It’s 8:00 p.m. and minus 16 degrees. I make my rounds through all the known haunts trying to entice the wraiths into the warm. The homeless, ghosts of their former selves, clinging to their meagre coverings, shivering on top of subway grates, in doorways and on park benches. I give a cheery smile, with words of allurement. It’s nice and warm at the shelter. Wouldn’t you rather be warm till this cold spell breaks. Try it, just for the night. My words are met with a grunt and they turn their face from me. Just like God has.
I return to the shelter at 10:00 p.m. just before closing. I give my report to the Director, give a cheery wave to the occupants drinking their hot chocolate and start for home. It’s Friday night, two days of oblivion to look forward to.
I arrive home, throw a chicken pot pie into the oven, reach for the whiskey bottle and pour a generous amount into the glass. I savour the flavour, the warmth, the relaxation of my body as it slumps into the chair. I awake an hour later to an empty glass and the smell of burning coming from the oven. A burnt chicken pot pie, three slices of bread and four glasses of whiskey later, I turn to Leonard Cohen for comfort.
Slipping my iPod into the dock, I lay back in the armchair, feet on the coffee table, whiskey in hand and zone into the music. I pause the iPod after listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Window” and replay it over and over. The middle verse touches my soul.
And come forth from the cloud of unknowing
And kiss the cheek of the moon
The New Jerusalem glowing
Why tarry all night in the ruin
And leave no word of discomfort
And leave no observer to mourn
But climb on your tears and be silent
Like a rose on its ladder of thorns
Where had I heard the Cloud of Unknowing before. Was it St. John of the Cross. Yes, one of his poems.
I entered into unknowing,
yet when I saw myself there,
without knowing where I was,
I understood great things;
I will not say what I felt
for I remained in unknowing
transcending all knowledge.
My mind went round and round. Stanzas from The Ascent of Mount Carmel. “One dark night, filled with loves urgent longing, I went out unseen, my house being now all stilled”. How can love and darkness co-exist. Doesn’t the light of love drive out darkness, doesn’t darkness smother the light of love…………..
I awoke the next afternoon to a heavy head and acute indigestion. I drank three cups of water before I reached for the whiskey bottle. My next awareness was late Sunday afternoon. Groaning I staggered to the shower. I let the cleansing waters pour over me, invigorating me, trying to create tomorrows identity.
Later that night I began thinking of my council presentation tomorrow. I thought of Mahendra, a council member who was forever discussing religion with me. My Christian God to his Hindu Gods. I would tell him about the death and resurrection of Christ and he would talk about Shiva, the destroyer who creates. My mind drifted off to sleep with images of death and resurrection, destruction and creation.
The next afternoon I was sitting in the office at the homeless shelter ready to discuss the presentation to council on funding for non-profit housing.
The Director greeted me with a smile “How was your weekend”.
‘ Great “, I replied, returning his smile and then proceeded to discuss funding alternatives for non profits.