A Maine Story
I lived for a short time in the great tree-covered state of Maine. Twice. Except for the snow, which falls heavy in all directions like doves frightened by shotgun fire, it reminds me of my hometown of Seattle but with a New England ethos. I thought very hard about staying and, in fact, lived in nearby Upstate New York for a little over a year. This post is about an episode from when I lived in Maine one summer.
Work was over. I had quit my rental and was packing the car to leave. A few guys from work said I could crash on their couch until I left. I was leaving later in the day and decided that, before packing the car, I would hop on my bike for a quick ride through Booth Bay Harbor. It was summer, and the Maine roads were awash in beauty. Best viewed, I felt, from a bicycle.
I was on the outskirts of town when I passed a young man who was dressed in a long, white robe, walking along the side of the road. I did a double take and thought he might be Jesus.
Maybe he was Jesus. I didn’t know. I don’t know if Jesus is purported to still live in a human body. But, whatever the case, here was a man, walking on the road that led to town, who was clearly a wreck. His clothes were dirty, his lips were scabbed, and he walked like someone who had either just awoke, was beat up yesterday, or both. I did what any good bike racer would do and sped past him with a nod.
It’s a rare occurrence, but my conscience rattled me about this man. I struggled for a kilometer or so and decided to turn around and go see what he was up to.
I came up to him from behind and slowed down to talk. If he were Jesus, he would undoubtedly know that my intentions were good. I circled around him and then slowly coasted up to him.
“Hey!” I said. “How you doing?”
He smiled wide. “Great! Just heading into town.” He acted like my seeing him, and our talking was just an everyday affair in any town across the country.
“I passed you a while back,” I said. “I’m being nosey but where are you staying?”
He was even rougher up close than in passing. His lips were chapped and bleeding, and he was skinny as a sapling. His white robe was filthy. “Where am I staying? Oh, I’m just walking. I sleep mostly on people’s front lawns.”
I was betting that most Mainers were none too happy with Jesus crashing on their lawn for the night. I had an idea.
“Can I cook you breakfast? I live just around the corner a couple blocks away. I’m going home for eggs right now. Want to come?”
Now he smiled the smile of a man who hadn’t had a meal in a few days. “Sounds great.”
I rode next to him while he walked. We got to the house, and he sat at the kitchen table. I told him my story, that I was leaving today, and he expanded on his while I cooked.
“So what in the world are you doing just walking around?” I had to ask.
He laughed. “Ha. Everyone wants to know,” he said. “Here’s the deal. I was going to Boston College studying philosophy.” He was, I learned from Boston and had walked to Maine. “I just kind of had a burning to know what the answer to life is. I was studying my ass off and figured out fast that none of the philosophers I was studying really knew. I’m not even sure if anyone knows what the real question is. Everyone who thought they knew died unhappy and their philosophy was replaced by a new one whose proponents die unhappy. I got so depressed that I left college and just started walking. Thinking about things.”
I figured out that he was a normal man and not a god. “So what’s with the Jesus gig.”
He shoveled in another bite of eggs. “Oh. The robe? It’s just easy to get on and off. And it’s damned hot outside. Those Arabs are on to something.” He mulled over his toast and coffee for a moment. “Here’s something else. People, Christians, really respond to that robe. They pick me up to tell me about the real Jesus. I always get a meal out of it.”
I laughed back. “Good for you.”
“Are you a Christian?” he asked.
“I am. But I won’t tell you what to do. I’m a fan of philosophy myself. Especially the red-faced, crabby German kind. Schopenhauer is my man. How about you?”
“I gave up on the stuff,” he said. “I’ve figured that out since I’ve been walking. No one really knows. I just take whatever makes sense to me and go along with it. I’m walking back to Boston to take up carpentry. No more school.”
“Sounds like you’ve got life pretty well figured out. And, you know, Jesus was a carpenter.”
He hadn’t thought of that and laughed. “Maybe I’ll be a philosopher after all!”
We finished eating and drinking coffee. I had another idea. “I’m packing to leave. Pick some clothes out from where they’re stacked on the bed – I really don’t care which, they’re all work clothes to me – and go ahead and take a shower. I’ll keep packing. You’ll see the towels.
He was as pleased as a man could be. He showered,and we finished packing the car together. “I can give you a ride to Boston,” I said.
“Think I’ll keep walking and thinking about things.” He said thanks and waved goodbye.
“Just a sec,” I said, reaching into my pants pocket. “Here’s twenty bucks. For dinner tonight in case you don’t meet a Christian along the way.”
He took the bill and laughed again. “You actually act like a Christian. You want to go on a walk?”
I laughed back. “Got to get home and get back to work.”
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