Struck Down But Not Destroyed


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Struck Down But Not Destroyed

The preacher watched as the bright red stream from his left nostril snaked the grooves between the beveled aqua blue tiles and puddled at the hair clogged drain. He struggled to stay conscious. Lying there, sucking wind and bleeding in the shower room at the 52nd Street Y, he questioned his instincts, his path, and, God forgive him, his faith. Even still, he prayed. Prayed the two young men would leave, prayed someone would help, prayed this cup would be removed.

“Stomp him again Bart!”

Bart obliged his cheerleader and, for a fifth or sixth time, slammed his size twelve work boot into the fallen preacher’s unguarded midsection. For good measure, he put all his weight on it, compressing it, and performed a crude, grinding Chubby Checker twist. The preacher lay on his back helpless, pinned.

Bart twisted a few more times, stopped his punishing dance, and stepped off. The preacher’s midsection decompressed and a sound, like the one a Baby Alive with low batteries makes when a child presses its tummy, passed his lips. To guard against the next blow, the preacher pulled one leg up, closer to his chest. The other leg, numb, would not bend. So he laid like a battered and bruised, lower case, cursive letter “k” and with every breath involuntarily moaned like an energy depleted baby doll.

“Told you, preach. Don’t want no prossalatizin’ round here,” Bart said.

Bart’s cheerleader chimed, “That’s right preach. Ain’t you never heard of the separation of church and state?” The cheerleader had no idea what the phrase meant, but he’d read it on a bumper sticker once and liked the way it sounded.

“Grab his wallet an let’s go for someone comes Bart.”

“Ain’t done yet.” Bart’s face twisted evil and he raised a leg and size twelve over the preacher’s head. The preacher cringed, pulled his forearms in front of his face and semi curled his beaten body to protect vital organs. Bart put down his leg without striking a blow, then grinned and mocked, “Ha, preach! Guess ya won’t be going so boldly from now on, will ya?”

Bart reached into the preacher’s pocket, took his wallet, then he and his cheerleader left. But not before turning the levers of all six shower heads leaving the preacher in a torrential downpour of fluoridated city water.

Cold water sprayed the preacher and pooled around his back. He laid for some time. When he tried to get up, the lights in his head flickered violently as if a hyper kid with ADD was rapidly flipping a switch connected to his ocular nerve. The strobe effect made him nauseous and he retched.

He tried to get up again. The lights still flickered but slower, just about blinking speed. He clumsily shifted into a wobbly crouch, then transferred all his weight to his good leg and stood a little bent. Immediately the spinning room and his throbbing head joined forces and demanded his body reassume a horizontal position. He fought to stay up and managed to for three, maybe four seconds.

Then the spinning room picked up speed and tossed him sideways like a dinghy in a thirty foot swell. He stuck out an arm, stumbled obliquely and groped air, then wall. Slimy wet wall. His hand slipped and one hundred sixty-five pounds of bone, flesh and spirit-filled preacher tumbled hard. His head hit last with a hollow thud like the sound of forty ripe cantaloupes being thumped at the same time.

All at once, the flickering lights, the spinning and the nausea stopped. The preacher wasn’t sure he was alive. But he thought, or at least he thought he thought, and that was something.

His mind raced back seventeen years to seminary, the day after final oratories. He sat at a large important man’s desk and the solemn dean, or was it Dean Solomon?, who had a reputation for telling it like it is sat across from him.

“Son, some men are born leaders, natural leaders, biologically charismatic, built to persuade, motivate and move. Son, that’s not you.”

It stung.

What bright-eyed seminary student didn’t dream of standing in front of hundreds or thousands every Sunday delivering powerful, persuasive, thought provoking sermons? Changing lives by the dozens. By the hundreds.

“Nothing wrong with being generally adored and widely admired,” the dean said. “The world needs those types. God uses them. But the world needs your type. God uses them too … and could use a lot more of them.”

In his heart he knew, knew it all along. His calling was more localized. More individualized. More personalized. His type didn’t draw a crowd, didn’t command the spotlight, didn’t demand worldly respect. Sure, like most, he’d chased those things once but in his heart, he knew they weren’t for him.

No, his type believed being thankful for what you could give outweighed being thankful for what you could get. And his type, he, lived life according to that belief.

Then his mind raced back further, to his baptism. But the water was cold, too cold, freezing in fact, and he was drowning.

Ice cold water ribboned with red filled his nose. He sucked some of it into his sinus cavity. It burned and snapped him back into reality. Carefully he got to all fours. A mixture of blood, water and tears streamed from the point of his chin. Battered, bruised and heartbroken, he crawled toward the door.

This wasn’t the first time he’d been punched, kicked or robbed while working at the shelter. He doubted it would be the last. The thing he didn’t doubt, if he, his type, didn’t give to the hopeless, the helpless, the lost, the outcast, the downcast, the broken people, the people like Bart, no one would.

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