Looking for Legion

For many months I searched for him,
I roamed across the region,
And hoped in every town to find
The man whose name was Legion.

The older folk remembered him:
“He caused a stir”, they said.
“But no one’s heard of him for years,
One must assume he’s dead.”

It was winter when I tracked him down,
We sat in his small dark room:
Bald head, lined face, a stooping form
But eyes that pierced the gloom.

“No one’s called me by that name
For fifty years or more,
And you’re not even thirty yet.
What brings you to my door?”

“A man called Mark has spilled the beans,
You feature in his book.
I’ve got the chapter with me.
Would you care to take a look?”

I handed him the parchment
And he held it to the light
But shook his head and muttered,
“It’s no good – my failing sight.”

I read the story to him then
And when I’d done, he laughed,
“Now that is what I think they call
The storyteller’s craft!”

“I’ll tell you how it really was
For clearly no one knows:
My life has been a series of
Dramatic highs and lows.

My parents died when I was young
And I was big and slow,
And people just avoided me
Wherever I would go.

But always being on my own,
It gave me time for musing.
I tried to understand why life
Seemed cruel and confusing.

I loved to watch the way things move,
The way the starlings fly,
The shoals of fish down in the lake,
And stars up in the sky.

And everywhere I noticed
How the many move as one;
A field of wheat blown by the wind,
Waves dancing in the sun.

I saw the Legion passing by,
All marching, row on row,
I thought, it’s like a centipede
The way those soldiers go.

And then at last it came to me
And it came in a sort of flash
When I saw that herd of frightened swine
In their suicidal dash.”

“Was that not after Jesus came?”
I asked. He shook his head.
“That’s one of many things that’s wrong
With the story you just read.

The thunder of their hooves, it made
The ground beneath me shake,
I saw them tumbling off the cliff
And splashing in the lake,

And understood, for good or ill
That all things are connected!
But when I told folk, their response
Was not what I expected.

‘The herd! The Legion! All are one!’
I struggled to explain.
They laughed at me, ‘You’ve got a troop
Of demons in your brain.

We’re like Romans?! We’re like pigs?!’
(I hadn’t phrased things well).
They tied me down, and from that day
My life was a living hell.

I screamed, ‘I’m only telling you
The things that God has shown me!’
At this they cried out, ‘Blasphemy!’
And took up stones to stone me.

I broke my bonds, I ran and hid
Where I could not be found,
Among the graves, my home a cave,
My bed the rocky ground.

Oh, there was torment in my mind,
I thought that I was mad,
I cut myself, I beat my skull
Because my thoughts were bad.

The people used to bring their friends
To ridicule and taunt me.
They called me Legion, thus the word
I’d used came back to haunt me.

And then one day I saw a crowd
Had gathered on the shore
A sail, a boat, a man whose name
I’d heard about before.

I feared him, but I stood my ground,
The people laughed and pointed.
They said, ‘Go heal old Legion,
If you’re really God’s anointed.’

He walked towards me from the crowd
Which lingered by the sea,
And somehow I could tell the man
Was just as scared as me.

I waved my arms and charged at him
But he did not retreat,
Then all the passion left me
And I fell down at his feet.

‘They say that I am Legion
And there’s demons in my brain,
But it was just the word I used
When trying to explain:

I saw the soldiers passing by,
How many marched as one,
And felt the brotherhood of all
Who live beneath the sun.

They tell me it is blasphemy,
They tell me I’m unclean.
They never wait to hear me out,
They don’t know what I mean.’

He squatted down beside me
And I looked into his eyes,
The fear I’d sensed had disappeared,
Instead he looked surprised.

He said, ‘I think I understand
And what you say seems right,
For all are one beneath the sun,
And you have seen the light!

He said, ‘I too have heard the voice
That spoke inside your head;
We’re like the many grains of wheat
That form one loaf of bread.

Of course they turned against you
And shoved you through the exit,
They do not like the fact that you’re
The only one who gets it.’

Like that, the madness left me!
He took me by the hand.
It seems that all I’d needed
Was a soul who’d understand

And not think me a nutcase
But take my words as true,
So all he did was listen,
That was all he had to do.”

I asked about Mark’s story
Of the demons and the swine,
That rampaged down the hillside
And perished in the brine.

He laughed again and reached a hand
To pat me on the shoulder.
“You youngsters are so credulous,
You’ll get it when you’re older.

There were no demons in my mind
But only my frustration
And anger at the ignorance
That ruled my generation.

That story that you read to me
Is mostly based on rumour,
Events have been conflated
With a gruesome sense of humour.

Do you believe a man of God
Strikes bargains with dark forces?
That spirits take up residence
In men or pigs or horses?

You think he’d blight a swineherd’s life,
Whose worst crime’s being lazy?
And be so cruel to pigs? If so, then
You’re the one who’s crazy.

Your book is fine, I guess it tells
One version of my story.
It’s partly fact and partly myth
And partly allegory.

It’s true I tried to follow him
And that he would not let me.
He thanked me for my words and said
That he was glad he’d met me!

I travelled round, I told my tale,
To anyone who’d hear me.
It was amazing, even
Little children did not fear me.

And when I heard how he had died
It came as no surprise.
I think I’d seen it coming
When I looked into his eyes.

Well, that is all I have to say,
I hope I haven’t bored you.
I’m grateful for your patience
And for that may God reward you.”

I thanked him, and he shook my hand
And showed me to the door.
I left there feeling wiser
Than I had an hour before.

And since that day I’ve pondered
On the story that he told me,
It comforts me in times when dark,
Depressive thoughts enfold me.

It calms me when I’m tossed about
In turmoil and confusion.
I’ve tried to work out why that is
And this is my conclusion:

When life becomes a nightmare
And we feel the madness seize us,
It helps to just imagine
Being listened to by Jesus.

Mark 5:1-20