We had to have our front porch completely rebuilt recently. My partner Wayne had the contractor build what amounts to a bench atop the roof. Wayne crawls out an upstairs window and perches there, communing with the leaves and any cat that chooses to join him. If I need to get his attention, I have to walk out to the front porch and shout heavenward.
A few weeks ago, I walked outside after a nap to shout at the roof but found Wayne standing on the porch with a young guy with a very broad smile. He looked like he'd been rolling in dirt all day.
He introduced himself as James and said he was living alone in the big house next door while he remodeled it for the owner. Then he explained that it had taken weeks for him to find the nerve to come over to our house.
"Why is that?" I asked.
"I'm here to heal your knees?" he said. "I wasn't sure how you'd react."
As I've written before, I had serious surgery on both my knees in February 2006 and, as it turns out, the surgery was not fully successful. Eventually, I will have to undergo it again.
"Heal my knees?" I asked James.
"Through the power of Jesus Christ," he replied.
I looked entreatingly at Wayne, who was smiling, too. "It couldn't hurt," he said. "Just give it a try."
Suddenly, standing on the porch of our 100-year-old house with a man who likes to sit on the roof and another who is into faith healing, I had the sense that I'd just walked into a short story by Flannery O'Connor.
"I'm sorry," I told James. "I just got up from a nap and, uh, I am not in the right frame of mind to be healed."
I went back to the bed, thinking I needed to start over.
A few days later James returned and I declined again, but Wayne invited him in. When he asked for a drink of water, Wayne mentioned that the cold-water handle on one of the sinks was screwed up. James fixed it.
"He fixes things!" Wayne told me later. "We have a lot that needs fixing."
"I know he fixes things," I snapped. "He wants to fix my knees."
Wayne made a list of things around the house James could fix.
He came back on a Saturday with a tiny vial of holy water, and I invited him into my office to discuss his proposition. Wayne, whom he required to be present for the healing, joined us. I told James that following my surgery, my kneecaps had migrated north so they were out of place.
"You see, it's a structural problem. Jesus would have to move my kneecaps down to heal me," I explained.
"Jesus don't care where your kneecaps are," James said.
I said, "If you mean he can eliminate the pain even if he doesn't move my kneecaps back into place, I'm not so sure that would be good. The pain keeps me from overdoing things."
James smiled. He told us a little about his life – how he was on the verge of killing himself when he was saved. I told him I didn't doubt his religion had made his life better. Nonetheless, I said, I was reluctant to submit to healing. If it didn't work, I said, I knew I'd be blamed for having inadequate faith.
"It only takes faith the size of a mustard seed," James replied.
"I don't have that much faith," I said. "Seriously."
I also explained that I had doubts about a god who selectively heals only the faithful. "Why does one need to be faithful not to suffer?" I asked. James told me it is the law and he could not explain why.
He encouraged me to think about things and he'd return in a week. Meanwhile, though, he continued to heal plumbing problems in the house.
The Man Who Sits on the Roof kept bugging me about the healing. I explained that even if James didn't blame me if my kneecaps weren't healed, I'd be monitored constantly for change. "I don't want someone stalking my knees," I said.
Inwardly, though, I had begun to question my refusal. Friends suggested I was overreacting to what could turn out at the least to be a good story. "Would you want to be the object of faith healing?" I asked a friend with health problems of his own.
"No," he said. "But you're the one whose partner sits on the roof. You attract this kind of thing. It makes sense."
He's right. But I've still not relented. Maybe soon.