Friday, December 24, 2010

Looking for Jesus

I'm looking for him. Jesus the Christ child, they call him. Got pictures of him all over the place, like wanted posters. I'm just another oblivious human, but these days I'm on the case and I ain't gonna quit. Well, first I checked out the obvious places -- hospitals, daycare centers, car trunks. Nothing, no sign whatsoever. Then I tried a host of churches of various denominations fancy and plain, but all I got was an earful of awful singing and tons of self-righteous bullshit. Then I visited the public and parochial schools and the adjoining parks and playgrounds. Again, I found nothing. I figured I'd better try a different tack. So I drove along the interstates that run through north Jersey -- I-95, I-287, I-78, I-80 -- staying in the right lane, scanning the shoulders and meridians, the drainage ditches and the space under the guard-rails, looking for Jesus. I saw many strange and wonderful forms and shapes, teddy bears and plastic flowers, the abandoned debris of our choked-up civilization, but not a single living thing. The only bodies I saw belonged to dead animals. I did see many children strapped into the seats in the cars crawling around me, watching videos, eating, or sleeping. Some appeared angelic but not one wore the sign of the Christ.

I looked up at the faces staring out of the windows of Creedmoor, of Bellevue, of Meadowview, of Greystone, and a dozen other psychiatric hospitals, but there was no Jesus among them. Just imaginary devils and medicated demons, terrified hearts and blown-out minds. I was sad to see them behind bars, these agitated souls of Bedlam, but you've got to protect the sane ones walking and driving around outside, don't you? Nearby, I watched the workers leave the great warehouses of Secaucus and Cranbury, the Bronx and Netcong, Elizabeth and Kearny, Maspeth and Plainfield. I watched and waited, I saw their slumped shoulders, their bowed heads, their cheap cars and drab clothes, their sad, slow gait across the broad parking lots behind barbed wire and stacked pallets. Some say these people should be grateful they've got jobs. That menial labor is the first rung on the ladder of success. That they too will someday live in Westchester, or Bergen County, or the North Shore. Maybe that's true -- call me a doubter -- but one thing's for sure -- no Jesus among them. I tried the truckers too, but they ignored me and drove on.

I was getting frustrated but I had to soldier on. This was December, after all, and I was supposed to find Jesus before the month ran out. I checked in on the homeless shelters, the soup kitchens, the libraries, McDonald's and other fast food joints, places where you find the poor and dispossessed, the old and infirm, or the just plain unlucky. No Jesus among them but lots of lookalikes. I looked heavenward and asked the sky, "These are his followers. Surely he must be near, no?" The sky didn't have much to say. It never does.

I drove through ritzy neighborhoods where big houses wore big wreaths illuminated by big lights. No Jesus there, just barking dogs and clinking glasses. I searched down by the river, walking northward into a bitter wind, watching the black water swirl around the pylons and docks where flotsam collects. No Jesus. I checked out the dumpsters behind the Shop-Rite and the piles of cardboard trash behind Target. I got down on my hands and knees and shined a flashlight into the storm sewer at the corner of Adams and Sixth. I rode the subways for hours, from Jamaica to Coney Island, from Pelham to the Battery. Plenty of humble people but no Jesus.

It was looking futile, I was having no success in city, so I decided to head out into the countryside, where preserved farmland lay tucked between the strip centers and parking lots. Maybe Jesus had found his way onto Nature Conservancy land. I checked out the woods and wetlands, the frozen ponds and rocky outcrops. I asked the crows and the goats, the squirrels and the chickens, whether they had seen him anywhere. No answers, no Jesus. I came to High Breeze Farm on Barrett Road, looking northwest at the lights of Orange County, and listened to the breathing of the cows. Deer jumped across the trail, their white tails disappearing into the tangled wood without a sound. An immense quietude enveloped us all. I looked out at the vast earth and imagined it holy, something more than mineral, something greater than a stage-set for the wee doings of humankind. I imagined that this world was a place that a god would stoop to inhabit and walk upon, working miracles and serving up proverbs and parables. Where he'd be more than just another god telling stories. Chastising sinners. Holding out hope for those who have none. Inspiring some, infuriating others. I tried to imagine it, I closed my eyes and tried as hard as I could.

I opened them and watched the Wallkill flow north and the traffic snake along Routes 94 and 517, all those people going god knows where. There was no Jesus anywhere in the picture. No Jesus at all. The sun was going down and the night was coming on cold and furious. I had to go and look somewhere else. Tell me, poot, where should I look? Tell me, where in god's name is this Christ child hanging out these days?

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