Before dawn one Friday morning I noticed a young man, handsome and strong, walking the alleys of our city. He was pulling an old cart filled with clothes both bright and new, and he was calling out in a loud clear voice: “Rags! New rags for old! I take your tired rags! Rags!”
“Now, this is a wonder, “I thought to myself, for the man stood six-foot-four, and his arms were like tree limbs, hard and muscular, and his eyes flashed with intelligence. Could he find no better job than this, to be a ragman in the inner city?
So I followed him. My curiosity drove me and I wasn’t disappointed.
Soon the Ragman saw a woman sitting on her back porch. She was sobbing into a handkerchief, seeming to shed a thousand tears. Her shoulders shook. Her heart was breaking. The Ragman stopped his cart. Quietly, he walked up to the woman, stepping around tin cans, dead toys, and Pampers. “Give me your rag,” he said so gently, “and I’ll give you another.”
He slipped the handkerchief from her eyes, and he laid across her palm a linen cloth so clean and new that it shined. She looked from the gift to the giver. Then, as he left and began to pull his cart again, the Ragman did a strange thing: he put her stained handkerchief to his own face: and then he began to weep, and to sob as intensely as she had done, his shoulders shaking. Yet she was now without a tear.
“This is a wonder,” I breathed to myself, and I followed the sobbing Ragman like a child who cannot turn away from a mystery.
“Rags! Rags! New rags for old!”
In a little while, when the sky showed grey behind the rooftops and I could see shredded curtains hanging out black windows, the Ragman came upon a girl whose eyes were empty and whose head was wrapped in a bandage. Blood soaked her bandage and a single line of red ran down her cheek.
Now as the tall Ragman looked upon this child with pity in his eyes, he drew a lovely yellow bonnet from his cart. “Give me your rag,” he said, “and I’ll give you mine.” The child could only gaze at him while he loosened the bandage, removed it, and then tied it to his own head. The yellow bonnet he then set on hers. And I gasped at what I saw: for with the bandage went the wound! Against his brow it ran darker, more substantial blood – – his own!
“Rags! Rags! I take old rags,” cried the now sobbing, bleeding, strong, intelligent Ragman. The Ragman now seemed more and more in a hurry.
The Ragman then came upon a man leaning against a telephone pole. “Are you going to work?” he asked the man. The man just shook his head. The Ragman pressed him; “Do you have a job?” “Are you crazy?” sneered the man. He then pulled away from the pole, revealing the right sleeve of his jacket–flat, the cuff stuffed into the pocket. He had no arm.
“So”, said the Ragman. “Give me your jacket, and I’ll give you mine.” Such quiet authority in his voice!
The one-armed man took off his jacket. So did the Ragman–and I trembled at what I saw; for the Ragman’s arm stayed in it’s sleeve, and when the man put on the Ragman’s jacket he now had two good arms, thick as tree limbs; but now the Ragman had only one.
“Now go to work,” he said.
After that the Ragman found a drunk. An old man, hunched, and sick lying unconscious beneath an army blanket. The Ragman took that blanket and wrapped it round himself, but for the drunk he left new clean clothes.
And now I found that I had to run to keep up with the Ragman. Though he was weeping uncontrollably, and bleeding freely at the forehead, pulling his cart with one arm, stumbling from drunkenness, falling again and again, exhausted, old, and sick, yet he went with terrible speed. On spider’s legs he skittered through the alleys of the city, this mile and the next, until he came to the edge of the city, and then he rushed beyond.
I wept to see the change in this man. I hurt so to see his sorrow. And yet I needed to see where he was going in such haste, perhaps to know what drove him so.
The now little old Ragman came to a landfill and a dumping ground. I wanted to help him in what he did, but I hung back, hiding.
He climbed a hill and with tormented labor he cleared a little space on that hill. Then he sighed and lay down. He pillowed his head on a handkerchief and a jacket. He covered his bones with an old army blanket — and then…he died!
Oh, how I cried as I witnessed that death! I slumped in a junked car and wailed and mourned as one who has no hope–because I had come to love the Ragman. Every other face had faded in the wonder of this man, and I cherished him; but he had died and it was over. I sobbed myself to sleep.
I did not know –how could I know? — that I slept through Friday night and all day Saturday and its night, too. But then, on Sunday morning, I was awakened by an intense bright light. The Light –pure, hard, demanding light — slammed against my face, and I blinked, but I looked, and I saw the last and the first wonder of all.
There was the Ragman, folding the blanket most carefully, a scar on his forehead, but he was now alive! And, besides that, healthy! There was no sign of sorrow or of age, and all the rags that he had gathered now shined as the sun.
Well, I then lowered my head and, trembling for all that I had seen, I walked up to the Ragman. I told him my name with shame, for I was a sorry figure next to him. Then as I looked at the condition of my own clothes, I said to him with deep yearning in my voice: “Dress me, Please!” He dressed me.
My Lord took my filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and put new, clean, shinning clothes on me, and I am a wonder beside him.
The Ragman, The Ragman, The Christ!
Adapted from the book, “The Ragman and Other Stories” by Walter Weingren