Today, I was at a rehearsal for an Easter pageant I am involved with. I have been in the cast for 10 years, was chairman for a stint, and still do all the photography and publicity for it. It’s been a rough year, as last-minute construction at the Burger Center shoved us out of our home with only a month to go. We had to scramble for a new location and then reblock the whole pageant as well as retrofit the tomb, the garden of Gethsemane, Pilot’s palace… everything. The rehearsals are still pretty ragged only 6 days out on the show. I sat on the bleachers with my daughters, as since I have young ones not allowed in the arrest-trial-beating-crucifixion scenes, we only go out at the very beginning and end of the production.
I make up the program, so I am in charge of the cast list and memorials to have loved one’s mentioned in print. A man I know well, let’s call him Billy, came up to me and said he’d like to make a contribution to have his mom’s name as well as his mother in law’s name placed in the program.
Billy is around 60, but looks older, other than a dark shock of hair. His is missing most of his teeth, and he stoops as he talks, so his face is often inches from yours. He rambles in conversation, seems to stumble to follow a line of thought, but is awkward about it, as if he realizes his shortcomings and is embarrassed to make you suffer through them. He is humble. I adore him.
I touched his arm and said I was very pleased to put his family in the program again. These ladies have been dead many years. He pulled out his wallet and I assumed he’d hand over a small contribution of a few dollars. Billy eats only out of the grace of Meals on Wheels, does not have a car, and often misses rehearsals because he can’t afford a bus pass or even a daily fare.
He handed over a check for $33. I looked at the sum and felt mild shock. How could he afford this? He said, “I’ve been in the pageant for 33 years. I wanted to make a donation that showed that. $1 for every year.”
I squeezed his arm and told him, “That’s a wonderful way to look at it. And we’ve been very blessed to have you here all these years.”
He smiled, face reddening. “This is my family,” he said.
He got called out to do his part, a role reserved for him each year as the high priest. I sat on the bleachers again and watched the cast fumble through the complex blocking. I worried about what that amount of money had cost him to contribute. We ran through the Palm Sunday scene, and Jesus, played by Benjamin, who had been in the pageant since he was an infant, related the story of the Poor Widow. It comes from the book of Mark, chapter 12.
41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.
43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything–all she had to live on.”
And so did Billy.
And when I watch Benjamin play his role, even when it doesn’t come off just right, he is transfigured to me. I get a chill when they throw him against the whipping post, and whether or not any of it is true no longer matters. It’s all about how I feel, and how I believe.