Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: The Kingdom of God (03/12/09)
TITLE: In the Soft, Half-Golden Light
By Jim McWhinnie
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Come six o’clock, the line would form of men who lived their lives one bowl of soup at time, surviving the streets one more day, maybe with one more bottle of muscatel to soothe their moldy despair. Two hundred men would take their turn stopping at my green, folding card table. “Name please. Do you have your ID? Empty your pockets. Your clothes go in the bag by the shower. Dinner at seven. Lights out at nine. No smoking. The bus leaves for the labor pool at 6:00 a.m.”
These weathered, old knights of the road, they knew the routine, it had become their way of life. Some had taken to the road after the war and simply had stayed on the road too long. Others were broken men, casualties of bad homes, bad breaks, or bad choices.
While they showered, we would fumigate their clothes, replace socks and underwear that needed to be replaced, maybe provide a hand-me-down shirt or a half-worn pair of trousers. They would dress and comb their hair with one of the thousands of Salvation Army combs we always had on hand. Where all those combs came from, no one knew, but we always had boxes and boxes of them.
Dinner would always begin with a table grace that I usually provided, but every so often an old fellow named Wild-Eyed Jack would recite a prayer that his godly grandmother had taught him when he was a boy on a farm in upstate New York. That was before the War when a grenade had stolen away his right eye and left with a life of limping and begging, a life of aching pain and the pity of folks who walked on by. After biscuits and soup, green beans and a necessary slice of onion, Bear, our grizzly cook, would always bring out platters of ginger snap cookies. I always loved those ginger snap cookies.
Soon after, I would begin corralling the men into the long, one room dormitory, each of them to a cot covered with a drab green blanket with the Salvation Army shield imprinted in black ink upon it. I would give a warning or two that lights out would be coming soon. Then, when I felt the moment had come, I’d flip the light switch and they would one by one slip away into few hours of dreams of what might have been - and I suppose now and then - of what might one day be.
I would sit and watch over this household of broken dreams and worn out souls as a soft, half-golden light from the illuminated cross that hung on the far wall would settle upon these old, snoring men. And for one more night in the flow of eternity that gentle light of that old cross would bath those two hundred one-time little boys with the gentle grace of God.
That Salvation Army lodge at midnight, there in the light of that cross, was one of those places that one finds in the realm known as the kingdom of God.
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