*Alternate* First Reading: A Thin Ragged Man by Brian Doyle

Several months ago, a man named Walter appeared at our door.  He was a slight ragged man, gaunt, dirty, polite.  He worked hard all day in the basement, sheet-rocking walls and building a wooden floor.  He worked hard all the next day, too.  The third day he barely worked at all.  He spent the day eating sandwiches and talking about himself.  He had served three tours in Vietnam, some of them in a psychiatric ward.  He said that he had a wife and child but they left him, that someone had recently stolen his truck and tools, that he was grateful for the work in our basement.

On the first day he estimated the cost of his work and we agreed on a price.  I bought all the supplies and borrowed tools.  On the second day he asked for an advance and got it.  On the third day he asked for another advance and got it.  He also asked for a raincoat and a ride into the city and got them too.  I dropped him off in the city; my daughter and I waved to him as he shuffled off.

That was the last we saw of Walter for a while.  I returned the tools.  Two weeks later he showed and worked hard all day again.  He said he’d badly underbid the job and asked for another advance.  We said no.  His face fell.  He was out on the streets, he said, and needed to find ten dollars a day for his methadone shot.  We said no.  He saw my wife’s beloved old backpack and sleeping bag and proposed that he finish the job in exchange for them.  Okay, said my wife.  And Walter walked off into a howling thunderstorm carrying the pack and bag, and we never saw him again.

Walter is a thief, a hapless ragged polite thief, a liar, a heroin addict.  I hate him.  He stole our money, left the basement a shambles, reduced my wife to tears at the waste of money and time.  I hate that he held my children, that he shook hands with my wife, that he ever set foot in my home.  But if I believe that the gaunt ragged man who died between thieves on the Hill of Skulls was reborn, I have to look for him in Walter.  This is very difficult for me.

But as long as love wriggles out of hate there is faith.

The words of Brian Doyle.