Every community has one. Ours does. He is the community stranger. Ours is an old man, a strange old man. His old suit is well mended and clean, but he seems a bit different than you and me. His gruffy, scruffy dog is always at his side.
We are not sure where he comes from, or where he goes to, but every day, he walks for miles and miles through the town and country. Rain or shine, hot or cold, we see him walking. Day after day, month after month, year after year, we seem him walking.
As I watch him, he stops by the edge of an open field and begins to preach to an imaginary crowd. His sermon seems long and well thought out. He goes from calm and collected to highly animated and back again. Some stop and stare, while others look away nervously, as though he is as invisible as his congregation. A few pause briefly and say, “Good morning preacher, how are you this fine day?”
Today, however, there is something new. On the corner, across from the field, several of the town folk are talking ugly about the old man and his dog. As they talk, they seem to attract others.
One says he is crazy. Another says he is scary and mean and she won’t let her children come near him. One is sure he looked right at her with evil in his eyes and, she adds, even the dog seems nasty.
A businessman in a fine suit proclaims somewhat arrogantly that the old man is a poor reflection on the community and urged everyone to consider his impact on those who might want to move here.
Each seems in agreement . . .
He does not fit in, does not belong and something must be done.
Then I notice. She is small and I had not seen her. But she is there, standing only about 15 feet away at the bus stop. She is a little girl and I can tell she is listening intently.
And the more she hears, the more her face expresses her disbelief. But as I watch her, a change happens. She remembers her daddy’s words telling her to stand up for what she believes and to have the strength to speak up when things just aren’t right.
Her face changes from one of disbelief to one of determination.
Mustering up all of her courage, and probably praying for more, she marches up to the group of gossiping town folk. Slowly, looking each one in the eye as she stands straight up, even stretching a little, she challenges them to consider. Maybe he is just a kindly old man with a heart and feelings. Maybe he has been through rough times in his life. Maybe he just decided to march to the beat of his very own drummer.
She asks them, as they begin to feel shame, why they are not living the life they teach their children to live every day. She asks them how they would feel if others decided they did not fit in and did not belong.
Then, she tells them she has talked to the old man many times. She explains that he has done nothing wrong. And even as she admits he seems odd and a misfit, she explains how he adds character to the town and how she would miss him if he were gone.
Then, stretching just a bit higher, she tells them how she had heard people call him names, to his face, and had heard others call him “preacher” because they did not know what to say.
Proudly, and just a bit louder, she tells everyone that she greets him with respect and with his name. She likes this strange old man.
I struggled with writing this story for weeks. No matter how long I worked with it, I just couldn’t get it right. It was important to me that this story was told, so I turned to James Huggins of The Eclectic Power Company for assistance. He has this magical ability of taking the words from my heart and making them all come together on paper.
Thank you James!