This is a chapter from my book Windowshopping for God; For more info click here
It was 7:30 in the morning, the sun had not yet risen. And from out of nowhere, he charged toward me, growling “Repent, you Satan Monster.”
Without missing a beat, I jumped back and yelled, “What the hell are you doing?”
See, I grew up with an ultra-Catholic mother who pulled this nonsense every Sunday morning, yelling at me if I didn’t get my ass out of bed and go to Church I’d go to hell.
Plus, I knew this guy. It was “Preacherman,” a man who spread the good word from the corner across from the Scone place I went to in the mornings. He stood on a soapbox wearing a beige cashmere coat, a beautiful beige fedora hat with a scarf under his hat to keep his head warm. From under the hat, you could see cut marks. It looked like he had dug the Holy Truth into his head.
Every morning from 7 am – to 9 am. As regular as clockwork, he yelled about God, then went home and had a bite to eat. I’d love to have my neurosis on a tight schedule like that. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could tell your kids, “Look, I’m going to be out yelling on the street for a couple of hours, but when I come back we will have some Cheerios and watch something on Netflix?”
He stood there every morning and preached the “word of God”… that’s if God was having a really bad day.
Why is it that when people are unwell, they always quote the worst parts of the Bible? (Or the Torah or the Koran?) You never see a Yogi standing on a street corner saying, “open your chakras and repent.” Also, in my experience, you never see a woman preaching out on a corner because most women I know save the preaching doesn’t do much, anyway.
Preacherman was often heard quoting the Book of Leviticus, who, let’s face it, was a bit of a rigid guy.
Leviticus was the one who said that God told him that two men should not lay together. I always wondered if Leviticus had a hearing problem and if God had actually said, “Two men should not lie to each other.
Preacherman had yelled at me in the past but today he got into my personal space. After I swore at him, I softened a little. “Look, man, I know you are trying to help people, but you got to quit yelling.”
He stopped dead in his tracks and said, “Should I modulate my voice?
“My counselor says, I should speak softer; that I’d get more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
I wanted to say, you’d get flies with bullshit, but I don’t want to get him riled up again.
“Try lowering your register,” I offered. “It might have more impact.”
That’s right. I was giving Preacherman acting notes.
He nodded in agreement. For that split second, we were two performers sharing ideas on how to hone our craft.
This moment of honest communication meant we looked at each other differently.
For a split moment, anyway.
For as I walked away, he came at me again and screamed, “Satan Monster.”
Despite our encounter, he was the same person. And so was I for I yelled again. “Oh, you need to go on home and eat something. Your blood sugar might be low.”
He nodded in agreement, and wandered off, cursing at the air.
Two weeks later, I was at John’s convenience, my local corner store, when I saw a man ahead of me in line. He was petite, and I noticed that his bald head had cut marks on it. This man turned to and asked, “Sorry, did I butt ahead of you?”
It was Preacherman. He was wearing the same coat, but his eyes were different. He wasn’t scary at all. His eyes were soft, compassionate, and he looked shorter. He turned around and said, “Hey, do I know you? I am Aaron.”
“Hey Aaron, I am Deborah.”
Then he smiled and left the store.
Who was this gentle, man? And what had happened? Was he medicated? Did he get off drugs? I still had no idea.
But it did make me think about the strange yet magnificent organ the brain is.
It houses two sides of our personality. For most of us those sides are not as extreme as Aaron but don’t we all have a duplex in our brain?
One side that is kind and generous. And the other side the bad neighbour that keeps us up all night and tortures us with realities that don’t exist.
For most of us, we keep those two parts separate, in different rooms. Where for someone with a mental health issue it seems their brain is an open concept house- with no walls between the rooms.
Over the next few months, I ran into both sides of this man. When he was Aaron, we exchanged pleasantries. I could almost see having a coffee with him.
But when he was Preacherman, he was scary, plus he would’ve wanted to turn my café latte into wine.
And, well, I don’t drink.
(from my upcoming book, Windowshopping For God)