I didn’t want to inspire anyone. I said it aloud to Corky. “Let’s avoid Tiny Tim,” I said. A dog is a dog and doesn’t see the need to be anything else. I had to laugh. A dog is so happy in her skin. How many people can you say this about? “Hello, pleased to meet you, I’m merry in my skin.” If only our days played out this way. “Hey, Joe, I’m cheery in my flesh, how about you?” Poor us. Poor upright boys and girls, all of us damaged by physical education classes and the assorted bad ideas of churches, Freud, and broadcasting houses. “Let’s skip Tiny Tim,” I said to Corky because it was clear after just a few months of guide dog travel that we, the two of us as a unit, were unconditionally stirring to strangers and casual acquaintances. It became obvious when we were approached by doe eyed holy roller types—who’d grown up watching Jerry Lewis telethons, who’d absorbed a thousand sermons about the blind, all of whom need the grace of God—wanting to touch us, pray for us, or at the very least, tell us how uplifting we were. Riding the subway in Manhattan, the 4 train from Grand Central to Union Square, and feeling good, feeling really good, Corky tucked safely under the seat, oh feeling good, a woman seated across from us said: “You and your dog just gave me some Jesus!” There we were! Corky was Bob Cratchet, and I was crippled Tim, riding his father’s shoulders, a vision of Christ’s mercy. And I wanted to say, “I’m cheery in my flesh, how about you?”
These interruptions occurred so often I began to worry about it. When would it happen? Did it always manifest when I was uncommonly happy? Did it only happen when my mind was occasionally blank? These I saw were the wrong questions. Culture ain’t what you think it is, it’s just what it is. Corky and I stood for nothing other than brokenness to loose cannon Christians. On a bus one day a woman said loudly: “Can I pray for you?” I couldn’t help myself and said very loudly: “Yes, Madam, you may pray for me, but only if together we raise our prayers for all the good people on this bus who have trouble brewing in their DNA, whose cancers are aborning even as we speak, whose children have gone astray through substance abuse, who are even now feeling lost in a sea of troubles, let us pray, all of us together for our universal salvation.” I clutched the woman’s arm with feverish intensity. The bus pulled to a routine stop and she jumped out the door. Passengers applauded. “Don’t take it personally,” a woman said to me then. I smiled. But how else to take it? The blind man either needs salvation or he’s a sign of grace. Can’t a fellow simply say: “I’m cheery in my flesh, how about you?”
I asked Edward, an Episcopal priest, what he thought of the Tiny Tim-Jesus complex as I’d come to call it. We sat together on a park bench in Ithaca, soaking up the first real warmth of spring. The bees had come out. Corky was chewing on a bone at our feet.
“Many Christians don’t like the body,” he said. “That’s how they understand the crucifixion. They think the human body is the throw away part of Christ. And of course that’s utterly wrong: the body of Jesus is, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said: the living temple of God and of the new humanity.”
“In effect,” he said, “every body is the body of Jesus. Which means each body, whether its broken or not is a true body, imbued with spirit, and not a sign of want. There’s a beauty to the diversity in the body of Christ.”
“So why are there so many predatory prayer slingers who want to mumble over me?” I asked.
“The insecure ye will always have with ye…” Edward said.