Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "To the Least of My People"

This poem is from the August 5, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "confession in desperate situation" square of my 7-31-14 card for the [community profile] hc_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series Frankenstein's Family.

Warning:  This poem features a child getting lost and adults talking about lack of faith.  If these are sensitive topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"To the Least of My People"

Now that Adam's legs worked,
he wanted to use them all the time.
He trotted around the castle,
then when Victor and Igor
went to the village for shopping,
Adam scampered through the square.

Halfway through July,
Victor looked around to find
that Adam was nowhere in sight.

"Igor, is Adam with you?" Victor asked.

"No, I thought he was with you,"
Igor replied, turning to scan the square.

"He was a minute ago, but now he's not,"
Victor said. He drummed his fingers
against his thigh. "We need to find him."

"All right, let's split up," Igor said.
"I'll stay here in case Adam comes back.
You go sweep the square for him."

So Victor strode swiftly around the square,
looking everywhere for the toddler.
There was no sign of Adam,
and he hadn't returned to Igor either.

Victor made another loop, this time
asking everyone if they had seen Adam.
Plenty of people had seen him earlier,
but nobody knew where he was now.

Everyone in the village knew them,
though, so other adults and older children
paused in their work to help search.

"Children wander," Dorottya warned Victor.
"Now that Adam can walk properly,
you've got to keep a sharp eye on him
to keep the boy out of trouble."

Soon Victor found himself
paired with Kálmán the priest,
looking in all the nooks and crannies
where a curious child might go.

Victor, who could stay perfectly calm
whilst someone's blood spurted into the air,
was starting to panic over his son's absence.

Furthermore Kálmán's murmured prayers
were beginning to get on Victor's nerves.
"Angels are not going to come down
from heaven and help us find Adam!"
the doctor finally snapped.
"Would you shut up and look for him?"

"I can pray and search at the same time,"
Kálmán said serenely. "Have faith;
someone will find Adam soon."

"I don't really -- I'm not --" Victor jittered.
"I mean, we go to church, but I don't --"

"... find much comfort in it?" Kálmán guessed
when Victor trailed off without finishing.

Victor gave a ragged nod. He couldn't help
remembering the endless arguments throughout
his childhood, about the inflexible truth of his flesh,
in which the parish priest had invariably sided
with Victor's parents over the truth of his heart.

His breath hitched, chest tightening
as he tried to find the right words.

Kálmán steered Victor to a nearby bench.
"Sit down for a moment and collect yourself,"
the priest advised. "You can't search
if you're too busy gasping for air."

Victor struggled to get his breath back.
His hands were shaking, so he
pressed them between his knees.
All he could think about was Adam
and not knowing where his son was.

"Give yourself a minute to rest," Kálmán said,
his hand a reassuring weight on Victor's shoulder.
"When you can focus again, we will go back
to searching for Adam. We will find him."

The familiar touch helped Victor center himself.
In fact, Kálmán was a lot more useful
than the other priests whom Victor had met.

"I hope so," Victor whispered.
He wished desperately that he could
take the kind of comfort in prayer
that other people seemed to find.

It was something he did
because it was expected,
not because it actually worked.

Kálmán patted his shoulder.
"It sounds to me as if the Church
may have let you down, my son,"
he said. "Is there anything I could do
to help you with that, now or later?"

Victor stifled a sob.
Why did God MAKE me like this?!
It wasn't the sort of thing he dared to say,
even to the kindly priest who was
bearing Victor's panic with such patience.

"Doubt it," Victor said. "I haven't ...
had very good experiences
with the Church and her priests."

The confession hurt.
It wasn't as if he hadn't tried.

"I'm sorry to hear that," Kálmán said.
"You know, it doesn't have to be
in the confessional proper, if
you just need someone to talk with."

"I'm not much for confessions,"
Victor said. Only when he was
truly desperate, like now,
things came spilling out that
he was liable to regret later.
"I don't think God cares much
for people like me."

"Now that is just not true,"
Kálmán said at once,
letting his arm slide down
from Victor's shoulder
to pull him into a real hug.
"God loves you very much."

"I can't imagine why."

"Victor, I've known you for
two years now," Kálmán said.
"You do far better at what
Jesus told us all to do than
most people who make a show
out of going to church."

Victor took a deep breath,
trying to clear his spinning head.
"I don't understand," he admitted.

"The righteous folk often wonder why
Jesus brings them into His fold," Kálmán said.
"For I was hungry, and you gave Me food;
I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink.
I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;
I was sick, and you took care of Me."

"But I've never met Jesus,"
protested Victor.

Kálmán chuckled, and patted him again.
"Do you know, that is exactly what
the righteous say in the Bible:
Lord, when did we see You hungry,
and feed You, or thirsty, and
give You something to drink?"

This story, so warmly told,
was sinking into Victor's bones
a lot better than anything
he'd ever heard in church.

"And what ... what did He say?"
Victor asked hesitantly.

"The Lord said to them,
Whatsoever you did
to the least of My people,
that you did also unto Me."

Kálmán said with a smile.
"So you see, Victor, you have
no reason to worry about
your place in God's heart.
He knows the truth about who
does His work in this world."

Victor had never thought of himself
as very godly, never imagined
that he might be the sort of person
with whom God could be pleased.

He thought about the work he did
for the people of the village.
It had not occurred to him that
taking care of sick people
might be service worthy of heaven.

The sermons he had heard at home
were all about avoiding sin,
although to be fair, Kálmán's
were rather different from those.
Victor simply hadn't paid
much attention, out of habit.

"Maybe I should start listening to
your sermons more closely," Victor said.

"Maybe you should," Kálmán said,
and then gave Victor a firm nudge.
"You seem more settled now.
Come, let us go find Adam."

"Do you think --" Victor said, because
the doubt was eating away at him,
"do you really think we will?"

"Of course we will," Kálmán assured him,
"because we won't stop looking until we do.
Prayer is no proof against sad or scary
things happening, just a reminder that
God is there to comfort us when we need Him."

Kálmán steered Victor back onto
the path they had established
for searching the village.

They asked the other searchers they passed,
and everyone exchanged news; it wasn't
rare for someone's child to go astray
and need people to find them.

"Thank you for sticking with me,"
Victor said, looking sidelong at Kálmán.

"I'm happy to help," the priest replied,
and then, "Look there! In the common meadow,
up on the back of that big brown plowhorse."

Victor looked, and sure enough, there was
a little clot of color on the horse's back,
just the same shade as Adam's shirt.

Victor loped down to the common meadow
where people could graze their horses
while they shopped in the village,
and there he found Adam perched
high on the back of the plowhorse.

How in the world had Adam
gotten up there in the first place?

Victor snatched his son off the horse
and scolded him for disappearing,
but was so glad to see Adam again
that he hadn't the heart to do it for long.

"See now, disaster averted," Kálmán said
as he ruffled Adam's silky hair.

Victor grinned with relief. "Yes, indeed,"
he said. "We'll see you in church on Sunday."

Igor came up then, alerted by the other searchers,
and tucked Adam firmly onto his own hip.
"What was that all about?" he wondered,
knowing that Victor was amiable enough
with Kálmán but not so fond of the church.

"Just counting my blessings," Victor said.
"Kálmán helped me keep my head together
while we were looking for Adam."

"Well, what did you expect?" Igor said.
"He's a good shepherd."

* * *


The title of this poem, and Kálmán's paraphrase within it, come from "The Sheep and the Goats" of Matthew 25: 35-40, also discussed here.

“Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me.”
"‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 ‘And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 ‘When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’ "

Around 25 months, toddlers often experience a surge of energy that sends them scampering and scrambling everywhere. It is a very common age for them to get lost. For Adam, he has just gotten his legs working, so of course he wants to try them out! The fact that it nearly gives his poor fathers a heart attack is just an unfortunate side effect.

It's normal, if nerve-wracking, for children to get lost. Know some ways to prevent it, or at least reduce the chances. There are tips for parents and for kids about getting lost. Parents should understand what steps to take in finding a lost child. The most important thing for everyone to learn is this: don't be ashamed of losing someone or getting lost. It's frustrating and embarrassing but it happens to everyone. Yelling at someone over it is really counterproductive. Me, I've always had a tendency to slip between universes. When I was young, I had little control over it and it was a damn nuisance; even now, my main way of not getting lost is hanging onto people I'm with, and even that doesn't always work. Seriously, some folks can NOT help getting separated from the group, you just have to learn to cope with it. If that's you too, or someone you know, you're not alone.

Panic attacks are now often thought of as part of a disorder, but really, most people have them occasionally in situations that are scary. (The disorder is when someone has them frequently and/or for no practical reason, enough to impair ordinary living.) Getting separated tends to be scary. Know how to help someone through a panic attack or cope with one of your own. Kálmán knows how to deal with this stuff because when you are a priest, you're the person people turn to when they are freaking out over something. You learn to cope, and to help them cope.

Religion can be helpful or harmful. Some people find no comfort in God when they are disdraught. For Victor, he grew up with a bad priest. Kálmán is a good priest, and does things very differently, which can be downright confusing if you are not used to it. The thing is, Kálmán isn't concerned about Victor's faith, but about helping Victor. There are ways to do that which are not dependent upon religion but upon friendship, compassion, and practicality. If you take good care of people, they're a lot more willing and able to follow you than if you just order them around.

"Why did God make me like this?" is a common cry from transgender or homosexual people, especially those mistreated by their family and/or clergy for who they are. Victor's crappy past makes him extremely anxious about this; he's not ready to talk about it yet, but he really really needs to because the pressure of holding it in is hurting him a lot.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, science fiction, spirituality, weblit, writing
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