I saw Jesus the night before he died, the night before he hauled that damn cross up the hill. I ran into him outside that little bakery, the one across from the wine shop on the main street. He was sitting on the stoop, talking to a gaggle of children. He always did love the kids.
“Hey, Jesus. What’s happening?”
“Hello, William. I’m just hangin’ with my little buddies.”
“If you can tear yourself away, how about I buy you a cup of wine at that shop over there? We can sit and talk and catch up. I haven’t seen you since forever.”
He smiled that smile of his.
“I’d like nothing better, my friend.”
He stood, patted one or two of the kids on the head, and whispered into one little girl’s ear. She looked up at him and smiled a thousand-watt smile.
“What did you say to the kid?” I asked.
“Nothing you’d understand, you old fart. Let’s get that wine.”
Of course, I had to buy. I never knew Jesus to have a dime on him. In the old days, I used to see him on the street with a bowl in his hand, begging for food. I would always tell him he didn’t have to do that. I’d be more than happy to buy him a meal. And he always said the same thing. “There are many hungry people in this city. Buy them a meal and you will have fed me.” I never understood what he meant, but then, Jesus always was an odd duck.
With wine in hand, we sat at a table overlooking the street. It hadn’t rained in a while and there was a bit of dust in the air, but we didn’t mind none.
“So, Jesus, what have you been up to?”
“Just walking the streets, talkin’ of love. What have you been up to?”
That was too much for me. “Never mind me. What do you mean you’re walking the streets talking of love? You’re in your mid-thirties. You should have been married long ago. When I knew you back in Nazareth, you had a thriving business going with your old man. Then you gave it all up. I worry about you, brother.”
He supped from his cup and smiled. “I thank you for your concern. But do not worry for me, I’m just passing through … as we all are. My needs are few. And come tomorrow, they’ll be fewer still.”
“What are you talking about, pal?”
“It’s not important, William. What’s important is that you live your life in love and not in fear.”
“Whatever. How about meeting up tomorrow? I’ll buy you lunch.”
“Sorry, my friend. I have an appointment with the governor. I’ll catch up with you in the next life.”
Jesus was always kidding. He had one wicked sense of humor. So, I paid no mind to what he said. I wish I had.
I was with Honest Abe the night before he died. He had lost a lot of weight. And he had more lines on his face than I remembered. He smiled at me as I walked into the room. “Well, well, William, it is good to see you. How have you been?”
“I’m cool, Abe. That was some war you just won. And I love how you had the band play Dixie right after Lee surrendered. You got class.”
He did an aw shucks gesture and asked me to sit down.
“So, Abe, tell me. What are you gonna do with all those traitors, all those rebels now that you beat the hell out of ’em?”
Abe stroked his beard and looked to the ceiling before answering. “I’m gonna treat them like I’d want to be treated. I’m gonna treat ’em like any human being would want to be treated. I’m gonna treat ’em with love.”
“So, what’s your plan, Abe?”
“Stop by tomorrow and I’ll tell you all about it. I’m gonna heal this country, by gob. I have a plan to bring the South back into the fold. But right now I have to get ready for the theater. There’s a play Missus Lincoln wants to see. But remember this, William. Approach your adversaries with love and there’s no way you can fail. I’ll leave word with Mister Kennedy that I’ll be having lunch with you tomorrow. Till then, my friend, pray for me. I have a big job to do in the next four years.”
I was with Martin King, Jr. the night before he died.
“So, Marty. What’s shaking?”
“Please don’t call me Marty. You know I don’t like it.”
“I’m just fucking with you, Martin. You’re finally getting there. You’re about to bring your people into the Promised Land. And it’s about fuckin’ time as far as I’m concerned.”
“One thing at a time, William. Yes, we’ve gotten to the mountain top, but it’s a long way down to the fertile valley below.”
“At least it’s all downhill now. I remember when you were in the Birmingham jail. Things looked pretty bleak back then.”
Martin smiled a sad smile.
“I don’t think I’ll make it to that valley,” said he. “I think it’s an illusion. There are so many more miles to travel and I’m running out of steam. But I can say with pride that I got the ball rolling. So, let’s not think about it now. How about a drink?”
We toasted with bourbon and branch water. We laughed and talked of old times. We hugged at the door as I said goodnight. The last thing he said to me was, “Go gently into the future. Go with love. You can never have enough love. Leave your fears at home. Go with Jesus.”
I saw Jesus the night before he died. I saw him in Abe and I saw him in Martin. I’m still waiting to see him in me.