Monday, December 28, 2009

Time To Head For Home

Go with me (Lord), to keep me from getting lost,
or being too reluctantly ashamed to take the first demanding steps
that will be the beginning now of that lifetime journey
to the self I so passionately long to be,
to those I love and lost awhile,
and to those in the shimmering web of this human family I'm in for good,
and so to you, who, I'm praying,
waits to welcome and go limping home with me.
An excerpt from My Heart In My Mouth: Prayers For Our Lives

In Alice McDermott’s novel, Charming Billy, two older vets of World War II sit smoking in the dark on the porch of an inherited, rundown little house on the shore of Long Island. For the first time ever, they'd spent the day walking by the sea and in a nearby village. They are awed by the experience. One of them says , “... It makes you wonder what else you don't know yet?"
“Plenty.” the other answers.

As they sit thoughtfully in the darkness, the first one, named Billy, thinks to himself about something he could not explain, wondering: “ what else did he not know about yet that would strike him ... in the very first moment of apprehending, of seeing and smelling and tasting, as something he could not, from that moment on, get enough of and could never again live without.”

Billy's thought, there in the darkness by the sea, reflects a sense of awe that's at least vaguely familiar to us for it touches on the deepest longing of our human hearts. Surely all of us have known some moment, perhaps many moments, of apprehending, of seeing, smelling, sensing something we cannot get enough of and yet can never again live without.

How has such a moment happened for you? Maybe when you’ve stood at the window with a cup of coffee and watched the early sun run its fingers through the tree tops, or when your heart pounded with the sensation of falling in love with someone, or when you watched brave little legs carry a reluctant little face off to school, or when you gathered in tears with a few others around an open grave into which the casket of someone you love was being lowered as you hopefully commit her or him to life beyond death. Or maybe the moment broke in through a doctor's diagnosis that ripped away the taken-for-granted facade of your life, or in the shudder of an accident which reminded you of how fragile it all is, or when a phrase in a prayer or in a song became a keyhole you glimpsed another world through, or in the "Why?" of a youngster's insistent curiosity that suddenly made the world new again for you.

Those moments are clues to the awesome mystery of all we do not know yet but long for. Those moments sneak in through ordinary times and ordinary places, feeling like an soft tap on the shoulder, or a ripple of the soul, or the sudden flutter of a breeze out of nowhere, or like a mother’s voice in the distance calling you home.

How have such moments affected you? Or have they, do they? Maybe not much because for most of us the trouble is we too quickly turn away from them, dismiss them as just a bit of sentimentality and quickly get back to the rush and clatter of business as usual. We don’t trust such moments for what they are — a key turning the lock on the vault of our heart of hearts, opening them to the deep longing we keep stored away there. And yet, by God’s grace and patience, those moments keep happening when we sense something we cannot get enough of and can never live without, the great pull of the mystery of all we do not know yet, or ever know completely. It's the pull of awe. Whatever spirituality and religion involve, awe is at their source and awe is what those pregnant moments bear.

So I suggest that, as we take the first steps through the door of the New Year, we gather up those moments and attend to some of them and the longing they open in us. If we do, we might begin to realize that they point to what the image of
home means to us most deeply. They might also remind us that home is not so much where we leave from, as it is more where we are always leaving for because our longing is for the home which embodies belonging, being accepted, held accountable, forgiven, strengthened, loved, and no human home quite brings that off but only hints toward.

The old mystic, Meister Eckhart, was right when he said, “God is at home. We are in the far country.” Then isn't home what we long for, perhaps glimpse in those moments, and back out of them - if we pay attention. That longing throbs most deeply in those moments when the mystery of all we do not know summons us by making clear that we can never settle down in what is past, or even what is present, but need always to break our necks, or habits, for home. And isn’t turning and heading toward home what faith is about? How do we do that? Several ways, of course. Choose your own. But choose! Begin to move toward what you most long for.

One thing you might include in doing that is to pray. I believe those moments of awe when we sense something we cannot get enough of and can never live without are a call to pray. For whatever else it is, whatever way we do it, prayer fundamentally is a referral to a transcendence, to a power greater than our human power, to a God who cares about us; that is, to One who call us toward home, and to whose call prayer is our answer

A few years ago, I discovered Ann Lamott’s delightful, insightful book, Traveling Mercies. Ann comes close to what prayer is when she writes, “Here are the two best prayers I know: ‘Help me, help me, help me,’ and ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.’" At least those prayers are addressed to God and are an honest, no frills first move toward. But when you think about it, you realize Ann’s on to something profound because when you start fairly regularly filling in the blanks of “help me” and “thank you,” you’re pretty much up to your breaking neck in prayer.

Once, in desperation, when my garments of sophistication and religious propriety were pretty much shredded, I often prayed that “Help me, help me, help me” prayer about the future and what to do about it and in it. I would go over options and worries, and then one morning it came to me, a kind of nudge, a glimmer. I don’t want to overstate the case, but for a few moments, and then for days after, including now, the words, “Be who you are” kept knocking softly in my head. At first I thought that must be my idea but I’m not that smart or that confident. Then I thought it sounded like some self-indulgent New Age slogan that had seeped in when I was unaware, Or maybe was a condensed, slightly altered version of the trite, misleading Army recruiting slogan, "Be all you can be." But, like the biblical Jacob, my resistence couldn’t shake the words out of my wrestle with the angel of awareness: "Be who you are."

Then it dawned on me to ask, “Well, who am I?” And I said to myself, “Now Loder, there’s a question to occupy you for a while, and shape your prayers.” So I’ve come to realize, more all the time, that what I can’t get enough of and can’t live without is the promise that I am one of God’s kids being called home. An old kid, yes, not a little one, just as my kids are not little anymore, but are still my kids. And I’m old enough to know this much for sure: the way home to what I can’t live without is littered with tough issues and challenging choices about what it really means to be one of God’s kids. It’s littered with all I don’t know about being that kid yet, and all the ways I screw up what it means a dozen times before lunch every day. But I've also moved on to the "Thank you, Thank you, Thank you" prayer as much as the "Help me, help me, help me” one. God is home, we are in the far country. Don't you suppose that, moment by moment, we need to be about breaking our neck for home?

Think about it and have a blessed new year full of awesome moments. Ted

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Four character Christmas Story - 4th - Daryl -

Friends,This copy right story Christmas Story I wrote of Four Characters should be read sequentially in order and comes as four posting on my blog. Stay alert and have a blessed Christmas. Ted

Character Four - DARYL

I don’t talk much. Think a lot though. About things I see. And not just with my eyes. I get what some people call visions. I call ‘em hunches. It’s like I can see the future. A little hazy but good enough.

Like one night Hank and me was goin’ through a dumpster behind a Burger King. It was awful dark in there. Hank was ready to give up lookin’ ‘cause we couldn’t see much let alone find anything. So I told him not to give up. I had this hunch we’d find a couple of half-eaten Whopper if we kept diggin’. So we did and we found the Whoppers. Ate ‘em sittin’ right there inside the dumpster.

Hank was impressed. He said I must be pre-sy-ant. I asked him what that meant and he said it was like having second sight. I told ‘em I call ‘em hunches but maybe I am pre-sy-ant if that’s what havin’ hunches means.

I thought about it and hunches is sorta seein’ things like you would if you was in a real dark place. Like in an abandoned house with the windows all boarded up. You squint around and sometimes spot a window that’s got a hole in one of its board so a little ring of light gets through from outside. So you can make a few things out. That’s how a hunch starts.

So you crawl over and look out through the hole and check out where the light’s comin’ from. It looks like a different world when you look at it through a light hole like that. There’s more to it than you usually thought. That’s what a hunch is. Like that. Seein’ different things than usual. Seein’ what’s gonna happen. Or might happen. Or could happen So that’s what I think of a lot. My hunches. Things I see like that. Thing is, I get hunches almost any time day or night. When I first got ‘em I thought I was freakin’ out. Then I realized things I seen in my hunches really did happen afterwards. Sometimes.

So I started thinkin’ about all that. It made havin’ hunches a spooky thing. But I liked havin’ ‘em, too. In fact, sometimes, to help ‘em happen, I make a little circle out of my fingers, like that hole in the boarded up window where the light comes through. Then hold that finger hole up to my eye like you did when you were a little kids

I look through that finger hole at things to see if a hunch would come about what I’m lookin’ at. Sound’s weird, I know. But doin’ it helps focus the light. Only when people see me doin’ it, they think I’m bonkers. Even more than they are, or everyone is, particularly when no one’s lookin’, you know?

Anyway, havin’ these hunches, I thought maybe was a special gift God gave me and I was supposed to do somethin’ with it, like bein’ a priest or somethin’. I tried that out by goin’ and helpin’ a church where a friend of mine’s uncle was some kind of bishop or somethin' like that, he called himself. But the guy turned me off by actin’ better than anybody else.

Plus people didn’t like it much when I’d make my finger hole and look at ‘em through it. They didn’t get that I was just tryin’ to get up a hunch about ‘em, see ‘em in a different light. Anyhow, a lot of ‘em didn’t like my hunches about ‘em or what could happen for ‘em, like they didn’t want nothin’ different to happen that what was happenin’. So I wish’d ‘em good luck and God bless ‘em and left off thinkin’ about bein’ a priest or clergy and wearing one of them stiff white collars. I figured those collars musta choked off blood to their brain, bein’ how they acted. At least the ones I met.

But I didn’t leave off thinkin’ about God. ‘Cause I was pretty sure my hunches were a gift from God. Especially the light that’s part of a hunch comes from God. So when I heard Maude talkin’ about seein’ Hank’s face by the light of his cigarette the other night, my ears perked right up. I figured God had somethin’ to do with that. That maybe I was somethin’ like them wisemen in the Bible story of Jesus bein’ born.

When I told Maude and Hank and Lil that, they commenced callin’ me Wisey ‘cause I was so set on the specialness of the light. Like the star them wisemen was set on followin’ in the Christmas story. Thing is, I didn’t mind ‘em callin’ me Wisey. Actually, I liked it.

It don’t matter how I come to be homeless and more or less end up with Hank and Maude and Lil. Upshot of it is that when I was workin’, I kept makin’ my little finger hole to look at things and people like my bosses took it wrong. So I’d end up losin’ my job. I guess they thought I was even stranger than they were. Finally, I was homeless.

But now whenever I look through a finger hole like this, see, or talk about hunches, people don’t pay no mind since that’s the sort of stuff homeless guys do. So I like it when Maude and them call me Wisey. I think they do it ‘cause they got a little light to see by, too.

Anyway, after Hank told Maude his story that night, and me and Lil listened in from the shadows, we all walked over here to this Bed and Breakfast to see if Hank’s lost kid, Maggie, comes back again. Now here’s the thing. Since we got here, I been thinkin’ and lookin’ at things through my finger hole. And I got this hunch.

Or maybe it’s more than one hunch. Maybe it’s a bunch of hunches that run together into one big hunch. Like in the story of Jesus’ birth, the parts about the angels and shepherds and those old wisey’s and Mary and Joseph and the baby all run together. And that off the track innkeeper guy, and mean old Herod making it hard for everybody.

Anyway, my first hunch was that Maggie is gonna come back to the B&B all right, but not for quite a while. Seein’ it that way, I began pokin’ around this place. Went out back. They built a new woodshed out there, right up next to the bigass house. It’s brick.

But the old woodshed one is still there further back. They got a padlock on it, but I got a hair pin so gettin’ in wasn’t no trick. They keep the lawn mower in there and some garden stuff. I could tell no one had been in it since way last summer. So imagine my shock when, sorta over to one side, I see this log settin’ up with a little sea shell on it, just like Hank said he found a few years ago. Seems someone else had a hair pin, too, and snuck in the shed and left that sea shell like that.

Who would do that but Maggie? My hunch was right. If Maggie had come back that recent, she wouldn’t be comin’ back again right away. But leavin’ that sign and hopin’ somehow Hank would find it showed she’d keep comin’ back sometime. When I showed Hank and Lil and Maude the sea shell, they saw it that way, too.

Second hunch was when I look at the B&B through my finger hole like this, and focused the light, I kept seein’ a “For Sale” sign on it. The sign’s not up yet, but I’m pretty sure it will be soon enough.

Then the big hunch come to me. It began with me rememberin’ Hank tellin’ us his story about how he gave his wife the B&B as part of the divorce deal and how she sold it and made a pile since she had no sense about how to run it.

So I’m thinkin’ that since he did that when he was feelin’ bad, maybe he could go back and try gettin’ back from her half of what she sold it for. I'm seein' maybe a lawyer could help ‘im do that.

I brought it up to Hank, and he asked why would he do such a thing? I told ‘em I had this hunch the B&B was gonna get sold again and he could buy it back. Now that’s a bigger hunch than the one about those Whoppers in a dumpster but Hank looked at me without blinkin’ for a minute. Then he asked me why he should even think of doin’ that.

Which brings me to my third and biggest hunch which is the rut buster. I told Hank he could buy the B&B and we could run it as a shelter for homeless. Word would get out about it. Maggie would hear about it. She’d see it as a sign. And she’d be sure to come back again sooner than otherwise. That’s what I told ‘im. Him and Lil and Maude. Every one of ‘em got all excited about my hunch and called me Wisey all the more.

So every night for the last four night we been huddlin’ in the old woodshed behind the B&B, thinkin’ together about my hunch. Hank says when he tells his ex-wife about it, she’ll most likely help ‘im without ‘im goin’ a lawyer. Seein’ as it’s a way to find their daughter Maggie.

There’s lots to think about when we buy the B&B. Like how we’ll pay the bills. Stuff like that. There’s lots to think about. When someone starts thinkin’ it’s all too hard to do, Hank just says, “Remember Wisey’s hunch about the Whoppers. Keep diggin’” So that’s what we do. Keep diggin’ for our homeless shelter. We know Maggie ‘ll come soon. That’s what the sign of the sea shell means. Like a star she’s following so as to come back here to us.

Plus I’m teachin’ Hank and Lil and Maude how to look at things through a finger hole to see things in the better light. They doin’ it all right but I gotta admit, they do look a little weird when they do. And funny thing is, they say they see things, well, better that way, focused like, without it bein’ all cluttered up the ways things can get lookin’ at ‘em unfocused like and still missin’ them.

Like I said, they call me Wisey all the time now, Lil and Hank and Maude. So I keep thinkin’ and sayin to ‘em stuff about that story, you know, how the wise men went home from the manger a different way? You see, what I think, or see through my finger hole, is that the star that got them to the stable and Jesus, got them back home, too. See what I’m saying? Nobody says nothin’ about that.

But I have a hunch it was the star led them back a different way. Or some light like that. Maybe some little light like Hank’s cigarette. Or Lil’s baby Zach. Or a hunch like a light hole in a boarded up window of an abandoned house. It’s enough light to see by. Enough to follow into the world in a different way, like. I think the wise men had that kind of light. I think that light is Jesus. Same light we have.

That’s my last hunch about this. When I make a finger hole like this, and hold up to my eye, I can see the light comin’ from Jesus. I can. I mean, I really can. It’s like the finger hole is a sort of manger like. That there’s the light Hank and Lil and Maude and me are following now. When you look at it like that, the world really is a different place. I mean, try it. Actually try it. Try being a little, you know, different, crazy like, what old Hank calls pre-cy-ant, like me.

Four character Christmas Story - 3rd - Lil -

Friends,This copy right story Christmas Story I wrote of Four Characters should be read sequentially in order and comes as four posting on my blog. Stay alert and have a blessed Christmas. Ted

Character Three - LIL

I don’t know how my kids feel about bein’ homeless. I guess they’re too young to know they are. Mainly, they seem okay as long as I’m with ‘em. But I’m ashamed to have ‘em out here like this. I suppose I’m not much of a mother.

Sometimes I take Jody and Sammy and Zach beggin’ with me because we need money for food and people give better if kids are there. But at the same time, they look at me like I was some kind of monster. Maybe I am but I love my kids with all my heart and I’m deathly afraid of losin’ ‘em.

Jody’s only three. She’s smart as a whip. Sammy’s 18 months and doesn’t cry much except when he’s real hungry. Baby Zach is 9 months and he’s beautiful. He cried a lot at first ‘cause I had trouble nursing ‘im but he’s okay now.

The thing is that each of my kids has a different father and I’m ashamed of that. No denying I’ve done some dumb things in my life but who hasn’t? People in the welfare office kept threatin’ to take my kids away and put ‘em in foster homes. I know those people mean well but I tell ‘em no one can love my kids like I do. Taking ‘em away from me would hurt my kids, hurt ‘em bad. They’d shrivel up inside, I know they would.

I tell people there are more important things than livin’ in a nice house and havin’ plenty of food and stuff. What’s more important is havin’ a mother’s love, havin’ someone those little one’s know would die for ‘em if it came to that. My kids are young but they know I’d do that.

When they stopped my welfare checks I told those welfare people that there’s lots of homeless kids livin’ in nice houses and eatin’ good because they don’t feel as loved or safe as my kids do. They laughed at me and threatened me again when I said that. That scares me so I try to keep my kids hidden out of the way where no one will find ‘em and take ‘em away from me. I don’t think that’s wrong to do. I don’t think bein’ desperate poor is no sin. I use ta’ be a nurse’s aid until things got tough. I lost that job and now who wants to hire someone like me anyway?

It is terrible hard though. People say get a job. I tell ‘em I’d like to. I try to. But what’ll I do with the kids? They say somebody'll take care of ‘em ‘til I get on my feet. Somebody? Yeah, sure! Besides, I tell ‘em I am on my feet. All the time. Movin’ around, lookin’ for food and a dry place to sleep.

What I need is somewhere to get off my feet, a warm bed for me and the kids without some fool crawling in there with me, you know, making promises for the favor and then disappearin’ afterward. And most jobs I can get don’t pay enough for me to get together a security deposit for even a dump of an apartment like I got tossed out of after I lost my last job a bunch of months ago and couldn’t find no other one.

So I tell those people like I tell anybody, not to judge me for the dumb things I’ve done but for the love I got for my kids. I’m takin’ care of the best way I can and I’ll keep doin’ that. And they're doin' okay. I just could use a break, a little help.

But I admit I’m awful ashamed to be out here like this, homeless and all. And because of not bein’ able to find a good payin’ job on accounta’ havin’ dropped out just before high school like I did and not bein’ educated enough. But I’m not stupid. I just need some education and trainin. But people don’t seem interested in givin’ that to me ‘cause they already decided I’m stupid.

The thing is, it’s hard havin’ little children countin’ on you, dependin’ on you, trustin’ that you’ll take care of ‘em. Especially when you’re not sure at all you can do it right. I wonder if maybe most mothers and fathers feel that way. This season, when I think about Jesus’ being born of poor parents like he was, I bet Mary and Joseph felt the same as me. I bet they did. Bet a lotta people do, workin’ or not.

A while back, I found some beads somebody musta dropped outside a WAWA. I know they’re called rosary beads ‘cause sometimes when I sneak the kids into catholic churches to try to get warm for awhile, I see people runnin’ their fingers over beads like these. I asked one lady about ‘em and she just said, “They’re my rosary beads. What are you doing in this church if you don’t know that.” She walked off before I could tell her what I was doing there.

Anyway, at night after the kids are asleep, I do like I saw those people in church doin’. I kneel down and run my fingers over the beads and I say prayers askin’ for God’s help. I ask for Jesus to help, too. And Mary’s help, because maybe, a mother like her will take pity. I don’t suppose I’m doing the rosary beads right, but I hope God will forgive me and help me, ‘cause I sure need it. I can’t do this alone, taking care of my kids and all.

Sometimes in this season I start thinkin’ of the shepherds watchin’ over their flocks that night Jesus was born. I mean when I’m watchin’ in the dark over my kids to be sure nothin’ happens to ‘em and prayin’ like that, or when I’m watchin’ what’s going on in the streets all night, especially those last couple hours before dawn Maybe it’s pretty vain of me, comparin’ myself like that to people in the Christmas story, but I don’t mean it that way.

What I mean is, I’m just one, but there are a lot of shepherd types out here in the night, not just homeless. Like nurses going to work in hospitals, cab drivers and bus drivers takin’ people home, ambulance drivers and firemen respondin’ to calamities, police drivin’ around lookin’ for stuff going down, cooks and waitresses in all night restaurants, guys dropping off newspapers at the stands which, by the way, we sometimes flitch a couple to put under our sweaters or stuff in our shoes to help some against the cold. Anyway, there’s lots of shepherd types around.

So when I’m prayin’ and fingerin’ my beads at times like that, I keep a sharp ear out to see if I’ll hear an angel saying stuff like “Glory to God and peace on earth” or “don’t be afraid, a savior is born to you.” Sometimes I think maybe I do hear stuff, but since nobody else seems to, I’m not sure. Still, prayin’ and listenin’ like that does make me feel more peaceful and hopeful and that’s not bad.

But one night, when I was prayin’ like that, and watchin’ I did hear something. It was Hank telling Maude about his daughter who dropped out of school and ran away and he’s been lookin’ for all these years since she showed up unexpected at the Bed and Breakfast he had but he didn’t recognize her and turned her and her friend away.

Since I dropped out of school myself, and never knew my Dad, and my Mom died of drinkin’ too much when I was 12 or so, I felt a mysterious kind of warmness in me about Hank’s story. It felt like an angel message, sort of. I felt close to Hank, missin’ his daughter so much and none of us never knew. Me or Maude or Daryl or nobody knew. So it just came to me that we should go find that Bed and Breakfast and hang out there ‘cause Hank’s daughter, Maggie, might come back lookin’ for him there. So that’s what I blurted out right on the spot, still kneeling like I was. And Hank and the others thought it was a good idea.

So that’s what we did. We walked across town to that Bed and Breakfast and it was like we were shepherds, watchin’ over each other, includin’ my kids. All of us goin’ together like that, and bein’ here and waitin’ and watchin’ seems sort of like a special gift. To me it does any way. A gift like the shepherds got by goin’ to see the baby Jesus.

I mean, me and Maude and Hank and Wisey … that’s what we started callin’ Dayrl … us four had been more or less together for quite a while. Then somethin’ happens, somethin’ kind of mysterious, and now we’re together different, like what seems for the first time. I bet the shepherds felt like that when they went to Bethlehem that night. More than that, I bet they were feelin’ they were really bein’ cared for themselves by another Shepherd. The One in the stable. I bet they did, ‘cause that’s what I feel like right now.

Four Character Christmas Story - 2nd -Hank


This copy right story Christmas Story I wrote of Four Characters should be read sequentially in order and comes as four posting on my blog. Stay alert and have a blessed Christmas. Ted

Second Character - Hank

I don’t recall anyone ever calling me beautiful before. At least not for a long time, if ever. For that matter, I don’t give them much chance even if they wanted to because I keep pretty much to myself. More so since I’ve been homeless. Well, I have started hanging around with a few other homeless people, mainly for what little protection we give each other, but even so, I don’t get close to them. Even being together for protection is a chancy trade-off since when people get desperate they aren’t above stealing whatever’s handy.

Well, actually, people don’t even have to be desperate to steal. I found that out years ago when I was in the Bed and Breakfast business and customers would rip off towels, ash trays, even lamps and pictures sometimes.

Anyway, one damp, cold morning just before Christmas, Maude told me about waking up the night before and seeing my face in the light of the cigarette I was smoking. She said my face looked beautiful and she’d never noticed before. I just smiled. When I did, she said that’s how I’d looked in the night, sort of “smilely and dreamy” is how she put it. Maude didn’t ask me what I was dreaming of, and I didn’t tell her.

But later, the next night, I did tell her. I felt I owed it to her. I told her I was dreaming of my daughter. She said, “I didn’t know you had no daughter, Hank. Where is she? Why don’t you go live with her?” What could I do then but tell her? I think I wanted to tell someone anyway. So the story came out. At that moment, I didn’t see Lil’ and Daryl off in the shadows, but it turned out they heard it, too.

Years ago, I was an executive in brokerage firm in New York. Lots of pressure, lots of hours, lots of money. My wife and I fought a lot. I got fed up and decided to change things. I left the firm and started a Bed and Breakfast in another city.

My wife wasn’t ecstatic but she was willing to give the B&B, and us, a chance. She stayed in New York with Maggie, our daughter, so Maggie could finish the year in her high school while I went to historic Philly to get the B&B up and running.

Maggie started doing badly in high school and dropped out. I was angry and scared and demanded Maggie shape up and go back to school. I offered to pay for a good private school. She refused and started staying out later and later at night. She dyed her hair, wore grungy clothes, got a tattoo on her arm. I don’t know all the crazy things she was doing, and really didn’t want to. I blamed her mother, she blamed me. Maggie? I don’t know what she thought. I was busy with the B&B.

Then suddenly Maggie disappeared. The police said she’d probably run away. They said thousands of kids do and they either turn up again, or they don’t. A year went by. No word from Maggie. My heart was broken. My wife started divorce proceedings. I agreed to it.

Another spring, summer, fall blurred by. Then it was close to Christmas, a busy season for the B&B.. One night, someone knocked on the door. Standing on the step is a young man in those jeans without knees, a sweater, thin summer jacket, cap in hand. He asks if we have a vacancy. I tell him I’m sorry, we don’t, even though I know there is one room that’s been reserved for a 6 o’clock arrival and it’s now 9.

“Anything,” he asks. “Maybe in the basement, you might have a little space. My friend has a bad fever.”

I look past the man. Standing down on the sidewalk is a woman with her head bent forward, her scarf casting a shadow over her face,. She was holding a too large, ragged coat together with her gloveless hands and wearing summer sandals on her bare feet. Obviously, these two had no money for a room. I told them to try a nearby shelter for street people and told them how to get there.

The man nodded and started down the steps. As he did, the woman glanced up at him, then turned and walked away with the man. I closed the door and went back to the kitchen to clean up the supper dishes and get breakfast things laid out.

Then it hit me. The face of that woman I’d glimpsed, it looked like Maggie. Or like Maggie might have looked all these months after she’d run away.

I ran back, out the door and down the street in the direction they’d gone. They were nowhere in sight. I ran back, locked the door and hurried to the shelter I’d told them about. They weren’t there. The man at the door told me no one of that description had come there that night. I thought I’d missed my chance. Or maybe it wasn’t Maggie at all. I didn’t sleep much thinking about it.

The next morning, I went out to the shed in back to get wood for the fireplace. A log was standing on end in the middle of the floor and on it was a tiny sea shell. I knew then it had been Maggie. She loved sea shells. She and her friend, if that’s what he was, had stayed the night in the shed and left.

Why hadn’t I thought to look in the shed? Why hadn’t she let me know she was there? The connection with the Christmas story and there being no room in the inn was almost too obvious. It was a terrible irony. I couldn’t leave it at that. I had to find Maggie.

I gave the B&B to my wife in the divorce settlement. She sold it and I heard it’s doing well. I scraped together everything I had and went looking for Maggie. All over the country. It didn’t take long to run out of money.

So I started living in the streets. I became homeless. I didn’t care about that and I decided if I was ever to find Maggie it would probably be among the homeless anyway.

That was five years ago. I haven’t found her yet. Maybe she doesn’t want to be found. But I think she does. Why else would she leave the sea shell behind in the woodshed? Every night I dream about Maggie. She is the beautiful one, not me. I pray that one day I’ll find her. Like a prodigal father.

After I told my story to Maude and Lil and Daryl that night, Lil’s voice came out of the shadows: “Why don’t we go and hang out around the Bed and Breakfast where Maggie came that time? I’ll bet she’ll come there again, you know, looking for you.”

“I didn’t think of that,” I said.

“Where is the B&B?” Lil asked.

“It happens to be in the other side of this city,” I said

“Tomorrow we’ll all go there,” Lil said.

“Yeah,” other two agreed.

I didn’t know what to say. “We’ll all go there.” Without a second thought, that’s what they decided. I had a few cigarettes and offered them around. Lil didn’t take one, but Maude and Daryl did. We call Daryl “Wisey” now. Anyway, we sat there smoking as the twilight deepened, Maude, Lil, Wisey, and I.

Then I felt tears trickling down my face. Maude said, “Hey, Hank, don’t let me sayin’ you’re beautiful go to your head. No room for it there.” We all laughed.

But it hadn’t gone to my head. It had gone to my heart which did have room. Because it had been empty since the night I told that man with Maggie that the B&B was full. Probably even long before that in whatever made me turn them away. Now, here were these people, these homeless friends, caring about me. Imagine them going back to the inn with me to try to find my daughter. My heart isn’t so empty now. Now we wait at night outside the shed behind the B&B. Waiting for ... Maggie. Or maybe Christmas ... or Jesus?