It was just after the 7:30 AM mass, the Bishop had just gone into the sacristy and on the life-sized crucifix hanging on the back wall of the sanctuary, there was movement. Jesus managed to pull his legs free, the rusty nail clanking and bouncing as it hit then settled on the marble floor. He freed his left hand and finally the right. Very gingerly, he slid down onto the altar, his bare feet leaving bloody imprints on the crisp, freshly starched, and ironed white cloth covering the table. As he made his way to the men’s room, he passed the three parish gossips praying the rosary together, whose jaws dropped with shock at the indecency of a man wearing nothing but a loincloth in the cathedral and the Bishop being present.
Jesus washed up as best he could, carefully removed his crown of thorns, and stuffed it in the trash can, pressing it down as far as he could. "Wouldn't want anybody else to get their hands caught on that," he murmured to himself.
As he walked down the main aisle leading to the front door, he was struck by how joyless the place looked, how uninviting, how cold, hardly the place to celebrate his birthday. People outside were talking a lot about it, singing about it, but there were no decorations here. “It’s such a pity,” he murmured, “the Bishop could have made it into a real fun event having whole families come and put-up colored lights, wreaths, and sprigs of holly both inside and outside the cathedral.
He shivered with cold; it was a freezing December morning as he waited to cross Dumbarton Road at the stoplight. There was the sound of squealing tires and crunching metal as a taxi ran into the back of a minibus filled with immigrant workers, which had stopped suddenly even though the light was green. All eyes were on him, and he smiled at them knowingly. Walking over to the bus stop, he waited in line and could sense that people, heavily bundled up, were staring at him out of the corner of their eyes. Nobody looked at him directly, nobody said anything, nobody made any attempt to talk to him. “So much for the happy holidays season," he thought, "but on the other hand, I probably don't look too great; I might even scare some people."
“So, ‘ad a rough night then?” It was the bus driver, a heavy-set man who was smiling and looking directly at him. Jesus had noticed the man had greeted every passenger, welcoming each one as if into his own home. He laughed, he joked, he was clearly enjoying his work. “No need to answer, lad, it shows. Should stay off the bloody sauce for a while if I were in your shoes. Am glad you're not sitting down, would really bugger up the seat with that dirty cloth you're wearing." Jesus nodded in agreement. "Not from round 'ere, I reckon. So, where you're going? Where to?"
"I need to get to the LBGTQ Shelter," Jesus said quietly, "but am not sure where it is exactly."
“That’s nowt to worry about lad; you're on the right bus. I'll let you know which stop it is. It's real close to where you’ll get off, directly opposite, just across the road."
"Thank you,” said Jesus, “you’re very helpful.”
“Think nowt of it,” he chirped back, then looking Jesus up and down, said, “and I suppose you’re going to tell me now that you’ve got no bus fare,” and let out a chuckle.
"Yes, I'm afraid so,” he replied. "But I will remember your number and pay you later."
“Think nothing of it, mate. It's only a few pence. I too 'ave been there and done it, and too many times. But I’m clean and sober now. This one’s on me.”
It was just as the driver had described. A brightly painted, large warehouse looking out of place next to several other partially derelict and destroyed buildings. A long line of people snaked back for thirty or forty yards from the front door. Men and women, many carrying brown paper bags, some with old backpacks, a few with small shopping carts stuffed with their belongings, stood patiently together. A young man and woman sat at a small table just inside the door, processing and admitting each person. Jesus didn't know what to do, whether to just get in line or go and ask somebody. At that very moment, the young woman, she seemed to be in her mid-twenties, suddenly caught sight of him. Jumping from her chair, she ran out and threw her arms around him. “You must be Big J,” she cried with delight, “I’m Jocelyn. We received an anonymous phone call this morning that you would be arriving. This is just wonderful, come and meet the gang.” Then gently taking his hand, he allowed himself to be led into an Aladdin’s cave of warmth, bright lights, the smell of breakfast being prepared and lots of laughter.
"This is my wife Amy," Jocelyn said, introducing a pretty dark haired woman of the same age. "She runs the place, or rather she helps us keep it all together. “
“From the look of you, the first thing we need to do is get you seen by our volunteer doctor, Paul,” she said in a very gentle voice. “He’s very good, and then how about a shower. After that, you’ll meet the team, and we’ll have breakfast together.”
“That sounds wonderful,” he replied with the beginnings of a smile, "I'm in your capable hands, at least for now.”
“Then come with me,” Amy replied, “I’ll take you to Paul.”
As they made their way through a maze of passageways, well-lit rooms, and the sound of Christmas music playing over a PA system, Jesus couldn’t help but pick up on the happy and joyous atmosphere.
“Hey, Paul, this is Big J we talked about earlier. He’s just arrived and, as you can see, has some wounds that need attending to. I hope you can take care of him, but if not, then we'll follow our usual plan B and take him to Concord Hospital urgent care. But you know how I feel about that place. They really don't like our people."
"Hi, Big J," he said, extending his hand, "welcome to my pad." They were standing in a small but well-equipped room clearly set up as a nursing and first aid station. “And don’t worry about what Amy says, from the looks of things, I'm sure there's nothing I can't manage." Then looking him over from head to toes, said gently, " why don't the two of us head over to the showers, it seems you may not have had one for quite some time? I'll come in with you just so I can wash your wounds."
"Whatever you need to do, is just fine with me," he answered.
Once showered and the dried blood washed away, several wounds began oozing again. Wrapped in warm towels and with flip flops on his feet, Paul led Big J back to the first aid station. “Your wounds don’t look good,” Paul began, especially the one on your side. It does look clean however, and I think I can stitch it up. I’ll also have to put some sutures on both wrists and your feet. I’m actually amazed you can walk. Whoever did this, really did a number on you. You must have been a very bad boy," he said jokingly.” You’ve lots of scrapes all over your body, and a huge bruise over one shoulder. I thought it was broken at first, but it’s still in one piece. But your back man, it’s a mess. I’ll do the best I can, but the skin has been so broken, it will take quite some time to heal. I’m going to give you a couple of shots that should handle any infection and I have enough pain killers that should help for a while. The good news is that all of your head wounds are not deep, and once we get you to see James, who is our hairdresser, I’ll be able to see them better.
Jesus said very little as Paul worked assiduously, oblivious to anything other than the work at hand. An hour later, he said, "Big J, it's about as much as I can do for now. Your body could only take this much punishment because you're in such good physical shape. I’m going to leave you for a moment and get some clothes and footwear. We’re about the same size so it shouldn’t be a problem.” He soon returned with some underwear, a pair of jeans, T shirt and a large woolen jumper. "You'll look great in that," joked Paul, “might even win the ugly Xmas sweater competition. I've brought some socks and found these trainers, which are probably a size or two too large but should work for you.”
“You’re very kind,” Jesus replied, “I don’t deserve this. One day I will pay you back.”
“Oh, don’t think about," he said, "you're not anyone special; we treat everybody who comes here the same way. I'm not giving you anything I wouldn’t give to every woman and man that comes to visit us. But now I'm going to take you to our James, he sets the fashion trends here, or would you like a coffee first or a cup of tea, although we'll soon be having breakfast.”
“No,” Big J responded, “I’ll wait. I love family meals.”
“Soooooooooooooooooo what have we here?” James asked as the two entered his room, extending a heavily tattooed hand with ring-covered fingers. It was set up as a professional hairdresser’s salon, complete with all appliances. "I heard you were in the building Big J; news travels fast here. So, Paul," he suggested, "why don't you leave Big J with me and when I'm done, I'll bring him over to the dining room."
“Excellent idea, so I’ll see you both soon.”
Jesus looked at James. He was trying to remember whom he resembled, then he realized it was his cousin, except that he was a fisherman. This James had the hands and long fingers of an artist. “I really like what you’re wearing,” said Jesus and your hair looks wonderful, very unique."
“Well, that's kind of you," he answered, standing there preening himself. He was wearing a pale blue top, with a bright square design, each quadrant a different color, with long, wide flowing sleeves. His red skintight yoga pants with a multicolored design stretching down the full length of each leg, were eye-catching. But it was his hair that made him stand out. Both sides of his head were shaved to the scalp and dyed a dark green. The rest was bright yellow three-inch-high thatch standing up straight Mohican style. Jesus paid no attention to the ring through his nose and the scorpion tattoo on his neck, he only noticed his eyes. They seemed to sparkle with acceptance and kindness.
“Then let’s get started,” he said caringly. “I can see the wounds, so I’ll be extra careful. First, I'll give it a shampoo and add conditioner, then we can discuss what you would like me to do with it. How’s that?”
“Yes, that sounds just fine. Let’s do it,” he concurred.
“You know, Big J, there are many women who would die to have hair like yours," James said once he was ready to shape it. “It’s so thick. So, what’s your fancy?”
“I really don’t know,” Jesus replied, “I’ve had long hair for years. It was very fashionable back in the day. I’m not sure now how I want it. What do you think? What would you suggest?”
“Certainly not long,” James emphasized, “I agree; it’s so yesterday. But did you ever see that painting by Salvador Dali of Christ of St John of the Cross, I thought it was amazing? He gave you short but tousled hair. Shall we go for that look?'
“Yes, I remember seeing that, I really liked it,” Jesus answered with a little laugh, “and now my head is in your hands. And what about the beard?”
"Am soooooooooooooooo happy you asked," James said. "It's really got to go. Or on second thoughts, what about just a short jaw-lined look.”
“And you don’t think a goatee would suit me?”
There was a long pause as James walked around him, looking at his face from several angles, carefully touching the beard.
“No, I really don’t think so. Why don’t we go with a really modern look; cut very close to the face. It will just look as if you haven’t shaved for several days. It would be tres chic, very much in vogue.”
“I submit to your superior judgment,” Big J responded with a chuckle.
Thirty minutes later they were seated in the dining room with the rest of the LBGTQ team and about one hundred men and women, eating a simple breakfast. Jesus looked along the lines of people being fed; nobody asked about their age, beliefs, nationality, culture, sexual orientation, political allegiance or marital status. They were simply poor and hungry.
Paul came over and slid onto an open seat next to Jesus. Carefully looking at his head and hair, he said, "it's just as I thought Big J, so here is some medication. Just dab it on each wound twice a day," and discretely slipped him a tube of antiseptic cream.
"Paul, I'll never forget your kindness," he answered softly and lightly touched his shoulder with his bandaged hand.
“Wow, that’s quite a transformation,” Jocelyn commented. “You’re beginning to look almost human again. I hope you’re starting to feel a little better. How long will you be staying with us?”
“Just today,” Jesus answered. “I’d like to earn my keep by working here today, then tonight I need to be in Marton, near Blackpool.”
“Oh, that’s too short Big J. Are you sure you can’t stay longer? That’s a rhetorical question,” she quickly added, “so don’t answer it. I’m just being selfish. You know how Amy and I feel about you. And can we help you with getting to Marton,” she added in a tearful voice?
“I wish I could stay,” he replied gently, “but I can’t. I got a call from Kate. She calls me every day and said she was struggling with her Xmas decorations and trimming her tree. Getting old can be a real burden. I let her know that I would help her. It's all such an important part of getting ready for my birthday. Most people take it quite seriously, and it’s a really big deal for them. I just wish the churches would get on board with the Xmas spirit, but that’s something I can’t do much about. The pastors need to listen to the people, to take their cue from them, to be leaders of joy. But I live in hope. Anyway, I need somehow to get to Marton so I can help her and Bernard.”
“That will not be a problem,” answered a woman wearing a colorful national dress. “I’m Ezyan from Syria,” she said smilingly, “you’ll be working with Yemane and me this morning, pointing to a young black man. He’s from Senegal and speaks awful English,” she teased. We’ll be putting together free food bags for most of the people who are lined up outside. Times are very hard, and there is so much poverty. And if you’re an illegal like so many of us and have lost everything, it’s a place like this that is a real haven of hope. Meanwhile, I’ll find out exactly how to get to Marton. I’m sure there will be a good bus service.”
"Hey, Big J, over here." A group of men and women were walking alongside tables stacked with all kinds of canned, packaged goods and fresh produce, dropping one of each item into a large carry bag. It was then deposited on a table near the entrance where staff, all wearing Santa hats, were handing them out. A tall olive-skinned man was waving him over. He was wearing a reindeer-type hat. “We heard you were coming today. Come and work with us. We have the first shift. Ezyan and Yemane are in charge, but they’ll let you work with me. We have no real hierarchy here. Our common goal is to simply get the job done. You’ll get to meet everybody at the break. My name is Yasra and I’m from Palestine, Bethlehem actually, ask me anything you want to know about the place. I understand you were born there but I learned your parents had to run for it soon afterwards. I know the feeling. I escaped last year after losing my wife and child in an Israeli attack. We were minding our own business, just trying to hide and get out of the way. I’ve not been back to the mosque since, I'm too angry with Allah, but the team here is really helping me with my anger and grief. I just love this place and these people. And oh, by the way, is that the best they could do in the sweater department,” he said with a laugh?
“So happy to meet you Yasra. And yes I'll be happy to work alongside you. Am so sorry for your loss. And hey, I got all these clothes for free. Not too long ago I was almost naked. What’s not to like? But I have a question for you if you don’t mind. I noticed that there are banners everywhere with just the letters LGBTQ. The same banner is over the front door. What do the letters mean?”
“That’s an easy one. You don’t have to be here very long before you get it. It’s what drives us, what makes us tick, what makes us who we are. It’s our slogan our philosophy
” Love, Brotherhood, Giving, Tenderness and Question”
“I think I get the first three,” Big J responded, “but what about the last two?”
"Everybody who comes through those doors has been wounded in some way. Everybody. We're the walking wounded. In a brutal world, we need to reach out with tenderness to each other. Treat each other tenderly. The word says it all. And Question? Jocelyn and Amy ask us every day and occasionally multiple times during the day, to question ourselves, our motives. It’s as if they were brought up knowing the Quran, but I know they’re both Catholics. Why we are here? Why do we do what we do? I guess it's a way of purifying our intentions.”
“Tell me more,” Big J requested, “there must be more to it.”
“Well, there is. I’m a Muslim. The Quran teaches that purity is the sincerity of intention behind any action or behavior. Islam regards the motives behind what people say or do as essential and that these motives should always be to pursue the pleasure, approval, and satisfaction of God. Whether the individual himself or the people discover these motives or not, a person must acknowledge that God sees and knows what’s in our hearts at all times. Here I see the Quran in action, and I am part of it. And didn’t you peach a similar message?" He held up his hand. "No need to answer, Big J, I've seen what Christians can do to each other. It’s just that here at LGBTQ, the message is vibrant, is real.”
“Good news Big J. I found a phone number for Kate and Bernard’s address you gave me, so I called them. Ezyan was walking towards him giving him the news. You do know I’ll never forget our meeting," she said with tears in her eyes. Today is very special for me. I'm a Yasidi, a survivor, a woman who was raped multiple times, whose whole family was exterminated just because of their beliefs. But I know where I stand with you and that gives me peace and comfort, even though we've never met before. I can feel it. They looked longingly at each other. Jesus reached out and gently drew her to himself. Standing there, arms wrapped around each other, there was no need for words. As they separated, she explained, “I’ll put you on the bus that will take you all the way to the Marton windmill. They’ll meet you there and drive you to their home. Kate will spoil you rotten. They’re as excited as can be. I also told them a little about your schedule that you would be visiting several more families but that you had to be back in the cathedral by the evening of the 24th. They understood and said they’d drive you there themselves. You’ve made our Xmas preparations here so very special, Big J, and I’m sure once you've helped them dress their tree, put up their lights, hung the holly wreath on their door, and wrapped some presents, it will also be their best Xmas ever. And oh, Kate says she bakes a mean mince pie and has a special birthday cake for you.”