For some people, security is very important. They have a need to be in control. Others are willing to take risks and may even relish being in a situation that has some degree of hazard. A few years ago a friend, Frank Crowley, sent me a story that illustrates varying people’s requirement for safety. He is describing one August when he was working as a volunteer for a non-profit organization that ran a retreat center.

That same first week in August on sunny days we workers painted the back of the guest house, the long, two-story, motel-shaped residence for guests who don’t camp. I was happy with the job: to be outside in dappled sunlight and fresh breeze watching my frisky helpers scamper naked up and down the frequently moved ladders. I took the lower half for fear of falling, and I kept up with B. and E. as they moved along and as I worked under them. At one point, I was looking up into dual, handsome posteriors in constant stretching. A dollop of green paint fell neatly onto the bridge of my nose and trickled down to the tip in war paint, American Indian style. I whooped and hollered! Both men looked down and giggled and flecked some more onto the top of my bare head! I was soon “the boy with green hair.”

Next thing I knew, B., standing slightly lower on the same ladder, painted E.’s bare-butt with two slaps of the big brush. I yodeled! E. was hanging on to the roofline for a moment, it seemed, to get his bearings. B. bolted down the ladder, and E. followed him quickly, full brush in hand. 

E. has the face of the wounded Christ with lugubrious lines, sunken cheeks and long hair. Almost everyone in camp remarks on the similarity in long-faced expression and on the longing in his eyes for the redemption of the fallen B. But, in this instance E. decides to avenge his green-apple cheeks. I could see that the slap of paint covered the soft downy hair on the hapless E., so he looked now like an aroused clown with a wide-brimmed paint hat.

E. chased the fleeing B. with a yelp, a whoop and burst of bloodthirsty cries, a painted warrior without a horse. B. screamed his high pitch laugh and ran for his life, but E. galloped on his long, powerful legs. He caught up with B. on the snake path aside the main driveway in full view of guesthouse and lodge. Three swift strokes with his right hand, while he pulled B.’s pants down with his left, achieved the goal of painted penis and crotch.

I laughed my stupefied cackle, E. turned and I cowered, as I knew that even with my own strong running legs I’d never escape. “I’ll paint you, too,” he threatened and turned on me with his brush outstretched in a fierce smile. He ran back up the hill toward me. “Oh, please, noooo,” I pleaded in my submissive crouch up by the corner of the guesthouse, where I had awaited the outcome. B. had meanwhile collapsed in giddy laughter on his knees. As E. closed in for the kill, I looked up into his face beseechingly, and slowly his expression changed to mirthful release, then pity and tenderness.

I returned to painting the guesthouse, B. and E. went to clean up at the lodge and the rest of the crew continued their housekeeping duties. But, it was a long time I was alone back there because both were reassigned to clean rooms, as they said, sheepishly, looking out one of the back, bathroom windows. It seems that our Canadian “Tom Sawyer” and American “Jim” escaped painting “Aunt Polly’s” fence, but only for an hour, as they were soon back out with me slapping away for the rest of the long, summery, slap-happy afternoon. 

What strikes me about this story is that if any one of these workers really felt unsafe, the whole story would be different. Something in their relationship made it okay to horse around as they did, and perhaps the fact tht they were comfortable naked together contributed to a feeling of safety in a situation where others would feel unsafe.

There’s an apocryphal gospel attributed to the disciple Thomas, in which Jesus says, “When you strip naked without shame and trample your clothing underfoot just as little children do, then you will look at the Son of the Living One without being afraid.”
(The Gospel of Thomas 37). I can’t say that the men in this story looked “at the Son of the Living One,” but they certainly looked at each other without being afraid, and thus found the security needed to have fun in what others might consider a crazy and perhaps threatening situation.

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