Once a month or so, a few of us head over to the local Presbyterian church to help out with their weekly community lunch. Every week, this church opens its doors to the community for soup, sandwiches, conversation, or just a chance to get out of the rain. The church is located right beside a high school, so they get a lot of high school students, but they also get a small contingent of folks who don’t have a whole lot and could use a hot meal.
Today, our job was washing trays. There’s typically a bit of an opportunity to talk to people as they’re coming by, but mostly it’s assembly-line type work. About ten minutes into the proceedings, an older gentleman with a soggy black Indian Jones-type hat and a grizzled bearded face came waltzing into the room singing the “Good Morning” song forever immortalized by the Viagra commercials. He was about 70 years old, I would later discover, and quite obviously in a very good mood.
I didn’t pay much attention to him until a few minutes later when he strode up to the table where my friend and I were working and starting singing for us. That’s right singing. For us. He just stood there—uncomfortably close—in front of two guys washing dishes belting out a few of his favourite tunes. He sang songs from Evita and West Side Story. He sang songs from TV commercials and movies. He sang songs from his younger days. He sang theatrically, flamboyantly, sometimes on key, sometimes not. He sang and recited lines from Shakespeare and talked about love and miracles through a mouth half full of teeth and a smile as wide as the room.
“What’s your name?” I asked him in between verses.
“Pockets,” he replied.
“That’s an interesting name,” I said, “how did you get it?”
“Well, I used to be a photographer until my eyes started to go, and I wore a vest with all kinds of pockets in it for my gear. I’m blind now,” he said. “Wanna see my walking stick?”
I nodded. He proceeded to pull out a fold-up stick and wave it around, pretending it was a sword, with great delight.
We talked for a bit longer until the trays started piling up, and then Pockets was back to regaling the lunch-time guests with a combination of song, theatre, and mostly off-colour humour. The kids who were there seemed to enjoy hanging out with him. The volunteers all know him well enough to no longer be surprised by his theatrics. Pockets is a bit eccentric and probably made a few people uncomfortable, but he brought a lot of laughter and smiles to a pretty eclectic bunch on a rainy Thursday afternoon.
The Gospel of Luke is well-travelled territory during the Christmas season because of its narrative detail around the story of Christ’s birth. But a few chapters into the book, after the beautiful songs and stories of unexpected babies and mangers and inns and shepherds and heavenly hosts, Jesus stands up in the synagogue in Nazareth and reads from the book of Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Pockets is blind, probably poor, and probably in some ways “oppressed” or enslaved by various things. I wonder, this Advent season, if he can imagine news as good as the news Jesus proclaimed in the synagogue that day. I wonder what motivates his joy and what he hopes for. I don’t know. I don’t know what Pockets thinks about the strange claim that the baby boy whose arrival we anticipate during this season, who would later claim to fulfill the hopes of the nation of Israel in the most unexpected ways, and whose coming we still wait for two thousand years later was God among us, coming to heal our infirmities, forgive our sins, set us free, and help us see.
But I do know that it is not only the physically blind who need to recover their sight. I know that some of us who are “well” and relatively “free” can see rather poorly, at times, and that sometimes it is the unexpected and unimpressive and unesteemed that are vehicles of life and beauty and truth. I know that Jesus was drawn to the Pockets’ of this world—that he called them “blessed.” I know that in the upside down kingdom of heaven, it is the last who are first and the first last, and that those who wish to see the kingdom of heaven must become like little children who laugh and dance and play and sing loud songs regardless of who is listening.
During a bit of a lull in the proceedings, my friend and I sat down for a bowl of soup. I looked over at another table and noticed that Pockets was about to leave. He was standing at the end of the table announcing his departure with as much gusto as he had his arrival. And I saw warm smiles returning back to him. A few people clapped for him or shook his hand before returning to their soup.
Pockets smiled back and walked out into the rain.