A Flawed Man
by Murray Andrew Pura
Now there was a man named Vincent. Vincent was not a perfect man. Far from it. Nor did he try to pretend that he was. His imperfections displayed themselves in many ways. He was too busy for church. Now and then he had been seen puffing on a cigar or drinking a beer. He was rough and loud and usually unshaven and always dressed in his sloppiest clothes. But what was most evident and distressing to those who were perfect was Vincent’s language. Every sentence he spoke crackled with curse words. He could not butter his bread or pour himself a coffee without swearing. And since he was the town’s only veterinarian most people had to put up with his coarse language several times a year. When they brought their calf in. Or their dog. Or cat. Or he came out to their farm or ranch to look after a sick horse or cow. Many of the good church folk shook their heads and grit their teeth and muttered under their breaths, “It’s what comes out of a man that defiles him.”
“Why do you put up with it?” demanded the good church folk from other towns. “Go to another veterinarian.”
“He is the only one in town,” was the reply.
“So go to another town.”
“Well, his mouth is bad. But he is good with our horses.”
“With his language,” the good church folk from other towns growled, “he will be busy shoeing horses in hell one day.”
So the years hurried by. Vincent rushed around in his clinic petting dogs and cats and hamsters and giving them needles and he plodded out to the farms and ranches in snow, sleet and drenching rain and took care of the horses and cows and sheep. The perfect people stood and watched and listened and shook their heads and were glad to see him gone.
“One day,” they promised each other, “he will be gone for good and we will get ourselves a better vet.”
“Amen,” the good church folk chimed in.
And that day came. Vincent died. His funeral was not held at a church but at a funeral home. Still, a lot of people and a lot of children attended. Perfect and imperfect, churched and unchurched. Even stray dogs and cats hung around the parking lot and hired hands claimed the livestock were restless that afternoon. It was not a long funeral. One of the local ranchers gave a brief eulogy.
“He was far from perfect,” the rancher said, “but he was there for our horses and dogs. Maybe that’ll count for something. God have mercy on his soul.”
“And his language,” murmured a preacher in the back row.
Meanwhile, Vincent’s spirit stood before the gates of heaven. Tall angels with unsmiling faces stood on either side of him. His rough and unkempt head was hung in shame. Suddenly the gates swung open and a young boy with curly black hair stood in front of him.
“What are you doing here, Vincent?” asked the boy.
“I don’t know,” replied Vincent, head still down. “I did not live a perfect life.”
“No. You did not.” The boy stepped closer. “Lift your head, Vincent. Look at me. Do you know who I am?”
Vincent peered at the young face. “No.”
The boy smiled. “But I know who you are. The man who loved horses. The man who loved dogs. The man who loved sheep.”
For the first time Vincent noticed the boy held a lamb in his arms. It had a mop of thick black curls and the boy was petting it. Vincent smiled back hesitantly. “You love sheep too.”
“That’s true. When I was born there were sheep nearby. As a matter of fact, there were animals all around me. They were the witnesses of my birth and my chief guardians as I drew my first breaths.”
Vincent scrunched up his face. “Who are you?”
“Don’t you know the Christmas story, Vincent?”
Vincent’s jaw dropped. The boy laughed. “Come inside and I’ll tell you about it.”
But Vincent hung back. “I‘m not worthy to come with you into heaven. God knows I’m a flawed man.”
The boy gazed at him with clear eyes. “Yes. But when I was hungry, you fed me. When I was thirsty, you gave me water to drink. I was unknown to you, but you took me into your home. I was naked, but you made sure I was warm. I was sick and you took care of me. I was trapped and caged, but that did not stop you from coming to me.”
Vincent shook his head. “You’re mistaken. I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
“When you did it to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, Vincent, you did it to me.”
Suddenly there were animals running out from between the gates and swirling around Vincent and the boy. Horses, colts, cows and calves, black dogs and white dogs and red dogs, yellow cats and orange cats, brown donkeys and grey donkeys. There was whinnying and yelping and purring and braying and Vincent knelt among the animals and took them in his arms. The boy laughed when they eventually knocked Vincent down and the dogs pounced on his face and licked furiously with their tongues.
“Come inside, Vincent the Righteous,” the boy said, “there are things to see that have been waiting for you since the creation of the earth.”
But Vincent stood up and the happiness slipped from his face. “It won’t work. You know I’m a flawed man. I won’t fit in.”
“Actually, Vincent, you’ll fit in very well,” the boy promised. “The only persons here with me are the ones who are flawed. They are the ones I can help. The others who think they are perfect I can’t do anything for.”
“I’m not righteous, you know that,” Vincent argued.
The boy came over and took hold of Vincent’s hand. His grip was strong. “Haven’t you ever read it in the book?” he asked. “The man who cares for his animals is a righteous man.”
And so Vincent the flawed man, the imperfect man, the righteous man, walked through the gates holding the hand of the Christ child accompanied by all the four-footed throngs of heaven.