Beth and I are sitting outside waiting for our shift to start. Claude, our local homeless guy, shuffles past us.
“Hi Claude,” Beth says cheerily.
Claude makes no indication that he hears her.
“How ya doing Claude?” I ask. He usually responds to me.
Claude ignores me and strikes up a conversation with a lamppost. Mumbling something about the government taking away his house he kicks the lamppost and walks away.
“I’ve never seen him do that before,” Beth whispers.
“Must be off his meds,” I reply.
“He hears voices, right?” Beth asks.
Watching Claude as he disappears around the corner I remember a line from the Gospel of Mark.
“My name is Legion, for we are many,” I sigh.
Beth looks at me quizzically.
“It’s a line from the Bible,” I explain, “Seemed appropriate for Claude.”
“I’m not familiar with it,” Beth says.
“Jesus was going to this town to preach,” I begin to explain, “Along the way he encounters a guy kinda like Claude. The guy’s a real mess; possessed by demons, living in a cemetery, screaming and yelling all day, and cutting himself up with sharp stones.”
“Sounds like a nut,” Beth says, “What happens?”
“Jesus asks the man his name. The man replies, ‘My name is Legion, for we are many.”
“Sounds like he was hearing voices,” Beth says, “Just like Claude.”
“Maybe,” I reply, “In any case, Jesus takes pity on the man and casts the demons into a herd of swine. The pigs, about two thousand of them, run off the edge of a cliff and drown themselves in a lake.”
“Wow,” Beth says, “What happened to the crazy guy?”
“He was completely healed.”
“I wish that would happen with Claude.”
“That’d be nice – but that’s not the meaning of the story,” I say.
“What is?” Beth asks.
“When the people in the town hear about the pigs going into the drink they’re terrified. They go tell Jesus to take a hike. They don’t want him anywhere near their city.”
“Why?” Beth asks.
I sigh and look at my watch, “Are you up for a mini theology lesson?”
Beth smiles. “I’ve got nothing better to do,” she says.
“What were Jews doing raising pigs?” I ask.
“Huh?” Beth says.
“Pigs are unclean animals. Jews are not supposed to eat them. Why is there a herd of pigs outside of a Jewish town?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, there were non kosher people living in Israel at that time too; Roman soldiers, Greeks, Phoenicians. Someone in that town was selling those pigs to make money.”
“I don’t follow,” Beth says.
“Bottom line,” I say, “That herd of pigs was somebody’s business.”
“And Jesus destroyed that business without a second thought. Destroyed it for someone he didn’t even know.”
“What do you think would happen if a Holy Man came along and cured Claude of his demons – but destroyed the Bistro in the process?”
“I’d be out of a job.”
“Would you like that?”
“Does that jibe with how you think of God?” I ask, “Him throwing you out of work?”
“Not at all.”
“But that’s precisely what happened with the pigs. You better believe the guy tending those pigs lost his job. Maybe he caught a beating too.”
“That’s not a very nice thing for God to do,” Beth says.
“Beth,” I reply, “God isn’t always nice.”
“The world places no value in people like Claude and the possessed man,” I say, “What do you think they’re worth?”
“I don’t know,”
“To us they’re nothing. But to God they’re everything.”
Beth is silent.
“I think God’s sense of economy is very different from our own – so different it’s scary. To him the plight of one vagrant is more important than all the money in the world. And He’ll plunder our treasure to save him.”
“That would piss people off,” Beth says.
“You bet it would,” I reply, “But maybe we get pissed because we realize we’ve been investing in the wrong kind of treasure. If we all acted like human beings, if our treasure was compassion, people like Claude might have it a little easier.”
“The townspeople, instead of being happy that their brother was saved, send Jesus away. They’re only interested in maintaining the status quo and their own comfort. They’re unwilling to open their hearts. So, in the end, the townspeople were possessed by demons far worse than anything inside Legion. That’s the true meaning of the story.”
Beth looks at me.
“You should’ve been a priest,” she says.
“Me?” I say with a laugh, “I like sex too much.”
“You think about this kind of stuff a lot though.”
“It’s a curse sometimes,” I say, “Trust me.”
“Well, thanks for telling me that story.”
We go back inside and get to work. A vague unsettled feeling falls over me. At first I think I feel weird after waxing all philosophical outside. Truth be told? Sometimes I just like to hear myself talk.
No. That isn’t it. The funk stays with me all night.
When I get home I turn on the computer and start to write. I can’t think of anything so I write about my conversation with Beth. Writing this blog can be tedious at times. I can’t seem to wrestle my words into coherent form. Then again I can’t seem to write anything lately. I’ve been a bit depressed. It’s been almost a year since my ex and I broke up.
I grab a beer and go out on the porch. I listen to the wind stir the leaves in the trees.
Then I hear the demons.
They whisper about promises not kept and promise unfulfilled. They mock my choices, dangling before me lives and possibilities that could have been. The demons chatter incessantly, their voices growing. They are many. They are Legion.
The lights of passing cars cast a flickering pattern of light and shadow across the floor.
One of the shadows lingers.
“You’re a failure,” it whispers.
I look towards the corner. The shadow congeals, grows darker, and rises from the floor. Standing erect the yawning blackness moves to within an inch of my face.
This is my demon.
“And you will be alone until the day you die,” it hisses malevolently.
Suddenly I understand why I’ve felt unsettled since talking to Beth.
My name is Legion.
When I was talking to Beth I was preaching to myself. I’m the crazed man living amongst the tombs. I’m the one who needs to be saved.
I’ve been alone for a while now and I’ve just begun to realize how loneliness can maim the spirit. Over the past couple of months I’ve noticed its corrosive effects.
The demon waits. Patiently
I want someone to pluck me off the side of the road and love me with total abandon. I’m not talking about God here, not something ephemeral, but a woman, a flesh and blood woman. A woman who’ll cast out my self doubt and drive it into the lake to be drowned. A woman who thinks I’m worth everything.
Maybe I’m being selfish or overly romantic. Maybe I’m expecting too much. Maybe I have to change things before that happens.
But human love, with all its heat and tumult, with all its disappointments and triumph, is still the closet thing we have to heaven on earth.
Suddenly a woman whose face I cannot see is at my side. She gently caresses my cheek. I can hear her laugh. I can smell her smell. For the first time in a long time I feel a stirring of hope.
Besides, I’m due for a little kick ass redemption.
A faint smile appears on my face.
“Why don’t you take a flying leap and go fuck yourself,” I tell the demon.
The demon retreats into his corner and disappears.
Well, it wasn’t exactly the Rite of Exorcism but it worked.
I put down my beer. As I get ready for bed the crystalline laughter of a young woman floats in through the window. I pull back the curtains. A girl and boy stroll down the street arm in arm.
I go to bed.
I guess my name isn’t Legion after all.