Mike Raiter passed on this story to me a couple of years ago that touches on a key element of the story of the prodigal son.
There was a man sitting on the pavement beside the bus stop –
- he was unshaven
- his shoes were old and worn
- his shoulders were slumped
- he looked like what he was: a homeless tramp who spent the last night sleeping under a railway arch.
He sat there oblivious to people’s disapproving stares and thought back 20 years to when he lived in the little red-brick house just around the corner. He wasn’t even sure if the house would still be there. Maybe they’d bulldozed it years ago.
He remembers riding his bike up the path of the house to the front door and he remembers the bougainvillea climbing up the walls. That was 20 years ago.
10 years later the bike had become a motorcycle and he’d got in with the wrong crowd. The pub had become more of a home than his red-brick house and the debts had piled up. The day he’d gone home to ask his parents for a loan the house had been empty and he knew exactly where Dad kept the money so he just helped himself.
That was the last time he’d seen them. He hadn’t wanted to go home after that and they’d lost track of him.
They knew nothing of his years of wandering or of the prison sentence. Yet while being locked up in the cell he often thought about them.
Once he was free, he would love to see them again if they were still alive but would they want to see him?
Since then he’d found a job but something kept drawing him back home and often it was just seeing another red-brick house or a kid on a bike or bougainvillea so he began the long journey walking or hitching a ride.
And, then, about 20 miles from home he had second thoughts; what right had he to do this and just walk in the house? Could they ever reconcile this haggard man that he’d become with the boy they’d loved and who’d so bitterly disappointed them?
He sat by the street and thought about the short letter he’d posted just a couple of days before. It just said, “If you want me home, hang a white handkerchief on the window of my old bedroom and if it’s there I’ll come and if not, I’ll wave goodbye to the old house and go on my way.”
Well, he couldn’t put it off any longer. He got up stiff and shivering. He slowly shuffled down the street towards the old house.
The sun was shining on the little red house except it wasn’t a red house because every wall was festooned with white.
Every window was hung with white sheets, white pillowcases, white towels, white table cloths, white handkerchiefs, napkins, and white curtains ran right across the roof.
It looked like a ‘snow house’ because his parents were taking no risks. The man threw back his head and breathed a sigh of relief. He ran up the street and straight in at the open front door.
These sorts of stories of the lost coming home really touch a chord with many of us. I think in part, because to varying degrees they’re our stories and we have either walked away or we are the ones waiting for someone to come back to us.