When I was younger I had the good fortune to visit several countries on holiday with my mother – I have fond memories of all of these, but perhaps the country that made the most lasting impression was Israel.
My mother, her friend and myself stayed in a hotel in Tel Aviv. We’d done the whole tourist trail thing, wandered through the ancient streets of Jerusalem (the Arab Quarter too, after curfew, but that’s a story for another time… ) walked the Mea Shearim, followed the Stations of the Cross, floated in the Dead Sea, marvelled at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and paid a respectful visit to the Temple Wall.
It was our last evening before we left for home so we had enjoyed a meal out at a local restaurant and were just sauntering slowly back to the hotel. A commotion across the road drew my attention – a young man, dishevelled, thin, tanned ribs showing, wearing nothing but a pair of underpants, was struggling to remove the cover from a car.
Long blond hair flapped about his face and he paused to rub one slender hand through his full beard, swaying so alarmingly that a passing elderly couple stopped to help him. He clasped his hands together and thanked the couple, so I would assume, as I was still watching from across the road.
My mother and her friend looked back to see where I was, and knowing that I had been deeply moved by my visit to places like Jesus’ tomb and Bethlehem, were watching me with amusement. The older couple, feeling that they had helped this poor man by removing the cover from his car, began to walk away.
However. The young man began to wrap the dust sheet around himself, in the style of biblical robes, draped across one shoulder and between his legs like a loincloth. You all know what I thought…
“Mum! Look! Could it… shouldn’t we help him?! What if… what if… it’s Him?!”
By this time, the young man had gathered his makeshift robes about himself and reeled off down the street, stopping every so often to peer earnestly into the faces of other people, hands outstretched imploringly…
Well. My mother and her friend fell about laughing … and upon reflection, as an adult, I can see that he was probably just some stoned hippy bloke begging for busfare. Or something.
But I was quite a devout child and even though my belief system nowadays is more of the Omnist variety, I still can’t help wondering… what if…