He was a resident of the Million Star Hotel, Hotel alle Stelle, on the Colle Oppio; in other words, he slept rough. He was also a little mad; anyone could see that. I often sat on a park bench, scribbling in a book, watching him talking to himself, and knowing that we were doing the same thing. One day he was no longer there; on the previous night a fascist youth group, who have their centre on the Colle Oppio, doused him with petrol and set him on fire. He was half Somali, half Italian; he looked different. 'They can kill my body,' he said, 'but not my soul'.
I loved to watch him, but from a distance; he was part of my life. Why did I never speak to him? He seemed to have a life of his own; he talked to himself! He not only talked, he made speeches, he worked himself up to a frenzy of rhetoric and gesture. Why did I never speak to him? I should have walked straight up to him and said, 'I too am in a frenzy about the world; I am a Christian. What can you tell me?' Shame on me, I never spoke to my brother.
He had everything needed in a house, but no house; he had tables, an armchair, various cupboards, a bed, some books.... He would often move house from one corner of the park to another, making several trips. He usually constructed his invisible house around a lamp-post, placing the armchair under it. When everything was done he would sit in the armchair and begin to read a book. It seemed such a domestic scene that you scarcely missed the house. Soon the argument would begin to work on him and he would talk back to the book, explaining how everything should be, how everything is in an ideal world. Then he would rise to his feet, place the book on a sideboard and pace around the room, delivering speeches, explaining things, arguing intensely. He would address his remarks to various invisible persons in the room, reserving his most passionate eloquence for the one who always stood in the far corner. That was a sceptical person, but the gestures alone were enough to convince anyone. You noticed that the nearer people were to the lamp-post the more patient and nuanced were his remarks to them; these were his intimates. His madness was visible: that was the only difference between him and the rest of us.
When you speak to a group of people, I asked myself - when you teach - is it any different? You create a house made of words; you speak and it is made; the walls stand solid before your mind. You pace around, describing the best of all possible worlds, addressing friends and enemies who are not there. If others pay attention it is momentarily, glancing through a window in their own house of dreams.
How frail the logos, the word that holds us together! How tempting to say it is only a puff of air, insubstantial. What proofs you could bring! Philosophers push it to the limit, seeking to break it up, and yet while testing it they rely on it; even while saying we are all mad, they are claiming to be sane. The Logos was made flesh and lived among us; the Word, the Mind of God, walked upon the earth. The world can never forget: he bent down and wrote words of mercy on the ground, the dust of the world, our flesh.
From In A Fitful Light, Conversations on Christian Living, Donagh O'Shea
Dominican Publications, Dublin 1994, 2nd edition 2014