In the end, more would be known about how he had died, hour by hour, than how he had lived, year after unrecorded year. For his was an unimportant life by the world's spotty reckoning -- a forgotten grayness punctuated here and there by a vague brush with the law, the traces of a family, an illness no one ever quite diagnosed ... all the ordinary desperations of such a life. Or rather existence.
It took the longest time just to discover his name: Joe Telles, as in Tell Us.
It was as if the only mission he'd ever completed had been reserved for that last, mercifully shortest day of the year. He had passed through like a messenger unheeded, yet every December 21st I think of him.
Strange how things work out. And how you never know, really, why you should be in a certain place at a certain time. There are no coincidences, a rabbi once told me. Maybe I'm not here to think Deep Thoughts and write about Big Issues and New Paradigms and The Next Big Thing. Maybe I was just meant to say kaddish for Joe Telles every December 21st.
What a strange gift Joe Telles was -- unrecognized, even rejected and resented. Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.
One year a local businessman stopped by the newspaper office with an impressive list of complaints about the paper's editorial positions -- political, economic, aesthetic, miscellaneous, you-name-it. ... Oh, and one more thing: He was sick and tired of having to read every year about that bum they found out by the railroad tracks. Why couldn't I write about something positive for a change?
And, no, he couldn't recall the guy's name.
I should add that the caller was a friend, charitable in all outward respects -- and always a good man of business, as Scrooge told Marley's heavy-laden ghost. He just couldn't see some things.
The light shined in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.
Yet the darkness still has not overwhelmed the light, even so many years later. It happens every December 21st, four days before Christmas: Joe Telles arrives again in my mind.
He's sick unto death, at the end of his rope, one of the poor in spirit. I was blind when he came so many years ago, but now I see. And for one rare, blessed moment realize what really matters. Amazing grace.
'Tis the season. We seek the Star, and may not perceive the light of every day, or hear that lonesome whistle, and see our brother approaching.