He sits over in the corner of the little restaurant on the #3 highway that a friend and I sometimes meet at to talk about God, life, pastoring. He is wet and dirty, just like the weather outside, a ball cap pulled down over long black hair, a wispy moustache straining and stretching over snarling lips. He’s agitated, clearly. He’s equally clearly very, very drunk. He blurts out incoherent words every now and then. Sometimes he pounds on the table. One time when I look over he’s leaned forward, face down on the table. It looks like he’s passed out or fallen asleep. I so desperately wish that he wasn’t an Indian, that he wasn’t providing greedy ammunition for all the toxic stereotypes that swirl around our area. But he is. And he is. Christ have mercy.
He wandered in off the highway, apparently. Trying to get to Newfoundland. Or was it Manitoba? The manager is doing his best, seating him off in the corner. He’s seeing about getting him some food. All around the patrons sit quietly, anxiously, picking away at their lunch, wondering what this guy is going to do. A few kids look over curiously. Feet shuffle. Throats clear. Forks and knives scrape across nervous plates.
All of a sudden he’s awake again, hand swinging around wildly in front of him. He stands up and unleashes a stream of vitriol. I can’t understand a lot of what he says and I don’t know who he’s yelling at, but I remember one refrain: You don’t know me. You don’t know me. You don’t f***in’ know me.
The manager returns. “Hey, let’s see if we can find you somewhere better to sit.” He takes him somewhere out back. The man trudges along behind him, a confused kind of half-grin on his face. I hear a door open and close. The manager returns. He pours a cup of coffee, grabs a few sugars, heads out back again. A few minutes later he brings him a plate of food. Maybe he can eat, calm down, sober up, I think. Maybe this can have a decent ending.
A few more minutes pass. All of a sudden I hear ominous sounds from out back. Crashing, banging, yelling. The manager decides that enough is enough and he has to go. He escorts him out of the building. A few other men follow them to make sure everything is ok. A palpable sense of relief returns to the place. We return to our lunches, our conversations about God, life, pastoring….
I look out the window and see the man wandering around in circles, wearing out his grimy blue Asics runners He’s yelling and swinging his fists at the air, like he’s fighting against an unseen enemy. He begins to punch the exterior wall of the restaurant. He wanders off again… Somewhere in the direction of Newfoundland… Or Manitoba.
I stare blankly out the window for a few seonds. I think of the man from the country of the Gerasenes in Mark 5, the man who lived among the dead, the man that nobody could restrain, the man that was always howling and cutting himself with stones, the man whose demons were Legion. I wish for a healer to summon this Legion and for a herd of swine to bear the demons away. I wish that this man did not have to howl and hurt himself like this, that there weren’t so many unseen enemies for so many to fight.
I pay for lunch and hop in my car. Not far down the road, I see an RCMP cruiser. It’s no great mystery what he’s doing here, I suppose. I see a head with a ball cap over black stringy hair being lowered into the back seat. I wonder exactly whose sins are being borne away in the back of that cruiser.
I told my son this story over dinner last night. He was pretty quiet throughout, but in the end he simply asked, “Why do you think he was swinging at the air?” “I don’t know,” I responded. “Maybe he just felt like the universe was against him.” My son paused for a few seconds. “Yeah, I get that.” I looked at him for a few puzzled seconds. “What, you feel like the universe is against you sometimes?” I asked. “Yeah,” he said, as he munched on his pizza, as if he were stating the most obvious thing in the world. “Don’t you?”
Now it was my turn to pause. I had to be honest. “No, I don’t. Not really.”
I thought back to lunch.
You don’t know me. You don’t know me. You don’t f***in’ know me!
No, I don’t. Not really.