Published November 24, 2019


The stranger listened intently as I spoke that morning. Our eyes
met a few times when I glanced around the room. After my com-
ments and a prayer, this new fellow, Brother McCue, helped
rearrange the chapel chairs. “You’re a bit high minded for your audi-
ence,” he said, as I passed him on my way to the kitchen.
I was taken aback by his sudden comment and only managed a
weak response: “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

I felt strangely drawn to him as he moved gracefully about the
building, performing chores. When he spoke, the timber of his voice
was powerful. It was obvious that he was no street bum, druggie, or
wino. He was quiet and introspective. When he did speak, he
selected me to fix his gaze upon. He spoke fluently and eloquently,
and he was economical with his words.

Brother McCue was a man’s man. He had “command presence”
or that special aura that natural leaders possess. So why was he on
skid row? His personal demons weren’t obvious, so I was extra cau-
tious around him. He was never overbearing or dictatorial. Instead,
he applied himself to any task he was assigned. By his third day, I
assigned him to work with me in the kitchen. This move was purely
selfish on my part. I hungered for knowledge, and I noted that he
was a storehouse of information.

McCue was in his fifties, I guessed. He was from Missouri, but
had traveled much of the world. To my ear, he had no recognizable
accent. Staying true to our unspoken code at the mission, I knew not to
probe into his past. I gathered bits of information about him when they
came out during our conversations about current events and history.

McCue spoke about the national political scene. He talked about
the powerful Prendergast political machine that took Harry Truman
from being a Kansas City haberdasher to being the vice president of the
Unites States. He spoke, at times, as if he had some first-hand knowl
edge of events during those times. President Truman was in office
when I was born, so that piqued my interest. I couldn’t determine
whether he admired or hated Truman’s powerful political machine.

Most of our talks took place in the library, which had practically
become my personal study. McCue spoke in depth on virtually any
subject with a little prompting, or sometimes, he remained quiet.
“Even a fool is counted wise if he holds his peace; unless he opens
his mouth and removes all doubt,” he said with a hearty laugh.

I felt like I was learning at the feet of a master. Had Alexander
the Great looked on his teachers, especially Aristotle, with any more
admiration? Had the older and wiser man brought the known world
into clearer focus for the Macedonian Prince?

McCue expounded on the domino theory and its influence in
shaping American foreign policy in Southeast Asia. With intense
clarity, he talked of how the East versus West power struggle was
being played out in pro-Communist verus anti-Communist regimes.
I responded to his white-hot intellect. I warmed myself by his glow
ing insights and passions when we talked about the maneuvers of
despots and civilizations throughout history.

Brother Mac liked my mind. He enjoyed my hunger to grasp the
concepts and insights he shared about global politics. I was no super
intellect, but something amazing was happening. “When the pupil is
ready, the teacher will appear,” he said in response to my enthusiasm
regarding our talks. I was a willing pupil for whatever he was shar
ing. McCue was the Renaissance man I so wanted to be.

He never questioned me about my being in authority at a skid
row mission, when it was clear that I was the proper age for combat
in Vietnam. He honored the code of silence about past lives.