Me and my shadow, continued.
We found a pizza shop that was still open under emergency lights. The dining room was completely dark but near the windows, with the sun going down, you still had enough light to eat. I wanted to eat and run but Jerry was waiting for a bus to Queens. The schedules were slow and random so we waited for a while. In that couple of hours or so we talked about our lives. Mostly it was Jerry talking as I listened. It was the most amazing night I could have possibly fallen into.
The whole time Jerry talked to me, he spoke using Bible verses. I cannot explain how he did it really, but somehow, he flawlessly weaved his life story through the Bible using different verses along the way. He could not read or write but he had memorized huge chunks of the Bible from messages spoken from the pulpit. Through Bible verse after verse he narrated his life and that life lived in a halfway house. He talked about God, a lot. He narrated his life in that deep, quiet, "other-voice" from Jerry as we waited at our table for the bus. I was sad when it came and he got on it. I wanted to sit with him longer but he had to go.
He thanked me for the pizza and coke with his voice going high again. He gave me a hug and a, "Thank you brother," and left for home. We waved as the bus drove off into the darkness. I wondered what the people on the bus thought of this man in his old clothes that fit so badly and his wild hair that looked like he attacked it with scissors. I wondered what they thought and how they summed him up.
I never looked at Jerry the same again after that night. Years later, and knowing more of what it means to be a Christian, of how one must live, walk, talk and do I feel my great loss for not chasing Jerry every service to come have lunch and dinner with me. I wish I could have those precious days and nights again and find him in the rows somewhere and sit next to him and take notes for him. In my arrogance, standing there in my nice clothes with money in my wallet, I was impatient with Jerry. I felt so smug many times when I saw him. What a fool I was. It was me that was benefitting most from our friendship and I realize now that he was the gift, not me. God is greater than us and His thoughts are not our thoughts; and His ways are not our ways. How wrong I was about my sense of being there to help Jerry.
I felt his absence for a long while as I walked back towards the Brooklyn Bridge. I walked in the city under a full moon, down Broadway, through the middle of streets lined with empty, lightless canyons on both sides of me. It was so beautiful and quiet. The sky was full of stars people never see when the city is in full power; the moon was huge and soft shadows hit the sidewalk in front of me. The only sounds in the quiet city around me were my flip-flops hitting the pavement. When I got to the Brooklyn Bridge two cops stopped me and warned me before I crossed that there wasn't anyone to protect me if I got jammed up.
I thanked them and took off across the bridge. The East River was black and silky and sparkled with moonlight under me, next to me the dark, skyline of Manhattan. Under the cover of a full moon and summer stars, the only sound that high up was a warm, summer breeze all around me. Quiet. Moonlight. And a solitude of safety in my chest that was so deep and thick; an otherworldly sense of spirit that was so new to me. Over me was a deep and real sense of God's love, protection and closeness. I thought of all the events of that day and all the surprises God had brought to me that night.
I was standing alone on the Brooklyn Bridge looking at Manhattan in the darkness. I didn’t feel alone because my heart was full of gratitude and a sense of awe for the amazing love of a God I was just beginning to know. In that nighttime of darkness there was a light in my heart.
I realize now, and often with tears, that Light is the most precious and most valuable part of my existence. Without it I have no existence.
I am dead,
In the years since that August evening I moved away to a new country and began to face every weakness and frailty of my character. Starting as a child, my life has been full of long walks and jogs, alone in the woods and in fields, in the snow at night or on a foggy beach, on city streets on both sides of America. I was constantly seeking solitude to connect deeper. I often walked through the streets of Manhattan alone except for an occasional work crew power washing the empty streets. I did the same thing in L.A. and that all started in my hometown. I was always aware and reaching, or trying to understand, or simply enjoy, the sense of who that someone was that was close to me that I was aware of but could not see. I was trying to connect with a companion close enough to speak to and almost touch. Starting at Times Square Church that “Someone” had begun to reveal Himself to me. On that bridge that night I had a personal connection that I had desired my whole life. I was full, completely full, with satisfaction. I had everything. It was extremely hard to leave the bridge that night. I wanted to mark it in my memory forever.
And, I didn’t want to come down, I wanted to stay up there and not deal with my life.
This past Sunday I sat in church while a friend sat next to me and translated Portuguese into English. I remembered my friend Jerry. I never connected the two of us until Sunday. It saddened me and then made me angry that I do not speak or understand Portuguese yet. Today I think about my years here in Portugal in solitude.
Throughout my life, solitude was a place to escape and be quiet, to connect with God. In Portugal, that isolation became a prison without walls. It hurt my life and my marriage and it stole so much from me. I came to Portugal and wanted to stay on the spiritual mountaintop that I was on in Manhattan, in Manhattan of all places! I wanted to permanently stay in that quiet, warm, full moon of peace and connection I had on the bridge.
Now I’m in a valley. There’s pain here and loss and all of it more painful because I stubbornly resisted. God was moving on in Portugal and I didn’t want to go with Him. I wanted to stay on the mountain. I wanted my comfort, my spiritual solitude and what was intoxicatingly incredible, but all of that without God simply became the grotesque of self.
There is no freedom then but just a prison of self. There is no growth or gain, just shriveled loss. All building stops. There is no joy, just frustration and anxious feelings. A self in exile, a branch cut from the vine, withering and dying from thirst.
The only way out of this spiritual valley is communion!
To commune with God is to commune individually and vertically but then horizontally with His body, which is the church. To commune correctly is to connect with the Head, which is Christ, and serve others with others and to subdue self. And do the work of love.
When Jerry walked across the lobby that day it was actually a confrontation. He was invading my solitude space. He was smashing down a “Do not disturb” sign that I had hung out. He was oblivious to my shyness and my stubbornness. He did not care about my personal space needs because he was more interested in love. He also brought me, kicking and resisting, into the necessity of sacrifice, service and sharing. The vital parts of my faith walk that I did not want any part of, I wanted peace and quiet, I wanted solitude in church.
And the irony is……I wanted to grow.
All I want to do is find connection now. All I want to do is come out from hiding and learn and experience what I have missed my whole life, Love. Real Love.
The Light, the warm glow, that was filling my heart that night on the Brooklyn Bridge was filtering through cracks in the granite that were just beginning to open. They began to open every time I reached into my wallet and gave a few dollars to Jerry. They began to open every time I took his notes for him or was kind to him. They opened up in a huge way that night while we sat in darkness waiting for his bus, eating a meal of lukewarm pizzas and iceless cokes. The cracks in my heart began to open up when a man that people would pass by on the street opened up his heart to me and shared his walk with God.
Without running into Jerry that night I would have had another night of solitude looking for life through the lens of a camera. A man and his shadow walking alone down empty avenues.
Thank you my friend, wherever you are. I’m grateful for your effort and I pray now to put more of what I have recently discovered into practice.