One Leg, No Name

April 11th 2009.  A cool wind cut through heavy traffic on the Queensway bordering Etobicoke and Mississauga.   My friend Paul and I made our way through the parking lot of the old industrial paper mill across the street from Queensway Christian Cathedral and walked towards the church.  Every spot across the vast lot was filled as far as my sight stretched. 

Paul had just become a Christian a few months prior and wanted to check out the Passion Play held annually at the church.  The flyer for the play advertised the production as featuring a new script. 

“How do you create a new script for a Bible story?” Paul asked.

“Probably introduced some new characters I figure.  Maybe Judas finds love in this one.”

“Oh I see.  Keep things hip for the millennials,” Paul said.  “I like it.”

I laughed.

Hot dog vendors dispersed across the outside front entrance of the church.

We stepped inside the big brown brick building, almost nondescript in the way it’s architecture could just as well fit as another paper mill. 

“All the buildings in this country look the same,” I said as I opened the door Paul.  He stepped in and I followed.

We were more than a few minutes late.  Paul didn’t mind.  He got used to my frequent tardiness.  EST I called it.  Egyptian Standard Timing.  

Tables full of DVDs, shirts, books and other merchandise for sale in the lobby lined the front corridor leading up to the doors of the cathedral.  Paul opened the door and I peeked my head inside.  The seats looked red and cushy, lined in curved rows around the stage and ascending in height for every column away from the altar, which looked more like a stage. 

We ambled into the packed church midway into the production and walked down to the front where Paul’s friend Rebecca reserved seats for us.  An elaborate set sat in front of us decorated by a huge canvas with painted beige mountains that hovered over grass and bushes and palm trees.  We took our seats next to Rebecca and her friends as a blonde haired, blue eyed Jesus stood with arms open to the crowd and gave His homily.

“…for I was hungry and you fed Me, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you sheltered Me,” Jesus said.

“Why is Jesus an Arian?” I whispered to Paul.  He shrugged.

Jesus’ speech was followed by a song and dance number involving the Pharisees who crooned about how they would catch and kill the blasphemer.  Jesus snuck off stage behind the Pharisees as they turned their back.  The lights dimmed.

I checked the time on my watch and wondered how long the play would last.  I’d always hated musicals, no matter the theme.  This one seemed particularly disordered.  Something about breaking into song and dance before the crucifixion of the Man who commanded the stars to light and the seas to peace didn’t seem quite right. 

The lights turned high and Christ entered on a donkey from the back of the room through a wide aisle that separated the crowds as people in old Jewish garb threw palms in front of Him and praised the lowborn King as he entered Jerusalem.  The choir on the side stage standing row on row in rainbow shirts sang “Hosanna!”  The next few scenes saw Christ arrested, shackled, tested, mocked and spat on by Pharisees.  The scene was powerful enough until they started to sing and twirl in black robes.  Jesus was condemned and the lights faded again.  The actors cleared the stage and a short, bald white man in a black shirt and dress pants and shiny black shoes walked on as the spotlight followed.

“Good evening” the man started.  “You know I was at Erin Mills Town Centre last week, best place to get a discount pair of jeans, can I hear an amen?” he said with a goofy smile.

“Amen,” a few people in the audience shouted, some chuckled.

“The Lord is good.  And I picked me up a nice pair of Levi’s and this teen next to me, big baggy jeans and slicked back hair, you know what he says to me?”

“What?” a few members of the audience yelled out.

“’Jesus, that’s cheap’.  Those were his words.  As if that name itself was as cheap as the pants.”

The pastor went on to tell the crowd his own story about how he came to faith.  It was short and passionate.  He ended his speech inviting everyone who wanted to stand in faith with him and accept Christ into their lives to come up to the altar so that someone could pray for them.  In that moment, they were told, they would be saved. 

The choir sang a quiet song of grace and dense emotion over soft guitar.  People walked one on one down the wide aisles towards the front, some crying, some head held low, others arms held high.  Some spoke in a language in front of the altar I was sure did not exist.

Something felt off to me.  I remember when I came to understand my faith a few years back.  Overcoming my scepticism resulted from years of research.  I read the Bible, asked priests and pastors questions of passages and ideas I didn’t understand.  I studied the writings of big name scientists and skeptics and went through the University of Toronto databases to research the ideas of scholars and cynics alike.  I even went on to read the Quran and Bhagavad-Gita to understand how they compared.  My fears of becoming a sheep lead me to work.  This altar call seemed far too easy.

“And one more thing” the pastor continued.  “I wanted to thank all the volunteers that made this production possible.  And to all those out there who are enjoying the show, believe it or not it does not come cheap.  It cost us eighty thousand dollars this year to put it on and we are in debt.  If you guys could chip in a few dollars, we are handing out envelopes right now and we are more than appreciative!  Thanks again and enjoy the ending.  It’s a doozie.”

The mention of money made me cringe.

After the crucifixion and resurrection, Paul and I made our way towards the exit.

“I’m hungry” I said as we left the church.

“Buy a hotdog.”

“I’m not sure if I’m feeling me a resurrection dog right now,” I said.

“It’s the new Easter egg,” Paul said.

“That’s true.  Well I don’t have four dollars anyway.  I don’t have any moneys actually.  Let’s just get samosas from Rabba.  Your buying.”

I stepped into my car, let Paul in and drove to the nearest Rabba.  

“You need to learn to park,” Paul said as he got out of my car. 

We talked all things guitar and amps on the short walk between the car and Rabba.  Our band, I Shoot Your Face, was sure to play a gig in the not too distant future.

“We could be the next Tupac,” Paul said.

“I Shoot Your Face, live on Broadway,” I said.  

The night was cold and still, dark save for the lights that lined the empty streets.  The moon hung its heavy head low in the sky like a watching vagrant.  The automatic glass door at the entrance slid open as we arrived.  A man in a ragged denim jacket with long knotted black hair well below his shoulders stood in the corner closest to the sliding door staring at calling cards.  His beard grew long and thick and greyed in streaks across his face.  He held no expression, but there was a weight to his tired eyes.  They were too familiar.  I felt like I’d known him from somewhere, but I wasn’t sure where. 

He stood on crutches.  I looked down to his feet.  One of his pant-legs was tied up around the ankle where it must have been severed.  He stood on his left leg, his only whole leg. 

We walked past the man, towards the counter where the cold samosas sat.  ‘3 for $1.99’ the sign above the samosas read.  Paul had exactly four dollars so he bought six.  I peeked over at the shabby man beside the calling cards.  He turned his head away from the cards.  A woman by a small mountain of oranges stood with a plastic bag searching for the best of the fruit.  She looked around for her kids, spotted the man and smiled.  He smiled back, gaps in his grin where his teeth must have died or broke or fallen out.  There was an unusual warmth in his eyes when he smiled, like he meant it.

“Happy Easter,” he said.

“Yeah thanks,” she said as she grabbed her child’s hand and moved towards the counter with her bag of good oranges.

The man turned towards the sliding doors and stood there clutching his crutches as his right leg swayed in the wind that whistled through the store every time it opened.  

Paul paid for the samosas.  We walked over to the microwave to heat them up.  The microwave was right next to the sliding doors.  Paul placed the samosas in the microwave as I stood in front of the doors and faced the man.  The outside wind cooled my back.  He stared at me for a moment and I stared back, feigned a smile.  He smiled.

“Cold night tonight eh?”  the man said.

“Yeah it is.”

“It was great last week.  Very warm nights.  But these last few nights have been cold.  So cold,” he hushed like he’d surrendered himself to the brisk of night.

I nodded

“Hey, you wouldn’t happen to have any change?  I just bought a calling card.  I’ll need to buy another one eventually.  I’m gonna call my mother, she lives in Barrie.”

He’s got a mother.

“No I don’t.   But I have food if you want some.  My friend Paul bought some samosas, six samosas.  You can have some if you want.”  Paul heard me but said nothing.

“Sure” he said.

A gust of wind swept through the store as someone entered.

“Cold, it’s so cold.  But apparently it will get warmer.  You heard about this thing?”

“What thing?”

“The scientists, they call it the global warming eh?  What’s happening is all this carbon is being floated into the air because of all the pollution and smog and stuff and it goes into the ionosphere.  And so the world is getting hotter because of the smog and its eating up all the ozone so it lets the sun shine in more.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah the world has got problems eh?  Like South Korea is preparing for a war with North Korea, it’s gonna happen soon.  And Iran’s got nukes.  It’s all gonna add to the global warming.”

I heard a ding and looked towards Paul.  The samosas were ready.  He took them out of the microwave and brought them towards me and the man.  

“So how much are we taking,” Paul asked.

“Just take one and give the rest to him,” I said pointing at the bearded man.  Paul and I each took a samosa and gave the bag to the man as we waved goodbye. 

“Have a happy Easter,” he said as we stepped out.  Paul and I left.

“I didn’t mind what you did just now.  It was my money though” Paul said.

“I had to do something.  I can’t tell you how or where, but I know this Man.”