Oniontown Pastoral: Some Life
For the year I’ve been serving St. John’s Lutheran Church, a row of fifteen or twenty round bales has sat rotting along District Road. Seems like a waste, but there must be a reason. What’s the story?
As I shoved quarters in the parking meter this morning, a decently dressed man crouched behind a bus stop, shielding himself from the chilly wind and drizzle. Nike running shoes look new. Parka with fur hood is unstained. But huddling on the sidewalk is, well, odd. What’s the story?
And there is always a story. It might be disappointing or anticlimactic, but when one human being listens to another for a few minutes, questions can get answered. Maybe a crisis in the farmer’s family put everything on hold, including hay. A plastic tote bag from a local hospital sat beside the crouching man. Was he released an hour ago, still sick or confused?
I can only speculate. Answers would require conversations, and I’m not about to start one by knocking on a stranger’s door or tapping a shivering guy on the shoulder. I can live with mysteries.
In fact, I welcome them. Seldom understanding why the world chugs along in its haphazard fashion and why human beings behave inexplicably is a way of life, a spiritual posture.
“Shave and a haircut . . . .” I’m content with no ending.
My favorite mystery near Oniontown has to do with a dirty blonde horse I’ve named Onslow. I pass him on Route 19 and wonder why he has his own modest yard—room for a round-bale feeder, a couple of trailers, a shed and a short stroll. On the other side of the barn, a dozen or so other horses wander a generous pasture.
So why is Onslow in solitary? Does he have issues? Is he a grouch? A biter? I know nothing, not even if I should call him Hyacinth, but the way his forelock blows across his right eye makes him endearing. He’s probably a real pain in the neck, but I care about him.
Why? Because even beasts of the field have stories. I don’t stand in winter gusts and munch my breakfast for a good hunk of the year. Maybe being a horse is no picnic.
“Boy, John,” you might say, “this is some life you’ve got going, praying in an urban coffee shop for a lonely horse.”
The truth is, I don’t have much choice. Some creatures have fangs made for tearing down, and others have eyes prone to tearing up. I belong to the latter species.
I’ve never cried for Onslow, but I’ve come close for patrons in the neighboring stalls here at Starbucks. Some stare into space as they sip and leave with weary faces, as if nothing much awaits their return. I’ve never met them, but imagine a great, invisible hand has rubbed their faces into the ground. Are they lost souls?
Behind me, a fixture I’ll call Clyde is giving his imaginary friend what for. They fight a lot. As far as I can tell this is his only companion, other than a five-foot duffle bag stuffed solid.
What would its contents say about Clyde? In lucid moments, what story might he piece together? Grinding mental illness, probably unmedicated, must drive the plot. Though he lives in solitary, one character visits him, if only as an antagonist.
“You apologize every month!” Clyde just grunted.
I’ll never know the trespass that has so infuriated him, but that’s okay. It’s enough for me to remember that he is tormented by red herrings and complications that never resolve. Anyway, something about the way his burden bends his back makes me love him.
Yes, I know, deep down Clyde is probably a bigger nuisance than Onslow. But they both have manes, one blonde, the other greasy gray.
And they both have unknown stories. We all do. The day I forget this is the day I will have lost myself. You’ll find me in solitary, singing, “Two bits. Two bits. Two bits.”