Father Davidson had his detractors because, frankly, everyone does. But a close examination of his life will show that, to an honest and impartial observer, there is little or no justification for this. Still, there were some who thought he was “a bit much” when he discussed his philosophy so guilelessly and sincerely, and they doubted his motives when he took the side of the poor in our town. They said he did it for attention, or to appear better than everyone else and these people resented him for his good deeds, and his good nature.
Strangely, during Father Davidson’s life, this contingent of malcontents had an outsized influence on public opinion so that many people, who otherwise would be inclined to admire the Father’s exploits, instead grew to distrust him; and those who ordinarily wouldn’t have held any opinion at all, decided there must be something wrong with him or “why would people say what they did about him?”
The thought at the time was that perhaps the good he did wasn’t good after all, and maybe his apparent good nature was a deception, hiding some less admirable traits beneath the surface. “He likely has secrets,” they’d say, “Nobody does the things he does and really means it.” Some went so far as to assert that he “likely is mentally ill, and could even be dangerous.”
The first time I met the Father he was dancing upon a wall. It was a long, tall stone wall that ran alongside a road leading south out of town. He took one step, two, and made a little hop, then gingerly turned about in place, and proceeded again; one step, two, a hop and a turn. In this way he made his way along the top of the wall. As I approached him I was surprised to see a man his age proceeding in such a way. He appeared to be in his upper forties, perhaps a bit older, in good physical condition, though hardly an athlete—and certainly not a gymnast. His turns made me queasy because they were not elegant; his arms flapped about wildly trying to maintain equilibrium as his torso contorted and twisted in order to keep himself aloft. Somehow he managed it, again and again, turning and hopping his way down the length of the wall and never falling off.
“What a peculiar man.” I thought to myself. “Why is he doing that? He’s going to break his neck for sure.” But I stood and watched, fascinated and waiting for him to fall.
A car sped by just then, and honked loudly while someone screamed out the open window, “Don’t fall!” I heard them laughing as they drove off. And he didn’t fall, though he seemed perpetually preparing to do so. He was like a marionette up there, stilted, uncoordinated but magically somehow suspended above the earth, as if held up by invisible strings. I continued to watch him from the street-side of the wall, and was about to call out to him but then thought better of it, not wanting to distract him. Just then I heard another voice calling out to him from the back-side of the wall: “What in hell are you doing up there? Get off my wall!” I heard the voice yell out to him.
The Father continued along the wall in his artful way but turned his head cautiously in the direction of the voice on the other side of the wall. “Ah, my benefactor, I am almost to the tree,” he said.
The tall stone wall lined a private property, dividing the yard from the street, and at one corner where the street descended into the woods, there was a large chestnut tree whose lowest branch rested upon the wall. The Father was closing in on this branch, and it was apparent this was his destination, and his means of returning to earth. He smiled as he reached the branch and sat on it, turning to face his accuser. “I made it!” He exclaimed.
“Fine,” said the voice behind the wall. “Now would you mind getting down? What are you thinking?…Are you ten?! What’s wrong with you?”
“I was just walking on the wall.” The Father said as he smiled down at the voice; and I smiled to myself, suppressing a slight chuckle. Was it really that simple? I asked myself as I looked up at him. I always seem to need a reason to do something, or a reason why I did it.
“Why do you keep walking on my wall? Next time I’m calling the police. I don’t want you up there,” said the voice.
“Come up and see,” the Father leaned out, reaching his hand down behind the wall towards the voice.
“No. I’m not going up there. Just get down…Enough of your stupidity. Go on! Just go away.”
The Father stood up and sighed, “As you wish, of course.” He grabbed hold of the branch and swung his body out away from the wall, and then dropped to the ground not far from where I was standing. He brushed himself off and held out his hand to me, “Father Davidson, and you are?”
“Francis,” I replied and shook his outstretched hand.
“Friend or foe?” he asked, cocking his head slightly to the side and squinting at me as if to get a better look.
“Friend, I hope.”
“We shall see.”