Tuesday, September 04, 2007


There is a scene toward the end of the classic 1947 film, The Bishop's Wife, that really got to me last week when I watched it again.

The Bishop (David Nevin) and his wife (Loretta Young) look in on their little girl who is sleeping peacefully in her bed. On one of the bedposts hangs a new doll. The couple notice it and realize they have no idea where it came from.

All of this occurs after the departure of Dudley, the angel (played by Cary Grant) sent to help the Bishop realize that his mission is not to build a gigantic, mega-expensive Gothic cathedral in honor of the departed husband of an initially very unhappy widow who seeks to control the entire process. His mission is to serve the poor, work for justice and peace and extend the love of God where it is needed most.

Problem is, once Dudley departs, no one will remember anything about his presence, influence or work. Thus, the doll left behind by the angel for the little girl.

Great movie. Okay, okay, I'm sentimental and enjoy old movies with a point!

As I watched these closing scenes, I recalled my experience with another angel.

We were living in Richardson, Texas at the time. Our daughters were probably about 8 and 4. We had become friends with a very unusual fellow, Eugene Morcile or Clay Foulks--there was this dispute and/or discrepancy about his birth certificate that he worked to resolve the entire time we knew him.

Eugene, that's the name I settled on, had not enjoyed an easy life. He was about 30-years-old when we met. He had been homeless, actually was homeless when he came to us. We helped him get a place to live and he worked at various jobs, off and on. We picked him up for church often, until he got his own transportation.

One Christmas Eve, about 8:00 p.m., he showed up at our door.

I can still remember, even feel the knot in my stomach when I saw him at the door.

"It's Christmas Eve for Pete's sake! Can't I ever get a break?"--that's what I felt and thought, but didn't say.

In retrospect, I've realized that, to me, Eugene was fundamentally a part of my work, a bit of a project.

He saw our relationship entirely differently. To him, I was his friend.

He had come to bring us presents. Toys for the girls.

He had no family, no place to go on Christmas Eve, so he came by our house to share the joy he had. He came in and had something to drink, didn't stay long, but accomplished his mission.

I've thought about him often over the years. We lost track of one another after he moved back to Pennsylvania, his home. He came back once for a visit almost 20 years ago. I haven't seen him since.

I thought of him as I watched that old movie, the story of Dudley the angel and the Bishop and his wife.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if Eugene was an angel sent to teach me about friendship and its superiority to "service" and "programs" with clearly defined professional limits.

An angel? Sent to teach me about the real nature of community? It makes sense to me.

I bet he never did get that birth certificate thing worked out. Likely there was no birth certificate at all.


Donna said...

That is one of my FAVORITE movies. I love the thought that your friend (I would have reacted exactly like you did) was an angel sent to show you the value of relationships.

Stresspenguin said...

Completely irrelevant comment.

I was reading your blog at the same time you left a comment on mine.


I think not.

Anonymous said...

That is a remarkable story. It makes me wonder if we give the people we try to help the opportunity to give back. If not, are we devaluing them?

Larry James said...

Thanks for these comments, all!

Stresspenguin, likely not just a coincidence, who knows?

Mike, your question strikes at the very heart of the limits and dangers of charity. Charity is never sufficient, if our desire is to partner with others to create better and more sustainable opportunities and benefits. Charity seldom regards the "wealth of the poor" or takes seriously what the poor have to offer. The result is a neo-colonial, paternalistic approach that never leads to authentic community among everyone involved.

We have learned, and are still learning, that if the poor aren't involved in crafting and delivering solutions, the solutions are not adequate.

faye said...

That is a beautiful story about Eugene. I'm always amazed that helping, altruism- it's not about me giving to another...it's a form of reciprocity, of connectedness, b/c I have learned so much. And the thing about me was that I didn't seem to know I had something to learn. My most precious life lessons have been those of humility.

I had not heard of The Bishop's Wife, so I rented it and LOVED it! I will put it right up there with my favorites, where it belongs.

Any other great old movies I need to know about?