The Story Of A Homeless Man Who Looked Like Rasputin

I was 11 years old on Christmas day of 1995 and for most of 1996 I lived that 11th year enjoying one of the hottest summers. The 90’s summers were very memorable as being the hottest in Ireland. However, that Christmas it had been particularly cold when my eldest sister took me to Belfast with her now ex-husband. At the time the troubles were far from settled down and my ex IRA father hated the idea of me going up there. The thought of them getting hold of his son gave him the shivers but I think he was being too paranoid.

I had just seen the movie “Rasputin” played by the very talented Alan Rickman. Walking through the city with my sister I could hear shouting and cursing of all sorts being echoed all around the street. Being a small town boy I’d never really got to see the city all that much so it’s all a novelty to me. We get closer and I see a man on his knees who not only dressed like Rasputin but looked exactly like him from the movie. The snow is gently falling and I felt like I had been transported to Russia or something that’s how real he appeared.

A beautiful blonde woman wrapped in fur, dressed in fine clothes, high heels and adorned with golden necklaces passes him by. He reaches out his cup and she snubs him. He grabs her by the tail of her fur coat yelling in a thick Southern English accent, “You fucking bitch. You fucking WHORE!!! CUNT!!! FUCK YOU!!!!”. She manages to quickly brush him off but not without a rightful screech. He’s shouting at everyone and doing it with such rigorous passion the saliva from his mouth is splashing everywhere. “You’re all going to HELL you fucking…you fucking fucks!!!”.

I have a pound in my pocket. It’s all I have. I don’t know what came over me but I just thought, “All he wants is a quid. If I give it to him he’ll stop all that shouting and calm down.” That is how my little child mind must have reasoned that day. I break from my sisters company to her disgust. I approach him slowly. I’m heart is racing a bit and I’m thinking, “What if he beats me up or grabs me like he grabbed the woman?” He doesn’t but he gives me a deathly stare. He remained extremely still while kneeling there in those clothes dressed exactly like Rasputin with his long black hair and beard. He even had those Alan Rickman eyes.

I throw him my pound. It landed in in his little white paper cup and as I walk away he continues to stare at me. I’m 100 feet down the street and he’s still staring as I peer over my shoulder. Then I hear a very distant, faint yet still audible, “Fuck…fuck all of you….fuckers”. My young and immature self thought, “I’ve just met Rasputin. I’ve only watched the movie and there he is on the streets of Belfast. Why is he here?”

On later reflection I knew that the anger in him was a mere mask he used to cover what he really was. Who was he? He just so happened to be a man who wanted to feel loved. His stare never revealed to me what he was really thinking, but I knew he had been touched by my approach. Sensing my innocence and the love of this young boy he had no choice but to break character. My love had disarmed the demon inside of him. That’s what love does, it disarms armies and hordes of demons and has the power to stop wars.

I always think about him and to this day whenever I see Alan Rickman especially in character as Rasputin, I think about my very own Belfast Rasputin. It had been the height of the troubles but as an 11 year old I didn’t give a monkeys about Englishmen, protestants or Catholics. All I knew then is what I still know now and that is that I loved the man. Yes, I was brave enough to approach this man who had lost his mind. He sensed that too, I think. He must’ve been thinking, “Well . . . now . . . look at this brave little Irish runt. Here I am shouting obscenities and acting aggressive and he dares to approach.”

I did. I dared to approach the aggression and interrupt the hatred. That day I dared to love and break the demonic forces that held him captive. Like the Irish Sun that peeps out of the cloud and disappears again it didn’t last long, but it was enough that maybe he went home that day and thought about his place in this world.

Walking through Limerick City with my two sons a few weeks ago we passed a homeless man. Genuinely homeless or drug addict who cares? He had been Christ with his hand out and that’s all that mattered to me. I recalled my experience meeting the old Belfast Rasputin and come to a complete halt. Reaching into my jean pocket I give one 2 euro and the youngest 1 euro coin and asked them to put it in the mans cup.

Observing them walking towards the homeless man I got a glimpse of myself doing the same 25 years ago and got to relive a special moment. Some men say the best memories of their sons are when they’re born, but mine are when they’re being charitable to complete strangers. Those are the memories I cherish the most.

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