The Figure in the Shadows Today
When entering from the street today a small hall of an old church something shook my nostrils with a stinking and nauseating smell. Almost in complete darkness, lit only by a small reliquary behind a window at the height of a standing adult, I looked around the room without finding anything to justify that stink, so I dug around to see if I was the cause of the mystery. But no. There was something else in that place. As my pupils dilated to adapt to the situation, I looked harder, following Rafiki’s advice, and hidden in the dark, like the woman on the stairs in Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal Son, I found a figure somewhere between asleep and brooding. He was a homeless person who rested sitting in that warm, opaque and silent environment. The man needed help.
I forced myself to get used to the smell and with a lot of effort I managed it. Immediately my mind went crazy and inwardly I heard the question: Does God have a smell? Of course not! I answered to myself. Imagination inquired again: Does God transfigured into needy have a smell? I observed the mess of hair, the tight beard, the blackened skin, the dirty clothes, the crossed arms and the stained hands of that tired man. Once again a question appeared in my mind: What is this figure in the shadows telling me?
I thought for a moment and I told myself that appearances can be deceiving, that hygiene is temporary, that nothing is impossible, that words are unnecessary. What did the figure in the shadows ask of me with its silence? Contemplating it, I saw his reality, I sensed his request, I had to make an alliance with reality at that precise moment so as not to continuously live with nostalgia for a past that already was or for a hypothetical future that does not exist. The figure challenged me in the here and now. I had to answer his questions, but I froze.
I tried to be moved, I tried to be affected by the reality of that man, but I failed. I knew that emotion is always close to men who are close to perfection, but my feelings and affection did not show up. I let them run away, coward as I am. I should have acted effectively, committing myself. I did not do it. “Always to show mercy it is necessary to defeat oneself”. This time I was defeated by inertia and comfort. In the fight to help I lost and that here and now was emptier. The moment demanded a gesture, but fear paralyzed me because when an act of mercy begins, you know when it begins, never when it ends.
I saw, I sought to be moved, I should have acted and then sustained the commitment. I was not faithful to my beliefs and I did not give myself completely. I passed by because I had nothing to gain. Neither affective nor effective, without tenderness and less with a specific response. I saw a need and was not viscerally affected by it. I left that place and, observing for the first time the shadow of the woman on the stairs, so close to the merciful father in Rembrandt’s painting, I murmured aloud: Unknown, remote and new figure, late again I arrive at the commitment of today, I want to see you soon to help you like the light to the son. Tomorrow will be my today, and today I will be back with loving arms.