There was a hole in him he could never quite explain. Maybe it accounted for so many of the things wrong in his life - his problems with alcohol, gambling, and every single relationship he’d ever had. His last wife had left nearly ten years ago. He forgot why.
He was better off anyway. Life was simpler when his only worry was where he would sleep next. Of course, that philosophy sounded better in the summertime, when the low at night was in the 80s. Now, with fall drawing to a close, and a low in the 40s, being…self-reliant…didn’t sound so great.
There was always one place, though, he could count on to be chock full of guppies - just dying to take a poor homeless person, such as himself, in out of the cold. The Christians at First Baptist loved an opportunity to feel like real Christians once or twice a week. If he hit them on Sunday or Wednesday, they practically fell all over themselves trying to prove how “saved” they were. Of course, it wore off by the next morning, so he always hightailed it out of there early.
He had long ago learned to tune out their proselytizing as just a price to be paid for a warm cot and a hot shower. Still, it was tough to bear sometimes. He had been a believer once himself. As a teen he had gotten swept away in an emotional moment at youth camp. Once he went to college, though, the real world had reasserted itself and he dismissed the whole thing as a kind of brainwashing. There was no one “watching out” for him; he was on his own. Everybody was, and anyone who believed differently was just a fool that made life a little easier for those like him who knew better.
There was somebody different at the door of the church tonight. He almost turned around and left; new people were not good. Sometimes they weren’t attuned yet to how things worked and would either turn him away or spend the whole night trying to “save” him.
There was something vaguely familiar about this man, though. Against his better judgment, he continued on to the front door. With a smile, the greeter opened the door for him. Instead of ushering him down towards the kitchen, where people would feed and bed him down, though, the man crossed the foyer and opened the next door to the sanctuary, gesturing for his homeless guest to enter.
Well, that did it. This guy was definitely new. If he took his smelly, dirty self into that sanctuary, they were both going to get the boot from this church pretty darn fast. He started to turn to leave, but found a hand placed firmly on his shoulder. He was so shocked that this man actually touched him that he didn’t resist being guided inside. Nobody ever touched a homeless person. Their filth and stink were their natural protection, causing almost everyone to recoil.
He tried to slip into the back, but was led instead to the front where they sat down together. He could feel every eye in the place on him as the worship music continued and the congregation sang. Slowly, the music drew him in. He remembered singing songs like these as a youth, and he found himself floating in the sound and then being lifted up by the words. His heart raced and panic began to creep in. He started to get up. His new friend had a grip on his arm, though, and kept him in his seat. Slowly the man leaned over and whispered in his ear. “Where have you been, Michael?”
Startled, he replied, “Why did you call me that?”
“It’s your name.”
Suddenly he remembered. It was his name. He’d been moving around so long under aliases and anonymity that he’d forgotten. “But how do you know that?”
“I know you, Michael. I’ve been calling you for so very long. Stay this time.”
Michael was totally oblivious as he got up from the pew where he sat all alone and made his way up to the altar. He had no idea how much time had passed, but all was now quiet as the church prayed together. His heart was in his throat. He didn’t deserve another chance. He knew it, but as he knelt down and prayed, he found what was missing from the hole inside.
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