I picked Cork up as a hitchhiker. He’s about 60 and his teeth are almost rotted out. He had recently been asked to leave his last church but I didn’t know that when I started to bring him to mine. He was then asked to leave my church when he wouldn’t stop sending recorded messages to hundreds of randomly picked telephone numbers from the phone book, inviting them to our church. Plus he kept going to the young adult class and hitting on the girls.
He introduced me to my dear friend Bonnie. She is 65 years old. She frantically throws out stories like shrapnel grenades. She talks almost incoherently about her absent son named Soul-star, about making mischief in the military, and how as a child she was unnamed and adopted by a mafia house that made her smuggle guns. She totes heavy oxygen bottles around which gets her out of breath, and she rarely stops to breathe because she’s talking.
It was always quite a scene when they came to church with me. One Sunday I remember walking out of church to my car. Cork sauntered, singing, with his head back, squinting into the sky. Sugar-saturated coffee splashed over his Styrofoam cup. Bonnie followed, rolling her bag of oxygen bottles down curbs and wheezing as she told a story about her neighbor putting witchcraft curses on her, trying to talk over Cork’s singing.
They got into my car. “Cork, please be careful with the coffee,” I said, watching his coffee almost splash on my back seat with each of his impulsive moves.
We drove down the highway and Cork yelled at Bonnie, not because she had just told us she had gone to their mutual friend’s house and ended up doing him some “favors”, but because she never came over to Cork’s house any more. Then the conversation went to politics. Cork yelled and shook his fist and Bonnie wheezed excuses. I just kept quiet and kept looking back at the coffee splashing all over the front of Cork’s stained shirt.
I finally dropped Cork off and then went to drop off Bonnie. I helped her carry her oxygen up the stairs and she fumbled with her softball-sized ball of keys for literally five minutes trying to unlock her door, the whole time telling me something about how the people upstairs kept flooding her apartment, and how the cockroaches were eating all of her parakeet’s food.
Finally she opened her door and turned to me. “Thank you for taking me to church Ross. I love you. You remind me of my son.” I stopped her before she could go into another story, but it didn’t work. As she kept on talking I looked at the goopy white globs forming at the corners of her mouth. Maybe it was because of her meds. Maybe it was mouth bugars. maybe that’s just what happens when you don’t have time to swallow or lick your lips because you have so much you need to say.
I stopped her again, at the edge of my patience, “Bonnie! Be quiet! I have to go now!”
“Ok, Ok. Keep praying for me. I need it. You remind me of my son so much. He was so smart and was going to be an eagle scout until-”
“Bonnie! I gotta go.”
“Ok, ok. Wait.”
I watched her round, pallid face and those festering white balls of slime in the corners of her mouth lean in towards me. She wrapped her arms around me and kissed me, wetly on the cheek. I cringed and hugged her back.
As I drove away that day, I wiped my cheek and examined my back seat for coffee stains. I was exhausted but I was content. I was dirty but I had survived. It’s hard to save a child from drowning without getting wet. It’s hard to not get bloody in a battle. It’s hard to jump into someone else’s world without getting some of it on you. But that’s what Jesus did. And he got us and our dirt all over him.
It would be nice to have a clean, comfortable, disinfected life, but a life without love would be worthless, and it’s almost impossible to truly love without getting dirty.