The Pure of Heart

Damon Runyon

One rainy evening Our Old Man dropped into a crowded church back in our old home town of Pueblo and stood by the door quietly listening. After the regular service there was a sort of open meeting and various citizens got up at the invitation of the pastor and delivered informal talks.

The pastor recognized Our Old Man and finally said he was glad to see him among those present, and to heartily welcome a somewhat noted local non-churchgoer. He mentioned Our Old Man by name and said he wished he could induce him to make a few remarks. The pastor said he thought it would be most interesting to hear Our Old Man’s impressions of the occasion.

Our Old Man stepped forward and said he had noticed a number of citizens shaking their heads, apparently in some alarm, at the reverend gentleman while he was talking. Our Old Man said he judged that these citizens might be objecting in pantomime to the pastor calling on him and he wondered why. He said he wondered if they felt he was not good enough to speak in their church or if they were afraid of what he might say.

Our Old Man said if the latter, they need have no fear. He said he would not utter a word calculated to offend the most sensitive. He said if the former, they might be right. He said it was quite possible that he was not good enough to speak in their church and maybe not good enough to even be inside it. He said as a matter of fact it was his doubt on this point that kept him what the pastor termed him, a non-churchgoer, if the pastor meant by that one who was not a regular church member.

Our Old Man said he often attended various churches though he did not belong to any one. He said he had often wished he could join some church but that he felt it would be improper, if not false pretence, for him to do so until he had completely adjusted his conduct and his thought to the teachings of the church. He said he was going to wait until he was dead certain he could sit in church on Sunday accepting the teachings in his mind and heart without feeling that on Monday he might be tempted to skin a neighbor in a business dicker.

He said he was certainly delighted, however, to see so many of his fellow citizens who had obviously arrived at the adjustment of which he spoke. He said they must have arrived at this adjustment, else they would not be there. He said he was sure they would not be assembled in that holy place accepting the sacred teachings if they were men who collected rents from the poor for rat-ridden, disease-breeding shacks, or who double-crossed their pals or swindled their customers.

Or if they were men who mistreated their wives, or indulged in riotous living, or profited at the expense of the unfortunate in any way, cheated at cards. Our Old Man said he was also pleased to see that a large number of ladies of the community had also reached that adjustment. He said their presence was an assurance to him that they were not guilty of backbiting, slander, selfishness, or wanton display and that they respected their marriage vows.

Our Old Man said he seemed to be hearing slight murmurs in different parts of the room and that he supposed he was outstaying his welcome, so he would close with an apology. He said he was there entirely by accident as it seemed to be the handiest shelter from the rain, but that he hoped they would not feel that he had unduly trespassed when he confessed to them that he had taken advantage of their sanctuary to indulge in a little spiritual thought on his own account.

Afterwards there was quite a bit of talk about Our Old Man’s remarks. It developed that there were persons present who were guilty of everything that Our Old Man mentioned but Our Old Man said, well, that proved they had no right to be there. He said the only thing he regretted about the matter was the accusation against the pastor that he had deliberately planted Our Old Man at the service.

Our Old Man said he would insist to his dying day that he only went in out of the rain.