And on his shoulder, gently laid.
This is the story of a man named Bobby, who works at the Con Ed plant over on 14th Street. It's a story especially for this week of Thanksgiving, but it goes way beyond the holiday.
It was Thanksgiving Day, and Bobby went to work. He took the holiday shift because it was double pay and there'd be little to do, and because he had no place to go for Thanksgiving anyway.
It was a family holiday, and that was all long gone. How it had all crumbled, how he was all alone now, well…that was a story too long to tell. But there had been a time…with little kids, and a woman he loved, and a future as bright as the lights on Con Ed’s tower over there. His wife and his mother blamed it all on him. They called him selfish, and domineering, and abusive--especially when he drank. He expected to be treated like royalty, king and lord of them all, his wife said, and she was fed up with it, and she took the kids and left.
That was all so long ago, 18 years at least. He had no idea where they all were. Sometimes he wondered what the kids looked like now, what they were doing. He heard rumors that they had not fared so well, but it was too painful to even think about. At times he regretted everything, but maybe not that much, not enough to do anything about it, and now he lived in a couple of rooms in a basement apartment over on the west side and it was Thanksgiving, and he went to work.
It was a pain to get there, all the crowds in Union Square, the stupid Christmas village, lines of people waiting for overpriced hot chocolate. Some probably had been at the parade, which cost the city too much money, and it was just one big advertisement for Macy's anyway.
Work was quiet, when he finally got there. It was just a skeleton crew and no one was there to bother him, especially his boss--the guy he hated most. The evening and night went by slowly, uneventfully, and finally it was midnight and time to go home.
He stopped in a Korean deli on Avenue C, one of the few places open on Thanksgiving. The bread didn’t look too fresh and neither did anything else but he bought a hero sandwich and a beer to take home for dinner.
The streets were pretty deserted, and when he got to his usual subway station he found it closed. He walked some more and finally found another station, and went down. He stood on the nearly empty platform and waited for a train. He waited a while and not a single train passed on either side. And then, out of nowhere, this girl came up to him. “Oh great,” he thought.
She looked homeless and strung out, and he tried to ignore her, but that was impossible. He couldn’t see much of her face, a ratty scarf wrapped around it, but he could see her eyes, and they were pleading.
"Do you know where there's a church around here?", she asked him. She was young, maybe 18 or 19, and she looked upset. "A church? What kind of a church?", he asked her. "I need to see someone," she said, her eyes filling up.
He was about to tell her he didn't know about any churches, but something got through to him, maybe the wet eyes, maybe her youth. He looked down the platform into the darkness of the tunnel and still saw no train. "Come on, let's go upstairs," he said.
He didn't know of any churches there--he never went to church anyway--but he led her down the street in search of one he thought was somewhere nearby. It wasn't too far, a couple of blocks from the station, a Catholic Church in the middle of the block.
The church itself was locked, but they found the rectory and rang the bell. They waited a moment and rang it again, and then again and again, but no one came to the door. Ok, so it was almost 1 in the morning, but what about all that crap about “knock, and the door will be opened to you”? "Nobody's here," he said to the girl, and she nodded but said nothing.
He began to feel that this was a big mistake, that he should have minded his own business. Now he had this kid on his hands and didn't know how to get rid of her. That’s when she clutched her stomach, doubled over on herself and moaned.
“What’s the matter?”, Bobby said. The girl tried straightening up, holding in her pain. She didn’t answer him.
“Can you walk?”, he asked. She nodded yes, and so they slowly walked down the street. Bobby was pretty sure there was a hospital near 15th or 16th Street, so he thought he could drop off the problem on them, and they headed in that direction. She couldn’t walk fast, and she looked like she was shaking from the cold, so Bobby took his coat off and put it around her shoulders.
When they got to the hospital, he reached to open the door, and the girl looked up and stopped. ”No,” she said. “Why not? They can help you,” Bobby said. She shook her head, and froze in place. “Please, sweetie,” he said, his hand on her shoulder gently urging her inside. As the words came out of his mouth he suddenly realized that he hadn’t called anyone that since his children.
She looked up at him for a moment, and then followed his suggestion and entered. They approached a woman behind the desk. "She needs to see someone." The woman looked up, reached over for a form, and said, “fill this out for your daughter.” Bobby looked alarmed. “No, no, I don't know her, I just helped her find this place," he said, and the woman just looked at him, and then at her.
The girl suddenly clutched her stomach and started to moan again, and the woman immediately jumped up and came around the desk, calling for help from a co-worker. They brought a wheelchair, and got her to take off his coat and a few sweaters. Bobby stood aside and watched it all, and for the first time he noticed that she was pregnant. The girl’s tears started to roll down her cheeks. The woman reached for a tissue and gave it to the girl. "It's alright dear," she said, "its alright."
And then she turned to Bobby and said, "Thank you for bringing her here. We'll take care of her." As Bobby was putting his coat on and turning to leave, he heard the woman ask her name. “Amanda,” she said.
He got on the subway a block away. The train came, he got on, and went home. He kept hearing her say “Amanda”. It was his daughter’s name.
Before he knew it, he was walking in the door of his apartment. He put the sandwich he bought in the deli on the kitchen table, opened the beer, and sat down.
The label on the beer can said, "The King of Beers".
It was dark outside and it was quiet within, and suddenly Bobby started to sob. Tears came to his eyes, hot salty tears flowed down his cheeks mingling with the bread and the meat and the beer, he started to cry uncontrollably as he thought about his life, the mess he had made of it. All these jumbled thoughts came back--his mother cooking in the kitchen, his children giggling when he tickled them, his wife in the midst of labor, his loneliness in this apartment, the girl in the subway asking him where the nearest church was.
Through his blurry tears he fingered the beer can which said, "The King of Beers", and suddenly he remembered a hymn from his childhood church:
The King of love, my Shepherd is, whose goodness fails me never; I nothing lack if I am his, and he is mine forever.
Confused and foolish oft I strayed, but yet in love he sought me; And on his shoulder gently laid, and home rejoicing, brought me.
And so through all the length of days, your goodness fails me never; Good Shepherd, may I sing your praise, within your house forever.
Bobby jumped up, got his coat back on, and ran to the subway station. What if she was his little girl, what if it was his Amanda who found her way to him on Thanksgiving night? It didn’t matter, he told himself. His heart told him that she belonged to him anyway.
The king of love our shepherd is, the king of our hearts if we let him. On so on this feast of Christ the King, three days after Thanksgiving, I ask you, who or what commands your love, rules your heart? Can you say, honestly, that no one, no thing takes precedence over Jesus in your life?
Jesus Christ is the King. Does he glory in your heart? Does he?