The Lord God hath given me the tongue of the learned, That I should know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary. Isaiah 50:4
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The Little Wretches: VIDEOS


(The Little Wretches)
January 7, 2018
Robert Andrew Wagner




These people are living in squalor.  Unwashed dishes on every nook and ledge.  Newspapers.  Empty beer cans.  Empty vodka and whiskey bottles.  The man has a balding pattern like William Shakespeare and bushy reddish brown hair.  He’s tall, broad.  I imagine him as an outlaw motorcyclist, now worn out with the belly-bulge of a long time alcoholic whose liver and kidneys have begun to fail.  He has apparently been violent and abusive for some time, but at the moment, he is too sick and frail to hurt anybody.  He needs help getting to the bathroom.


His companion is a petite woman.  And young.  Her skin is beyond pale, so white that she almost glows.  Her hair is black, short, a buzz-cut that has now grown in.  Her eyes do not look healthy, blood-shot and maybe even jaundiced, extremely sad like she’s been weeping for a month.  I recognize the general pallor.  I’ve been on cancer-wards.


She is going to go off to die, she says.  I ask if she has cancer or AIDS, but she says no.  She is in good health.  She needs to leave the world, that’s all.  


She doesn’t seem particularly suicidal.  I can’t imagine her harming herself.  She seems too gentle to engage in any kind of violence.


And I have only just met her.  I have so many questions to ask.  Who is she?  Who is that man?  Are they married?  Are they lovers?  There must be something powerfully redeeming in him to cause her to abandon her own young life to share this squalor.


But it’s too late for answers.  It’s time for her to go.  But where?  Where are you going?  Just out.  Out where?  What are you going to do?  Wait. You are being hasty.  Wait. Maybe death is not the answer.  Wait. We’ve only just met.  Maybe if you stay and talk to me for a while longer, I can help you find a reason to live.  I want to know you.


She explains that I don’t need to worry.  No violence or indignity will befall her.  All that needs to happen for someone to die is for the part that fights for life to stop fighting.  That part of her is finished, she says.  The rest will take its course.


As she turns to leave, I understand that there is nothing I can do to persuade her.  I regret her sadness.  I regret that I do not know more about her.  The stories, insight, the wisdom that will die with her—what a loss.


She turns to look back, not because she is reconsidering her decision, but because she knows there is something unfinished.  I see that there are several people with me.  I do not know them.  They, like me, are powerless and overwhelmed with sadness. She steps back in my direction, returns to me and, without saying a word, kisses me. Her lips are fleshy and full, so warm.  And her breath is warm.  I realize that this will be her last kiss before entering eternity.  I lose myself and return to my senses before the kiss has ended.


And I think, Why me?  Of all the people here, she chose me.  And she has chosen correctly, because of all the people here, I am the one who can be trusted with the spiritual content of this kiss. This is not a sexual or erotic kiss, it is her way of telling me that she has known love. Though her life is over, it has not been wasted. Through this kiss, I will know the love that she has known, the goodness she has known, the presence of God, the knowledge of joy and struggle that would otherwise pass away but now is passed to me.  


She doesn’t have to say another word.  She turns to leave and fades from my view after only a few steps.  My heart is full.


I begin to wake. And for a moment, I’m aware that I’m dreaming. And the last thing that happens while I’m still in the dream is the sound of a voice, and the voice says, “It was business as usual. Heaven was open.” 


HEAVEN WAS OPEN (words and music: Robert A. Wagner)


Out in eternity, goodness unharnessed 

Surely had nurtured a bountiful harvest,

Justice and mercy, more than I could earn 

Was showered upon me upon my return.

Angels were smiling.  The wine was a-flowing 

Beggars and bandits, like new, were a-glowing.

Hearts were rejoicing, resounding and crowing.

Business as usual—     Heaven was open


Back on the planet the people were grieving

looking for answers to why you were leaving,

Asking for answers, the faithful were groping,

Praying, forgetting, regretting and hoping.

At home they’re ironing and baking and wailing

Conscience-struck grandchildren curse their own failings 

Next of kin scour phone-books for attorneys 

& shuffle through shoe boxes, bank books & holdings.

Each of us has his own method of coping,

Business as usual— Heaven was open. 


You wished you could say something, 

Hey, it’s all right

Don’t worry, 

it’s just like they said, In the light.

Our doubts and our fears will be answered in time

Trust what they taught you, 

believe me I’m fine

I was better than no one and worse than a few

Can’t say I was any more ready than you

There was no special trick, there was no magic word

Heaven was open today, Praise the lord!