‘I hate asking people for money, Henry. I mean, God knows, I have every right to send this letter out. Church members have an obligation to make sure their church, their spiritual rock, can pay the bills and stay afloat, don’t they?” Walter Mitty knew he was mixing his metaphors and that upset the pastor of Poplar Park Community Church even more.
“I know how most of them are going to respond,” continued Mitty, as in the back of his mind he wondered how a spiritual rock could float even in the best of times. “Avoidance, Henry, avoidance. They’ll leave church during the last hymn so they don’t have to face me at the door after worship. Or, if I corner them, Henry, if I corner them … say in a booth at Main Street Cafe, they’ll make excuses like these are hard economic times, family first, we’re doing the best we can … stuff like that. Just excuses.”
Henry hadn’t said a word since he entered Pastor Walt’s office. He hadn’t had a chance, really. The man sitting at the desk hadn’t even said good morning, had just begun to let off steam the moment Henry had walked in.
“I swear, sometimes I think I’m working with a bunch of fourth-graders. You know … they spend all their allowance the day they get it. Don’t plan ahead. Don’t take responsibility. They don’t know how to manage money, Henry. Or, I should say, they know, but they just don’t want to.”
As Pastor Walt spoke he leaned closer to Henry for effect. It was then that he got a strong whiff of cheap wine and realized that for the last five minutes it had been to a homeless man that he had been ranting.
He glanced at the door, and convinced that no one had witnessed his outburst, he calmed himself and asked, “So, what can I do for you, Henry?”
“I … I was wondering, Rev, if you had any of them McDonalds vouchers left. You know, the ones you always keep in the top left hand drawer of your desk. I looked all through the dumpster behind the Jewel today and couldn’t find nothing.”
As Mitty began to open his desk drawer, he turned and said, “How do you do it, Henry?”
“Do what, Rev?”
“How do you keep going? Living on the street like you do, cold in winter, hot in summer, not knowing where your next meal is coming from … how do you do it?”
“The robins should be coming back in a week or so.”
“What did you say, Henry?”
“I said I usually see my first robin around St. Patrick’s Day.”
Pastor Walt tried to examine his homeless friend’s statement from several angles. Either he’s a Zen master, thought Mitty, and he’s making one of those enigmatic, profound statements to meditate on or he’s a couple sandwiches short of a picnic.
He gave Henry vouchers for two Big Macs and coffee and watched him go back out into the cold and head in the direction of Fr. Sullivan’s rectory. Sitting back down at his desk, his thoughts turned to the time when Herman and Susan had come down to the big city for a parents’ survival weekend, and they had gone to see Lilly Tomlin.
The one character he remembered the most was the bag lady Tomlin was famous for. “You know, I’m certifiably crazy,” the bag lady had said. “What happened is that I came to the conclusion that reality was the main cause of stress. So, I checked out of reality, and life has been so much nicer since.”
Maybe that’s how Henry does it, thought Pastor Walt. As he turned back to his fundraising letter, he said to himself, “Maybe that’s how real believers do it, too. Maybe it’s this other reality they live in that allows them to believe that even rocks can float.” He paused, pondered this latest thought and doodled a little robin in the space for March 17 on his calendar.