‘An Anxious America.’ That was the front-page headline on Sunday’s New York Times, reporting on the relentless stream of violent tragedies this summer. Readers who are older may recall the agonizing summers of the late 1960s. Even as we mourn and worry, millions of us turn to the deep resources of faith. This week, we welcome back author and pastoral counselor Benjamin Pratt for a parable about a timeless religious image that many of our readers may recall. We have coupled this reflection by Benjamin with the ironic graffiti of Banksy.
THE HOLY FOOL
By BENJAMIN PRATT
I was the one who pushed the old rocking chair onto the sidewalk in front of our family bakery. I meant it as a sign of hospitality in these scary, hostile times. Maybe I knew it was good business, too. Other smart business people put rocking chairs out front, don’t they? To be honest, I’m not even quite sure what possessed me to move that beat-up old rocker onto the street.
We’re always looking through the big front windows, keeping on our toes, looking for customers as they approach. And, let’s be honest—we’re watching the street, you know the street people and the kids especially. We never know what might happen.
You’ve read all the stories of shootings, killings, murders. We’ve read them. They’re all around us, aren’t they?
So, that morning, whatever possessed me—here’s what happened. I wiped the flour from my hands, walked back into the storage room where we like to take our breaks and grabbed that old wooden rocking chair that someone tried to spray-paint white but never quite finished. I pushed the chair through the bakery and out onto the sidewalk. It works for other businesses—if no one steals it.
So, we all watched.
We worked. We watched. And, to be honest, we kept our eyes peeled for trouble.
No one even noticed the arrival. Later we talked about it. “I must’ve been in the storeroom.” “I was checking the ovens.” “Stocking the cookies.” “On my phone.”
And, this was odd, too! We just couldn’t figure it out, looking through the window: Man or woman? Black or white or Latino or Asian? Disturbingly unclear.
The guys started talking. “We don’t want to get started with loiterers!” “Hey, no homeless! No squatters! Remember last year with the stuff they built out back?” And the big question that just kept coming: “Who is that out there in the rocking chair!?!”
We’ve got customers to think about. This was one big distraction. OK, I’ll admit, it was turning into a headache we didn’t need. We kept our eyes peeled for trouble.
Finally, I paused, locked the cash register, glanced at the bat we keep beneath the counter, and just walked out there. I didn’t expect to see: Weeping! This … this person was sitting there crying. And when someone else walked by, I could hear the person in the chair say softly: “I’m sorry, so very sorry.”
Oh, boy! Oh, boy! What do I do now?
But nothing bad happened. Others passed. A teenager in a hoody—a kid I’ve kept my eye on—walked past and actually turned back at the words from the chair. I never expected to see that expression on the kid’s face! He was as stunned as I was.
All morning, as people passed, those words kept coming: “Sorry.” “So sorry.” “So very sorry.” Finally, I took some fresh bread and a cup of water outside to this … person.
And I got a quiet, comforting: “Thank you.”
Tears still flowed from tender eyes. As I turned to go back inside, the words followed, “I’m sorry, so very sorry.”
OK, I didn’t expect how much that would get to me. But it did.
And this is really odd! No one caught the departure. We looked around and—gone! The chair was empty.
Nor did we see the arrival, again, early the next morning.
Here’s when we noticed! One of the guys called out, “Look at that!” We all turned to stare through the window. The kid in the hoody was sitting in this person’s lap.
Got that? The kid in the hoody was sitting in this person’s lap. They were rocking together.
And, there were others who followed—letting this person rock them in the chair.
The shocker? Tony, the cop who keeps an eye on our stretch of the street. He let himself be rocked! We saw it with our own eyes. And, then, Tony got up and helped this person up out of the old rocker. Tony sat down himself and did the rocking!
A line formed! We didn’t know what to do, except watch through the glass. People stopped in their tracks to check it out—and they let themselves be rocked.
That’s when I remembered my grandmother—Russian Orthodox. Little icons and candles all over her apartment. Loved to talk about the saints. She had a favorite; I forget the name. “He was nothing to the world, a fool,” she would say, “but wise to the ways of God. A Holy Fool.”
That’s when it hit me: God’s out there. On my sidewalk. God’s out there.
Somewhere in all that rocking—in that beat-up chair we got from grandma’s apartment upstairs after she passed. Yeah, it was foolishness. Holy foolishness.
I just kept remembering. I remembered being rocked.
Being rocked. In that chair.
Hey, maybe I was dreaming. But my guys at the bakery never cracked jokes that day. They did their work. There was silence—all eyes on the window. I didn’t dare ask them, but maybe they were remembering something, too.
Call me a fool, but that’s my story.
Yeah, call me a fool.
I don’t mind at all.