“I see bacteria on your hand,” the old beggar pointed, staggering toward me on the sidewalk.
Crap, not another one of these guys. Had a meeting to get to. I adjusted my sunglasses and reached for my wallet. His eyes danced over my wrist to the fold of brown leather as I hurried to fish out some money.
“In fact, I see bacteria on both your hands,” he added, slurring his words.
“No, you can’t.” I shook my head.
“Are you calling me a liar?” He leaned toward me.
“I just don’t believe it, that’s all.” His breath smelled of sour grapes rotting in the noon sun, forcing me to take a step back.
He struggled to balance himself as if the broad sidewalk had narrowed to a tightrope under his mismatched shoes. “So, because you can’t see bacteria on your hands, you think I can’t.”
“You need a microscope to see bacteria.” I pulled out a ten.
“So, you think everyone is exactly the same as you?”
“No, everyone is different, but we have limitations.”
His crusty hand reached toward the ten bucks, fingers jittering with expectation as he asked, “So, people are different … but our limitations are exactly the same?”
“No, we have different limitations, too, and–” What a double-talking con. I gave him the ten. “We’re done, here.”
“Thank you, sir. God bless you.” His head bobbed with gratitude under his dirty green ball cap. Scabby teeth offered a smile through his overgrown wasteland of whiskers.
“Yeah, okay. You’re welcome.” I took another step back, wallet in place, safe from pick-pockets. “And, uh … God bless you, too.” Guess that’s what you’re supposed to say.
“You know, there’s no bacteria on me. None at all.” Wobbling, he held his arms straight out from his sides.
Poor guy is nuts. I shook my head, knowing everyone has b––
He stared at me, finishing my private thought. Clever trick. I knew he wanted more money. “Look, I have to get to a meeting.” I pushed my slipping sunglasses back up again.
“Can you see bacteria on me?”
This was all so dumb. I shook my head.
“Well, how do you know if they’re reallyhere … eh?” He chuckled, wiggling stubby fingers toward my face like hypnotic serpents, my ten jammed between them.
“If I had a microscope, I’d show you. Look, I have t––”
“I’ll wait.” He teetered backward and slumped onto the concrete bench, belched, then folded arms covered in brown tattered flannel across his chest.
“I have to go.” Maybe this bum had all day, but not me. I started to walk away.
“No faith, huh?” he asked.
“What?” I stopped and turned.
“You don’t have enough faith that you’re right, and I’m wrong.” His thumb poked at his chest.
“Hey, I have plenty of faith,” I emphasized, “but no time!”
“Maybe you say bacteria isn’t real, just because youcan’t see ’em.” He studied the back of his trembling hand.
“What? I didn’t say they weren’t real. They’re real!” This guy was getting even more goofy. “People can see them, but only with a microscope.”
“God’s real, too.” He closed his eyes. Grimy hands gripped the bench on either side, keeping him from tipping over.
“God’s not real. It’s just a story, like a fairy tale.” Didn’t expect this guy to be religious. He sure didn’t look like those glittery types on tv. “Listen! Bacteria is real. God, not so much.”
“I can see God, too.” He tilted his head, squinting.
“No, you can’t! No one can!” Super nut ball, this guy.
“No one? So … everyone is the same?” His squint faded as he wiped at his nose.
“God’s not real. That’s all there is to it.”
“Yep,” he said with long drawn-out tones, “that’s what they used to say about bacteria––’not real.’ Surgeons didn’t wash their hands. Argued about germs all the time…’wash’…’don’t wash!” He thrust his right arm forward, waving it back and forth then back to the bench to steady himself.
“Look,” I said, “that may be, but then the microscope got invented. Now there’s proof because they can all see bacteria.” I checked my watch. Can’t be late to my meeting.
“So then, you believe all those bacteria and germs were real … right there … the whole time all these smart medical folks argued about it?” He stuffed the ten into his shirt pocket.
“Of course!” I nodded. “Bacteria were always there, whether they argued or not!”
He stood, steadied himself, then approached me and placed his hand on my shoulder with heavy concern, the way I sometimes imagined my father might have, had he stayed with Mom and us.
“So, bacteria were there the whole time these brilliant scientists were arguing whether or not bacteria existed?”
“Yes, the whole time!” I snapped. “They used microscopes, then they could see!” This guy would never understand. Too much booze.
“Son, you should invent a Godscope. You’d see more than bacteria. You’d see someone… who’s been here this whole time, too.” Bushy eyebrows rose above his sudden wink. “Believe. Have faith. Trust the Lord. Then you’ll be washing germs from your hands … and from your soul.”
He lowered his hand from my shoulder, his posture and balance now perfect. Like a young soldier, he turned about with a brisk spin then walked with precise strides down the sidewalk, around the corner grocery and out of sight.
Weird. How does somebody…so drunk…get sober just like that? Come to think of it, no more stinky breath, either. Really weird. I pushed my sunglasses back up and checked my watch. Oh, no. My meeting!
KJB – Hebrews 13:2, Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.
NIV – 1 John 4:12, No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
KJB – Matthew 25:35-36, For I was hungry and you gave …