19. Brother James

After dinner Allen and I went to visit Brother James. I didn't want to go. It seeemed irrelevent to me what Brother James was like, now that I knew that Allen was O.K. Allen, beink sane, would work it out for himself. I figured that I pretty well knew what I would find. Yet, my basic curiosity won out. Not only that; if I was going to write a book about him someday, I needed information. Why a book? Well, I figured that, with all of the agony that I'd gone through, I might as well get something out of it. So, even though I knew that I wouldn't like Brother James, I went. I resolved, that no matter how I felt, that I would be charming, polite and would avoid controversy.

Brother James' office was in a small corner building next to a shop with a sign that said A. Mardekian, Tailor. For a moment, I wondered if Brother James Mardekian was also a tailor -maybe he had an honest trade after all. But no; the tailor was A. Mardekian, not J. Mardekian.

We walked into the anteroom. It was a small room, with a table containing some literature, on the top of which was a paperback book called The Ronald Reagan Story, or something of that ilk. On the wall were a number of framed testamonials from local politicos including one from some Republican (I think that it was Reagan) thanking Brother James for his help during some election campaign or other. It's bad enough, I thought, that he's a preacher and a counselor, but a Republican to boot. This man was everything that I don't like all rolled into one; he could have become my private scapegoat, without any trouble at all.

Brother James was a slight man, dressed in a blue business suit with conservative tie. He had a slightly nervous smile.

I said "Do you allow Democrats in here?"

He answered with "Everyone is welcome here," and smiled warmly.

I decided that I would first find out the things that I wanted to know and then let him tell me what he wanted.

"Where are you from originally?" I asked.

"I come from Turkey." he answered.

"It must have been difficult, being an Armenian in Turkey." He seemed pleased that I was aware of the Turkish massacre of the Armenians.

"My grandparents were massacred by the Turks," he said, " My father saw both of his parents killed. When he tried to step over his father, a Turk said 'step on that dog' and made him step on his dead father. When he stepped on his father the blood gushed out of him from his wounds."

Brother James's eyes sparkled as he talked about his childhood. I knew that he must have told the story hundreds of times, yet it came out as if he was telling it for the first time. There are people who have that knack of holding an audience, and he was one of those. "When I was a child of fourteen, I studied to be a priest -a Catholic priest. My people were all Roman Catholic for as far back as history. I was the apprentice of the priest in my village and he taught me how to say the mass and do all of the things that priests are supposed to do. One day, I asked the priest 'what is the Bible?' and he answered, 'It is the foundation of our faith.' 'Then I want to read it!' I said. 'No!' he said, 'you are not supposed to read it' he said. 'But I want to read it, and if you will not let me, then I will do it anyway.' So he threw me out of the church and told me that I couldn't become a priest."

As he told this story, I could picture this child with the priest. I don't know what it was, because, as I write these words, there is nothing in them that would capture anyones attention -yet, I was spellbound. And if I, who didn't believe one word of what he said and was generally hostile to the man, was enraptured; how would his speech impact on someone who was open to the man. I reacted to him the way that I have seen children react to a hand-puppet show: I suspended my critical faculties and believed what he said totally. Of course, it only lasted for as long as he spoke. When he stopped talking, I became myself again, rather than the little child I was while he was speaking. Then he started speaking again, and I became an enchanted child again.

While my suspension of my critical faculties was temporary, as it is when I read any work of fiction or fantasy, I wasn't sure about Allen. While Brother James was speaking, he sat in rapt attention, as I did. I was sure that Allen had heard this story many many times. Yet, he seemed as interested as if it was the first time that had heard it. Perhaps, I thought, it is like music to him and the more times that he hears it, the better it sounds.

Aside from a few questions that I interjected and a few remarks, Brother James did all of the talking. He told of some of the counselling experiences that he had had, and I found myself listening -an unfamiliar role for me.

He told us about the way that he had counselled a couple with marital problems. His solution was to tell them to listen to God's word and to love one another. For this couple, it appeared to work. He did not, of course, talk about his failures. Do any of us? His stories were not without a touch of prurience. He told about a young man who had been brutally raped in prison and about a parishoner of his who had tried to seduce him.

Then there was the story about a disolute drunkard who had once been a doctor in the navy, whom he had restored to the world of the living. It was a story that I had heard paraphrased a number of times from members of Alcoholics Anonymous. It begins with "Once I was a successful man. Then something happened to me and I started drinking...." In this case it dealt with a man who had graduated from Harvard Medical School, joined the Navy as a doctor, was wounded in the head at Pearl Harbor; almostt lost his leg, and later was John Kennedy's commanding officer. The juxtaposition of events were, of course, impossible. In short, either the man had made up the story and Brother James believed it, or Brother James made it up. We story tellers sometimes can't tell the difference. While he spoke, I had an image of a person telling a story to a group of children. I remembered the expressions of rapture that my children had when I read to them from James Thurber's Thirteen Clocks. How their eyes would widen when I read "I will slit you from your guggle to your zatch." Had I set my son up for this man?

Later, when I said to Allen, "You know that his story about that Navy Captain couldn't possibly have happend; a doctor couldn't have been JFK's commanding officer, nor would a person who was as severely wounded as he was have ever re-entered the war and even met Kennedy."

Allen immediately changed the subject. To this day, I don't know whether he believed the story or not.

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