New York City at dusk. Skyscrapers, silhouetted against a rose sky. Grey cavernous buildings on each side of the street. Small stores as far as the eye could see, one right next to another. Christmas lights glistening on some of the dusty windows. Sharply dressed business people, shining briefcases in hand, rushing to and fro, with determined looks on their faces. Rushing back to their warm cozy homes which would shield them from the oncoming chill in the air.

Into this mass of intent humanity, stumbled a poor excuse for a man. Unlike those around him, he ambled slowly as if he had no place to go, for indeed he did not. His dirty rags hung loosely on his thin frame and a definite odor emanated from about him. On his face, just above his caved in cheeks was an angry red sore, one of several to be seen on his body. He was obviously very ill, with a disgusting illness. A lone earring hanging from his left ear and a dirty scarf around his neck seemed vestiges of an alternate lifestyle which had cheated him and left him with a horrible disease. He seemed too sick to even notice the on rushing cold.  

Right in front of a small, dinky pawn shop, he paused and then, as if he could go no further, he folded down into a heap.  

The humanity swirled around him, carefully stepping over him or avoiding him. They looked elsewhere as if to not sully their evening with this rotting piece of humanity.
As the crowd thinned out a bit, a well dressed man approached. He was slightly round (not terribly so but enough that his wife had remarked it was time for him to begin using their indoor swimming pool more often). He sported a well fitted three piece suit, a sharp matching coat and shiny shoes (he always patronized the old 'negro' guy who set up shop close to his place of work, a large Baptist church.) He emanated importance and no wonder, his church had over 10,000 members and he was well respected in his denomination. His fiery sermons which had saved many people, were telecast every Sunday.  

Being an observant man, he spotted the pile of human garbage on the ground which had lain there motionless for some time now. He snorted as the odors from this poor wreck, a combination of sickness, dirt and poverty, reached his nose. He, an intelligent man, knew immediately that this thing on the ground had lived a sinful lifestyle. Pausing only a moment (he was a very busy man), he rushed on, thinking to himself that it was wonderful that he was so pure of heart and God did not punish _him_ as He obviously had punished the 'fag' (he thought that word with utter scorn for homosexuality was about the worse insult one could lay upon God, in his book.).  

A patch of time went by and the crowd thinned even more. Many people were already nestled in their most comfortable chairs, a drink by their side, the TV on, in their homes.

Another man came along and he, too was obviously a clergyman. The Roman collar gave his denomination away. He was a Catholic priest. A thin, ascetic looking man, he was loved by many in his parish. He had carefully fostered this love by avoiding any decisions which would have annoyed those with say so. He told himself that ignoring a few poor wretches who never added to the church anyway was a necessary action in order to enable him to minister to large numbers of people. He knew that God understood. He was a praying man and also quite conservative. Not really into those new fangled Masses with twangy guitars although he magnanimously allowed one or two per Sunday to satisfy those low lifers who enjoyed that sort of thing. All in all, he was a kindly sort, he felt and reasonably pleasing to God... as pleasing as a human could be anyway. 

He too spotted the pathetic man on the ground, who was rather like an ink blot on a white piece of paper and became more so as the passers by grew less and less. Sympathy overwhelmed this good priest and he stopped and gazed upon the man for a while. (He too stepped back when the odor reached him - a thin man, his stomach was not all that strong.) He said a quick prayer for the poor soul. As he watched the man, the man lay there motionless. The priest decided that nothing more could be done for him and things were in God's Hands anyway and besides undoubtedly someone had already called an ambulance. Satisfied that he had given him some spiritual help, the priest made a quick sign of the cross over him and sped on his way. He didn't want to be late for dinner.  

Darkness had almost covered the city. A soft light from the neon signs of the stores and the few Christmas lights cast a dim light on the street and this human wreck, still lying motionless in front of the shabby pawn shop. Now, few people passed by, one here and there. The street became quieter. No one lived here anymore and the apartments above the shops which had housed entire families at one time, were all storage rooms now.

A third person stopped and gazed at the sick man. He was dressed in black with a black beard and curly black hair with flecks of grey in it. A black bound Torah lay under his arm. He clucked at the sight from a distance. A clean man, he didn't really want to take the chance of catching whatever this man had. He, too, like the Catholic priest, said a prayer (in Hebrew) for the man. He really felt a great deal of sympathy for him but realized that he probably couldn't do anything for him. And since the man had not moved since he had stopped, he reasoned the man was probably dead anyway. And if he wasn't dead, he would die soon. Why prolong the agony of this poor soul, he reasoned. He was a logical and practical man which people said was the quality that had helped him to build the one of the largest synagogues in the city. He walked on, wiping away a few tears from his eyes.  

The street was deserted and dark. Even the neon lights and the Christmas decorations couldn't succeed in lighting it up but rather cast small pools of light here and there in the darkness. The shops began to close one by one. No one passed by anymore. Those going shopping in the evening would rather choose the classy Malls with their gaudy decorations. Evening business was almost unheard of for these dingy shops. The man lay there still in a broken heap.  

Out of the pawn shop came an aging man whose name was Arnie. He was balding and dressed in a baggy pair of faded jeans. A sloppy looking plaid shirt stuck out from under his jacket which had fit him 25 lbs ago but lately, was getting on the tight side. He spotted the heap in front of his shop and uttered a few profanities, some using the name of the Deity, for this Arnie was an agnostic, having given up any pretense at religion some years ago, since he didn't know if the Deity existed and if He did, would he really care about an old fart like Arnie?  

But then, having mouthed his disgust at someone daring to collapse in front of his already shabby looking store, he gingerly approached the heap. He turned him over, and wrinkling his nose at the odor, felt his neck for a pulse. There was one, albeit very weak. He stood there for a moment, wondering what to do. Looking in either direction, he saw no one coming. And he really didn't want to deal with this. But he couldn't just leave this whatever it was, out there in the cold. So shrugging his shoulders, he picked up the man and carried him to his car, parked nearby.  

Arnie considered himself a well read man and of course, he had seen the news on TV and knew about the disease the sick man was suffering from and how he probably got it. And the last thing he wanted was to catch the dread disease. They said you couldn't easily catch it but who knows, they didn't tell you all on TV anyway. But he knew he could not just leave the man there. He was dirtying up the sidewalk, Arnie told himself. He gently arranged the man in the car and shut the door. He got in on the driver's side and turned on the motor to get the car heater going. Then, he took out a dirty thermos which had a bit of coffee left in it. He poured out the last of the brown liquid into the plastic cup and held it to the man's mouth. The man's eyes fluttered open and he made an attempt at sipping the coffee. As the warmth from the car heater reached the man, he seemed to take on a slight tinge of life. He looked at Arnie with gratitude and tears in his eyes. Arnie turned away his head quickly least the man saw the tear in Arnie's eye. Arnie was a he-man who would not do anything so wimpy as weep.  

Arnie remembered there was one of those houses for such cases (he thought they were called hospices) a few blocks away. He decided that it would be the best place to take the sick man. So slowly pulling the car away from the curb as to not disturb the man too much, Arnie drove towards the hospice.  

The hospice indeed would take this man but they required a $400 deposit. The man was probably itinerant, they told Arnie, but until they could get through the red tape to get funding for him, they needed the money to foot the bill. Arnie, not known for his diplomacy, uttered another few four letter words about it being ridiculous that they would require an itinerant to pay money and what would they do if Arnie hadn't of come along and did they think Arnie was made of money? They shrugged their shoulders and said they could do no more.  

Arnie was not a rich man and barely made enough from the pawn shop to sustain himself in his one room apartment, especially since he had allowed himself the frivolity of a car, an expensive proposition in New York City. Greatly cutting into his profit (he would have never admitted this to anyone) were his small handouts, overpaying some poor slob who desperately needed the money or out and out giving stuff away. Never-the-less, he pulled out a grimy checkbook and began writing a check. Pausing at the amount, he made it for $500 (just in case more was needed). He handed the wrinkled check to the nurses at the hospice.  

They all went to the car (which Arnie had left running for the heat) and gently lifted the man out. Carrying him in, they arranged him in a bed, replacing his filthy rags with a white gown. The man seemed comfortable and warm perhaps for the first time in quite a while, and looking up at Arnie, his lips curled into what might be a smile. "My name is Hal", he managed. Arnie found his boney hand and shook it. He said brusquely, "Arnie here" Hal smiled weakly and promptly fell asleep, exhausted. Arnie promised to be back in a few days to look in on him. Well, he just couldn't let him go and let those people think that no one cared about him, he told himself.

This story never happened. Yet it happens every day. IT is a rewrite of a parable of Jesus which He told in answer to a man who asked Him what to do to get eternal life. Jesus prompted him to quote a verse from Deuteronomy. "Love the Lord with your whole heart and love your neighbor as yourself". But the man further asked Jesus who was his neighbor. After telling a similar story, Jesus asked the man, which one of those who passed by was a neighbor to the ill man. The inquirer answered, "the man who had mercy on him." And Jesus told him to go and do likewise.

It is this principle upon which Christianity is founded and a shame that it is so often forgotten in our ardor to 'be good' and to judge others .

Sue Widemark

NOTE: I am not a fiction writer, being somewhat creativity challenged. However, this story came to me, almost word per word, in church one Sunday - I feel I was only the pen and not the REAL writer.

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