An event on a pre-Christmas shopping trip to Boston several years ago came back to mind again this year.

We were coming out of a fabulous, expensive restaurant with friends.

I had had something very meaty and rich for dinner and couldn’t finish it.

So the waiter bundled it all up in a tinfoil origami swan and presented it to me. I was impressed. Panera or Olive Garden were never so artistic. A four-dollar latte from Starbucks comes only in a paper cup.

I didn’t want to cart this origami swan to a bar and back to the hotel, so on the way out, there was this guy, a stranger of indeterminate race, clearly homeless, unshaven, long dirty hair, shabby clothing, material too thin for this cold night, who was sitting on the concrete pedestal by the door. I handed him the swan.

“Please take this for me, will ya, buddy? I’m not gonna finish it.” I gave him a dollar, the last one I had.

I turned back to my friends to hail a cab, and I heard his voice, clearly, I wouldn’t kid you: “Thanks … Jerry.”

I took a couple steps and turned back. He was gone. There wasn’t even much of a crowd he could have folded into. He was just gone. Did I imagine him saying that? Did I even imagine him?

Everyone with me laughed it off. “It’s the wine,” they laughed.

But this was no figment of my imagination, or, as Scrooge lamented, “an undigested bit of beef.” It was as real as the face on the door knocker that iconic Christmas Eve.

When we got back to our hotel, I went down the hall to the ice machine and told the story to the attendant standing by her cart full of clean sheets.

“Maybe it was Jesus,” she said. She wasn’t smiling, this tiny Latina wearing a tiny gold cross about her neck.

My mother would have said that. Sister Rosanna would have said that. If I had asked my daughters when they were 3 and 4, they would have said as much. They’re Devines, given by birth to warped Irish-Catholic peat-smelling mysticism as much as their father.

She, who is the most Catholic of the four of us, when asked, would have replied, “Why would Jesus be sitting in front of Grill 23 on a night like this?”

And then, before I could catch her, she would add, “What am I saying? Why wouldn’t he be there? Where else would he be? At the salad bar?”

Where else indeed?

The Catholic calendars of my childhood always showed Jesus standing in the sand somewhere chatting with a clutch of villagers, his hands raised in benediction. That’s the Jesus I grew up with; but then again, he was always very tall and sort of Brad Pitt blondish, blue-eyed and well-garbed.

We know well now that he was probably the standard height for a Nazarene of the time, about 5 feet 4 inches, with scraggly black hair, wind-tanned skin and the demeanor of a well-behaved undercover terrorist.

But my name?

“Jesus knows all of our names,” my new priest, Father James Doran, might say.

Then I remembered something I once read somewhere, in the Bible, in a church bulletin maybe, so I looked it up.

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born. I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”

And then the clincher: “Jeremiah 1.5.”

Of course, I wasn’t named after the prophet, but after an ancient relative, and I certainly don’t believe I was “set apart” to do anything except marry this woman.

But old Barney, the cripple with two club feet who swept the church out when I was an altar boy, often pulled me aside and asked, with a smile, “When is the war going to end, Jeremiah?”

“I don’t know, Barney.”

“But you’re the prophet, ain’tcha?”

Heavy words for an 11-year-old.

Scholars and mystics, nuns and writers say that Jesus wanders the Earth in plain sight, hidden behind many faces of all colors.

If that is true, it’s not unlikely that Jesus has been shot in Spain, or beaten in Los Angeles, or, as a migrant from Syria, has drowned in the Mediterranean while rescuing a baby, or has been a black man hanged in the woods of Georgia.

Or maybe, just maybe, he walked the streets of Boston on a cold winter night weeks from the celebration of his birth and bumped into an old friend from very far away and impossibly long ago. I’m no mystic, but I am Irish and open to weird possibilities.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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