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United Church of Jaffrey
March 31st, 2019
Luke 15: 1-3 and 11-32 | An Excerpt from an essay by Audre Lorde
Certainly there are very real differences between us of race, age, and sex. But it is not those differences between us that are separating us. It is rather our refusal to recognize those differences, and to examine them and their effects upon human behavior and expectation… To often, we pour the energy needed for recognizing and exploring difference into pretending those differences are insurmountable barriers, or that they do not exist at all. This results in a voluntary isolation, or false and treacherous connections. Either way, we do not develop tools for using human difference as a springboard for creative change within our lives. — Audre Lorde
The old man just calls me boy.
He is only a few years older than me, but he is the old man, and I am the boy.
“Boy, would you get me some water.”
“Boy, it’s time to ring the dinner bell.”
When the old man was a younger man, he used to be stern. He was Master of the house.
Master of the farm.
But now, things are different.
You might not see it, but I do.
At one time the old man knew how to command us. He’d go out and inspect the fields. He would tell everyone exactly how he wanted things to be done.
Now the old man mostly stays in the house. He let’s Junior take care of business.
Junior took over the management of the farm after the kid left.
And that is not good.
Junior is proud, but has little understanding. He commands, but without the knowledge or strength of the old man. And the old man knows it, too.
But he doesn’t seem to care.
And It all started with that kid.
They think I don’t see it.
But I see everything.
I am not seen.
But I see.
I am from over there.
But it has been so long.
I barely remember what it was like over there.
Sometimes I wish, I could be from here, since this is where I am.
And after all, my tongue has lost the knowledge of over there.
The knowledge of my tongue is the knowledge of here.
I cannot smell my village.
My nose has lost the smell of my village.
Now I know the smells of this place.
And anyway, my people are gone.
Lost in the war.
I came from over there, but now, after these many years, my people are gone, and I feel that these people… these people are my people.
The old man. Junior. Even the Kid.
Not that kid.
That kid is gone.
That kid was my people. Now he is lost.
I saw it, but I did not understand it.
I only lie beneath a roof, and eat what the kitchen places before me.
I have never owned anything, and I have nothing coming to me.
So I don’t know really get this business of inheritance.
One night, last year, the kid came to old man.
“Father,” he said, “I want my inheritance right now.”
And that’s when it all started.
I saw it, but I did not understand it.
The old man divided his land and gave half of it to that Kid.
That kid. He is the last person that should be given anything.
But he is given everything.
And then he sold it! That kid sold his land!
The land the old man cared for.
He sold it!
And Junior just watched. Fire in his eyes.
I just watched. The land was lost.
And. then he left.
The kid took off.
“Boy, I need to dress, would you help me?”
He is distracted. Sometimes it seems like the old man doesn’t see me at all… as if he is talking, not to me, but to the air around him.
The old man is softer now.
Other people might not notice it, but I do.
I can feel it in his arms when I help him with his robe. He is not as strong as he used to be.
He is gentler.
He allows our eyes to meet.
He is a changed man.
An old man.
I would not believe it if you told me.
But I will tell you.
He is in pain.
The old man is in pain over that kid.
After all that that kid did to him!
He is suffering.
He is pining away, for that kid!
Who knows what he’s doing with all that money?
What would I do with it? Become a merchant? Buy some more land?
I wouldn’t have sold it the land in the first place.
Because if I had that land, I would be from here.
The more I think on it, the more strange it is.
That kid was from here, and he gave it up.
Now, perhaps, he is in some distant country.
Do you suppose he’s spent all that money? Do you suppose he has wasted it all on drink?
He would do that!
That Kid! I can hear his laughter.
But the old man thinks nothing of this.
The old man turns to me in the night:
“He could be dead!” he says.
He takes his head in his hands. He looks down at the ground. “Tell me he isn’t dead!”
When I see this I think about That kid.
That cruel Kid.
He is far away.
He does not see this.
I am here.
I see it.
The kid has everything.
I have nothing.
He is free, and he is blind.
I am bound, yet I see.
It is a strange truth.
Unseen, I see.
I see the old man suffering in the night.
And I see, when, in anger, Junior beats the field boy.
Today, the old man stood up.
He raised his head, as if he were trying to hear a distant sound.
And then, he walked outside.
I followed him to make sure he did not fall. Junior, of course, was in the fields.
The old man looked down the road.
“Who is that?”
Was he asking me?
Someone was walking up the road.
It was that kid!
When he recognized his son, the old man hurried down the road toward him.
I tarried behind, and when I came up to them in road, that kid was speaking.
‘Father, he was saying, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
But the old man wasn’t listening.
The old man held that kid’s face in his hands. He wept with joy. Turning to me, he said:
‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’
While the feast was being prepared, I bathed the kid, just as I always did when he was a boy.
The kid was changed.
I could feel his ribs beneath his skin.
He had starved.
His feet were broken and bleeding.
His hair knotted and wild.
I washed his back.
I untangled his hair, and cut it back.
My anger flew from me.
“What happened to you?” I asked.
“I lost everything,” he said. “I spent all of my father’s money. It is all gone.”
He told me about the famine. He told me that he’d hired himself out, and he’d worked with the pigs in the field.
I shaved his face.
“I would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop,” he wept, “but no one would give me any!”
Beneath my hand, his body quivered. The stink washed away. He had suffered. He had lost everything. Become unseen.
Unseen, he had seen.
He emerged from the bath, still skinny, but clean.
Weak, but no longer that kid.
Now a man.
The neighbors came.
Some poor people were rounded up from town.
The heifer was slaughtered, and the musicians were playing, when Junior got back from the fields.
I had been watching for him, so when he came on, I went out to him.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
“Your brother came home,” I said. “Your father has ordered a feast.”
Junior spat on the ground. He wandered off under the trees.
I watched him for a time, and then I went to the old man.
“Junior is back from the fields” I said.
“Did you tell him that his brother has returned?”
“Why doesn’t he come to the feast.”
“He is out under their trees,” I said. “You better go to him.”
“Are you telling me what to do?” The old man said.
I did not answer.
The kid has changed.
He has been forgiven.
Junior will have his little tantrum, but he’ll be fine.
He’ll get over it, won’t he? I think so. After all, he is provided for.
He has a place in the story.
But I am in this story too.
This is what I think, as I go to check on the dinner preparations.
My story is the other story.
The story that is not told.
What is my inheritance?
I do not inherit.
Having nothing, I get nothing.
Nothing but a kind of sight.