MAN WITH THE BEARD
I don’t know who he was. More than 40 years later I still wonder. This is a true story. My friends usually expect something funny or ridiculous when I say “This is a true story.” But this is actually a true story, and not funny.
Many years ago, 1971 to be exact, a young American GI was married to a young German woman. They were happy and moved into a small 1 room apartment in a small German town; called Zweibruecken. It was an old town, the name meaning literally “ Two Bridges” and the history going back to 2 small rivers traversing the town. Interesting side note: during the time of the American Revolution, this part of what is today Germany, belonged to France, and a Regiment from Zweibruecken participated with the French in the final battles against Great Britain, as the French were convinced by Benjamin Franklin and others to fight against Great Britain to free the American Colonies. Just a side note; nothing to do with the Man with the Beard.
The young couple were very happy, had a small 1 room apartment as I said, bedroom together with kitchen and a small table posing as a dining room. Of course a bathroom with shower.
One Saturday morning, they awoke and as the young German wife prepared breakfast, the American Army husband looked out the 2nd story window. I should probably describe a German breakfast in those days. Not like the American eggs and bacon, or whatever. Coffee was prepared by pouring boiling water over the coffee grounds in a filter into a coffee pot. The food was fresh rolls, butter, jam, cold cuts. Delicious. In any case, as the wife prepared breakfast , the young GI cast a glance out the window to the cobblestone courtyard below their small apartment. Lying next to the doorstep was a bearded man, uncut hair, wearing a beat-up Army fatigue jacket. He lay, apparently asleep on the uncomfortable cobblestones. This young GI, raised a Catholic, but not being comfortable with the realities of the real world of poverty, suffering, discomfort; he was discomforted by this scene of a poor , dirty, apparently homeless man encroaching on “their property.”
“Oh my God, there is a bum asleep next to our doorstep” he complained. His wife, while preparing the breakfast, looked out the window; “He is probably hungry,” she said.
“What!” The young GI didn’t get it. Meanwhile his wife had prepared breakfast on a serving tray, a wedding present, with beautiful ceramic coffee pot, a plate, cup and saucer, the wedding present silverware, cloth napkin; cold cuts, butter, jam, coffee.
“What are you doing!” he exclaimed; “He will probably steal it, or break it.” Word for word.
His wife sternly ordered : “ Just take it down to him!” The young GI knew he should not argue. Hesitantly he walked down the stairs and opened the downstairs door. The disheveled bearded man lying on the hard cobblestones opened one eye. Years later the young GI thought that the man must have believed he had died during the night and awoken in Heaven; not the place people had told him all his life that he would go.
The young man and his wife ate breakfast in silence. Finishing, he went to the window. From that angle he could not see the entire courtyard, and did not see the man. With foreboding, he stepped slowly down the stairs, expecting the worst. He opened the door. The man had left. He had eaten everything. The tray was on the step, the plate centered on the tray, the cup and saucer centered on the plate, the silverware placed neatly to the right of the plate and the cloth napkin folded over the middle of the plate. The way one learns to leave one’s place setting at an elegant hotel or restaurant.
So, who was he? I want to say at this point, that I am agnostic. I don’t know who God may be, and who Jesus might have been, or is, but, you know what some people say. The German woman, my wife, died over 10 years ago. I am an old man now. I don’t know who the bearded man was. More than 40 years later I still wonder.
David Rinaldi, June, 2018
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