all your life. So what are you going to do, Jacob? What are you going to do?’

“What could I do? I said, ‘Okay. I’ll take it.’

“‘”Love keeps no record of wrong.” So what I want you to do, Jacob, is to forget all your mess, and get to know me.’

Turning his attention back to the audience, Jacob said, “I’m not going to lie to you. Life hasn’t been perfect since, but it’s been a lot more enjoyable. I made a decision that day that I was going to believe him when he said he’d cast all my mistakes into the bottom of the ocean and remember them no more. So I’ve been believing him for about a year now. And, you know, he comes by every once and a while to visit, and he doesn’t just visit with Hadaus anymore. He visits with me too. The 3 of us have a great time together.

“I’ve gotten into this little habit. At times he’ll show up and slip away before you really know he’s been there. There’ll just be a sweetness in the air. I figured I could prepare for that eventuality. So I started writing him these little notes and just leaving them in a basket at the front door so that if he came by and I missed him or he was hanging out with Hadaus, at least there’d be some communication going on between him and me. It’s been a great thing.

“Today I wanted to write him something special. I was standing here when you passed by trying to figure out what to say. Nothing came to mind that seemed to express what was in my heart. I wanted to recount all the mistakes I’d made and all he had saved me from and all he had taught me. But every time I wrote it down it didn’t feel right.

“Then I remembered. When he looks at me, he doesn’t see all of that. He just sees a clean slate. He doesn’t want me to recount my mess to him. He knows what I was before. So I just wrote, ‘Thanks so much. Love always, Jacob.’ I’m going to leave it over there in the basket. I’ve been waiting on him. Hopefully he’ll make it. Prayerfully he’ll be here.

“I have to go back inside now. I’m sorry I kept you so long. You’re welcome to come in if you’d like. We’d love to have you.

“You don’t have an invitation? We can take care of that. When you get to the door, tell them that the groom, Jacob, (Jacob’s my name) invited you in to celebrate with us. Two beautiful, free people are getting married today.”

Two women walked together out of service that day. One was indignant. The other reflective.

The first elder’s wife did most of the talking. “I wish my son would tell me he was planning to marry some tramp we took in off the street. I’m all for being kind to one’s neighbors, but there are limits. You know what I’m saying, Debra?”

“Hunh? Oh, of course.”

“I mean just because you help someone out doesn’t mean you have to make them a part of your family. Pastor St. Common goes a little overboard sometimes. Besides, all these little hot things running around here would just love to get their hooks into someone like my son—a handsome young thing who’s going places. I just spoke to him last night. He’s doing so well away in college.”

“That’s good,” Debra responded from some place else. She was thinking about her own precious son. He had known such pain in his short 14 years. She hoped to heaven that he would find the courage to believe the truth Pastor St. Common had shared today.

“Take for example that little fresh thing over there. She started clinging to my Richard last summer, with her hot self. I told him she was good for nothing but the ruining of his future. I told him she definitely isn’t marriage material. No harm intended, but she’ll probably end up knocked up just like her mother.”

She didn’t know that she was soon to be a grandmother.

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