Raising the Dead

Last thing she said as I lifted the backpack on my shoulder, “you’re a goddamn romantic!” Webster defines a romantic as, “one whose life has no basis in fact: imaginary, impractical in conception or plan. Marked by the imaginative or emotional
appeal to the heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious, idealized, and passionate love”

She was right; well, in a way she was right: I imagine that it was more my friend and fellow traveler who was the romantic. When my friend and I had a conversation, ideas took on an electricity; we were like two poles, positive and negative. When our ideas became heated, an arc of blue-white energy bounced back and forth. His energy
was positive: there was about  him a certain grandiloquence, patrician manners, a look in his eyes of one who leads others. He was sure of his own salvation and sure that he could lead you to the promised land. I, on the other hand, tended to the negative pole. I doubted everything. I had a tough skepticism born from my working-class roots. I did
not believe in saviors of  any sort or kind; and I was not about to follow a leader. So you see we were a perfect match; supplying the underdeveloped side of each other; together we made a whole. I must admit I had come to love my friend, and what we shared was a
common passion for ideas and their applications in life. This mutual feeling led us to the decision to leave the women in our lives and take a sojourn together in the land of warm sun and turquoise blue water.

We found our tropical paradise in a white sand, fishing village on the coast of the small, Central American country of Belize. The place had two major attractions for us. First, it was cheap to live there. We rented a two story house: faded pink stucco exterior with a white tile roof, and wood louvered windows painted Christmas green. The second attraction was that the local population spoke English. This was important for my friend who needed an audience for his performances. I was happy to have him perform just for me, but my friend’s charisma could not be hoarded. Within two weeks of our arrival in the village, he had struck up a relationship with the mayor of the village, the captain of
the local military garrison, and a fisherman who mended his nets on the dock. The children in the streets loved his stories. He flirted shamelessly with all the old women who spent their days sweeping the dirt street on front of their houses. And as you might guess he did not forget the pretty, young women he encountered as they passed on the street.

Some of the local citizens did not take kindly to the flamboyant foreigner in their midst. I heard one say, “he is full of big talk, he struts about town like a peacock
with his feathers permanently displayed.” I will admit that my friend was full
of big talk. He was full of self assurance: he believed he was unique and
gifted. Sometimes he claimed miraculous powers that bordered on the ridiculous,
but he was not a  hypocrite, he did not simply parade about to make a show of importance. He truly believed in his powers, and this was proven by an incident during our stay in the village.

One night in the village café, where we often went to eat and have a few drinks, my
friend got involved in a heated discussion about the subject of death. The discussion centered on the reality of raising someone from the dead. One man insisted that he knew of a holy man who lived in the jungle who had this power. Another mentioned the story of Jesus raising Lazarus after four days in the grave. Others doubted the powers of the holy man and Jesus.

My friend listened to the discourse until he could not restrain himself, “don’t you know the story of Elisha from the Old Testament of the Bible. Elisha was called to
the home of Shunammite woman. Her son had died. The prophet locked himself  in the room with the body of the boy. First he prayed, then he laid upon the body of the child and blew air into his body. When the body became warm, the prophet got up and walked around the room; then he returned and lay on the body again, hand to hand, mouth to mouth. He breathed a second time into the mouth of boy until he sneezed seven time and
opened his eyes.”

Obviously my friend knew the story and he had thought about this subject. I looked over to him, and half in jest I asked, “do you think it is possible, today, to bring
the dead back to life?”

His smile filled the café with its radiance. He said, “I feel so much God in me, if you touch my hand this moment, it will emit a spark of life. My breath holds the
sweetness of the nativity.”

I smiled and shook my head, but said nothing.

“Why, you don’t believe me?”, he challenged.

“I believe you”, I said. I did not want to humiliate him. The others laughed, but no one stepped forward to touch the hand of this modern prophet of God.

Walking back to our house that night we did not talk more about raising the dead. The subject dissipated on a cool, sea breeze as do most conversations of friends
who drink together.

It was nearly a week later that we were again eating and drinking in the same café
when a group of men approached us. They were carrying a plain, pine box. They stopped next to our table.

“What’s this?”, I inquired.

“The tailor”, said one.

With a sinking feeling, I asked, “dead?”

“The Yankee said he can bring the dead back to life” said one of the men as he turned to my friend.

I turned to my friend. There was a disturbed expression on his face as he got up and started to the door. “Bring him to the house”, he called loud and clear as he left the café.

For a moment I hesitated, looking at the box, then I called after him, “are you sure
you want to do this?” He did not answer back, so I motioned to the men to pick up the box and follow along.

The coffin was carried to the pink, stucco house with Christmas green louver windows and a white tile roof. I remember thinking of this detailed description as they
struggled to get the box up to the second floor where my friend had his room. In retrospect I think I was preparing for my role as the witness to the holy man’s first miracle.

The truth of the matter is that I did not venture upstairs all of that long night. I was terrified of being in the same room with the dead body- and my heart trembled
to think that my friend’s soul should be backed to the wall and forced to face such a hard reality. There was no hiding place between the ridiculous and the sublime.

For a good part of the night I heard the sounds repeated over and over. First there was the creaking of the bed, then loud breathing, and finally footsteps back and forth
on the bare wood floor. This pattern of sounds was punctuated by deep sighs from time to time. How long the struggle lasted I cannot say because I finally succumbed to exhaustion. I fell asleep on a chair while the godly work continued over my head.

When I awoke, it was daylight. Across the table from me sat my friend with a bottle of coke in front of him. You cannot imagine my amazement, and the admiration I
felt for him. Here was a man who had entered the realm of the ridiculous, passed beyond to reach the boundaries of lunacy, and now he had returned and was sitting exhausted before my eyes. I got up from my chair and went to him. I put my arms around his shoulders to show a gesture love and consolation.

He looked up to me, a plea for support in his eyes, “what should I do now?”

I did not hesitate, “I’ll call for the priest to come and bury the tailor, then you and I will go for a swim in the ocean”.

My friend and I stayed in that little fishing village for another three months. We
continued to visit the café and engage in philosophical discussions. As you might guess, in the eyes of the locals, a bit of shine had disappeared from friend’s armor. But for me, there was no dimming of his light; indeed the light shines brighter every time I tell the events of that night. I think I was witness to a special kind of miracle that night, the kind that happens every time the human soul risks lunacy to reach out, or in, to experience the divine.

Oh yes, to finish my story, when we returned from our sojourn in the tropics, I ended my relationship with the woman who branded me a romantic. I did not hold it
against her that she thought of me as a romantic, I just decided she would never be capable of the passionate love I needed from my partner in my life.

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