The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 17

Father Davidson walked through the orchard with bare feet; he had given his shoes to the man on the bench earlier in the day and didn’t have another pair. “Though it doesn’t seem to make any difference,” I thought to myself, as I watched him climb a ladder to harvest some apples; he worked and walked as though he were still wearing shoes. I wasn’t surprised by this observation, for even when he stepped squarely into a patch of nettles he didn’t flinch; I was beginning to understand that he lived unaffected by minor pains and annoyances that most people live preoccupied by—in the short time I’d known him he appeared to be coolly detached from mental turmoil, emotional entanglements as well as physical suffering. I was musing about the Father’s unique relationship with suffering, when one of the men who lived in the RV called to me and invited me into their home to have a beer. I happily accepted and sat down at the small table with the three occupants of the motorhome; they were a middle-aged woman, and two men—most likely a couple, with their young adult son.

“The Father is something different,” the elder of the two men began. “You’ll not meet many like that.” All of us nodded in agreement and chuckled.

“I was just watching him walk barefoot through a patch of nettles,” I responded.

“Trust me, there’s more to it than you imagine,” the younger man interjected. “I’m not saying I know what it is, but there is always more going on with him than just what you see. There’s some kind of poetry in his bare feet, I’ll promise you that.”

“Poetry? How do you mean?” I asked.

“There’s always multiple meanings with him, things happening on more than one level, like in a poem. There’s the obvious, just what is happening, or what is said—or written if it’s a poem—but then there’s the symbolic meaning, something else that is represented that goes beyond the obvious.”

“For instance…?” I inquired.

“Okay, so here’s one. A while back, we had just arrived here, the three of us. None of us had a job and we had run out of money. We were stressed, I’m not going to lie, and at each other’s throats. Right?” He looked at the other two, and they nodded in agreement. “We were arguing a lot between us, and driving each other crazy, on top of each other, in this tiny space. One afternoon my mom, sorry is it okay if I say it?” He glanced at the woman and she shrugged. “So one afternoon she lays into my dad, about getting a job, getting off his butt and doing something for us…it starts to get pretty heated.”

“And then all of a sudden we start hearing something up on the roof,” the older man interjected, “jumping around up there. I thought it was a bear or an eagle or something, really loud and big.”

“Made us shut our mouths right quick,” said the woman. “And we all stared up at the ceiling like what the heck is that?!”

The young man continued, “Yes, but don’t forget what you said right before that, mom. This is the part that’s poetic. Just before that, my mom tells my dad, ‘you gotta shake a leg and get out there’ and then…” he stops and laughs for a moment, “…’and, you can’t expect something is gonna just drop out of the sky from heaven for you’. That is exactly what she said, and then…that was right when the Father fell through the skylight, that one right there,” he pointed up at the small square plastic bubble in the ceiling. “Well it wasn’t that one—it was the old one—we had to get it repaired after he came through it, but it wasn’t all of him, just his right leg.” The three started laughing and I looked incredulously at them. “Yes, that’s right, just his leg, from heaven! And then the funniest part, he starts shaking it!”

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” said the woman. “We were all stunned. I couldn’t remember what I was saying.”

“None of us could,” said the older man. “The Father stopped us right in our tracks, which was a good thing, before we said anything more we might have regretted.”

“But then he just pulls his leg back out and leaves,” continued the woman. “He didn’t say a thing. Didn’t say sorry. He never said anything about it. Why was he up there in the first place? And why did he start hoppin’ around up there? And he never offered to buy a new skylight. I got a little upset about that.”

“Yeah, but dad tell him what happened. This is also poetic!” cried the younger man.

“It was something. I took the broken skylight down to the hardware store to see about getting another one, and got to talking with the owner, and one thing leads to another, and before I leave he offers me a job! Part-time, but anything helps! I’ve been working there ever since.”

“Dropped right from heaven!” cried the young man triumphantly, as he leaned back in his seat. “That’s what I’m talking about!”

We all sat silently and drank our beers; occasionally, each of us looking up at the skylight and smiling, or shaking a head, or pondering some secret thought. Eventually, the cans were emptied, and we agreed it was about time to head down to the campfire to hear the Father continue his story.

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 16

After this first unexpected meeting, Richard began to trust Josh and welcomed him back to his home. Very little was spoken between them, but there was a friendship and comradery developing nonetheless. Josh always brought food with him to share, and this, more than anything else, proved his good intentions and sincerity, as far as Richard was concerned. Within a week, he felt confident to return to school again, this time with Josh at his side. They agreed to meet a block from the parking lot and walk together to Richard’s first class.

The morning was bright and already warm, and Richard took this as a good omen as he approached the agreed upon meeting place. He felt lighter and happier going to school this morning than he had before, and he believed his luck was turning for the better. Until he saw someone he didn’t recognize standing with Josh. He wanted to turn around and run, but Josh called out to him, “Richard! Come here, I have someone I want you to meet!”

He froze, unsure of what to do; he wished he hadn’t already been seen and wondered if he could just stand still—maybe they would go away. But they didn’t, and Josh called to him again, “Come on! It’s fine, don’t worry. It’s my sister, you’ll like her!” Reluctantly he walked over to them, and Josh introduced him to Amelia. Bashfully, he stared at the ground, appearing uninterested, but his mind and heart raced and he was actually incredibly interested. Amelia knew not to expect much conversation with Richard, Josh had forewarned her of this; and she understood very quickly that this was to be no ordinary friendship, and she was fine with that.

The three entered the school together, and it caused more disruption than any of them had expected. This was clearly a meaningful event, but what exactly was its meaning? Among the observers, their fellow students and teachers, its meaning was one of several possibilities: one; it was a display of irony on the part of Josh and Amelia and they were acting out a pseudo-friendship as a joke for the amusement of everyone, or two; it was an act of charity to fulfill some class requirement, or to bolster their applications to college, or three; they were being forced into it, perhaps as a punishment in lieu of detention or as some kind of community service. Interestingly, none of the witnesses in school that morning took the position that it was a sincere act, with nothing more than simple friendship as its source. This idea, while entertained briefly by some, seemed ludicrous and far-fetched to them; Josh and Amelia were both attractive and well-liked, and they had everything going for them, so there was no reason for them to befriend someone like Richard. They had nothing to gain from being seen with him, so the meaning of this surprising association clearly had to be one of the first three options. So as the three walked down the main hall of the school, the faces they met at first betrayed surprise, confusion, and disgust; and then, as time elapsed, an increasing sense of understanding, as each witness settled on the meaning that they liked the best.

For Richard, the meaning was something quite different; it meant he finally belonged. He had friends now and he wasn’t alone, which also meant he was safer now, and less vulnerable to attack. These things made him smile—and not merely smile—he positively beamed as he walked down the hallway. With Josh walking beside him on his right he felt now that nobody could harm him; but his mind and senses were totally preoccupied with Amelia who was beside him on his left. She smelled like flowers and cinnamon rolls—fresh and sweet—and this also made him feel safe, but in a different way. She wore a fuzzy sweater that looked very soft and though he didn’t dare touch it, he imagined how it might feel. Her face was too pretty to look at, but he allowed himself to watch her hair out of the corner of his eye; it bounced, and strands of it caught the wind, reflecting sunlight that erupted in something like golden, red and brown flames. Even her hair sometimes was almost too pretty to look at, so he looked at his feet instead.

Amelia could empathize with Richard and put herself in his position, and this motivated her to befriend him. She imagined what it was like to be him, and this put her in touch with her own sadness and anger at life, and with the world; so she believed she could put things right by being his friend and protecting him, and that this somehow would heal her own hurts. Hers was an aesthetic empathy, like a painter might have towards their subject, observing and focusing on details—exploring their object—and learning about themselves in the process.  Her empathy was also like that of an actor’s, who studies another person, trying to understand who they are, their motivations and underlying desires, their struggles and their sufferings, but at a safe distance. Of course, she was willing to immerse herself in her empathy towards Richard up to a point, and her desire to help him was genuine, yet she was also afraid to get too close, or perhaps it was a natural self-preservation that she didn’t want to lose herself in the process. An artist after all is not the painting they paint, nor is an actor actually the character they portray. They still want to recognize the person looking back at them when they look in the mirror; and take a bow after the performance is over.

Josh also felt what it was like to be Richard, yet there were many things about this that he didn’t yet fully understand. It would take years for him to consciously understand what he knew intuitively at a young age; that he could lose himself entirely as he opened himself to the experiences of another. He knew how to empty himself to such a degree that he no longer merely observed another, but actually came to know and believe that he was another. For Josh, there were no strangers, and no outcasts because everyone could potentially be as close as his own family, and known perhaps as fully as he knew himself. One can imagine this ability, or belief, is not without its dangers however, if one fails to recognize and remember important boundaries between themselves and others, or even the limits of their human nature. If one isn’t careful and experienced in this kind of empathy, one might lose themselves entirely, forgetting who they are, or what they are, even to the point of imagining that they are God.

For Josh, many, if not all, dangers of this kind sorted themselves out as he aged and as he gained experience. Although, to be honest, whether they truly did sort themselves out and whether he didn’t suffer some problems related to them, was a matter of debate between those who knew and loved him, and those who didn’t care much for him.

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 15

The next morning Josh scoured the area, looking for a clue that would explain Richard’s surprising disappearance the previous night. But he could find nothing; there was definitely no path leading into the ravine that he could see. And there was no way up into the trees overhead. How had Richard vanished last night? He was certain this was the spot where he lost sight of him, there was no doubt about that. He sat at the base of a Big-Leaf Maple and looked up into the sky above—just windowed views of pale blue, dancing behind soft green foliage, which fluttered gently in the wind. A small bird jumped within the underbrush at the corner of his vision, and he turned to watch it hop from twig to vine, and then out of sight behind the tree.

The vegetation was very dense all along this stretch of the road, and it was forbidding of any passage into the ravine below: with nootka and rugosa roses—thorny and uninviting—intertwined with blackberry vines, mahonia and other native shrubs which formed a bulwark against any human entry. But then something rather strange, just behind the maple tree, woven into the fabric of these natural defenses; Josh noticed a very different pattern within the foliage here, imperceptible at first and easy to miss, but upon closer inspection it was clearly the work of human engineering. Blackberry vines had been woven into a rudimentary framework, with branches and twigs of neighboring shrubs forming a dense outer skin for some type of doorway—a flap really—like that of a tent, which Josh pulled up and towards him, revealing a small opening at ground level behind it. Again, the hole was difficult at first to perceive, and was the result of human manipulation of the native vegetation—vines woven to form the walls of a small tunnel, which ran into the underbrush, and vanished someplace farther down the ravine.

Josh smiled as he peered into the tunnel, “very clever, Richard, now I see what you’ve done.” He was impressed with the idea of the tunnel itself, but even more by the execution of it—so carefully made, and so skillfully hidden in plain sight. It suddenly occurred to Josh that he needed to be very respectful of Richard’s secret; he quickly lowered the flap over the tunnel entrance, and looked cautiously from side to side to make sure nobody saw him. He was well hidden behind the trunk of the large maple tree, so he lifted the flap again and climbed into the tunnel, letting the foliage close behind him.

Meanwhile, as Josh was discovering the secret of Richard’s disappearance, Richard himself was in his home at the other end of the tunnel. His morning had started out unpleasantly because he awoke with a pain in his stomach; he was very hungry. Unfortunately, his efforts to gather food the previous night had been interrupted, and he returned home empty-handed. His hunger was made worse by the memory of what could have been; he had found a box of donuts, and was just pulling it out of the garbage bag when Josh had startled him and made him drop the bag. In his haste to flee for home, he had forgotten to pick the box up again, and only remembered it after he had made it back to his scrape under the cedar trees. He pictured the donuts in his mind now, and groaned because of the gaping hole that image left in his stomach, only making his hunger more profound.

At first, Josh was excited by the aspect of crawling his way along this unusual tunnel, but then his excitement turned to claustrophobia as the daylight waned, and twigs and vines caught at his clothing. The grade began to get steeper too, and he felt the blood rush to his head, making him feel a little dizzy. He never did well in tight spaces, so an urgent panic began to take control of him. He tried to fight it down by concentrating on his breathing and by focusing on the sweet, loamy smell, and the cool sensation of the earth against his body. This helped; as he continued to inch his way forward, pulling himself slowly across the ground. Eventually the grade leveled off and he could see the tunnel brightening up ahead. His hopes rose, as he believed that he must be getting close to the end.

Richard rose from his bed. The birds had begun to make a racket; calling down from the trees, chirping from their places amongst the shrubs—and of those who had been huddling together in the open—scurrying for shelter. It was unusual. Richard glanced at his friends inquisitively, wondering what this all meant. He sat on a cedar stump and looked further down into the ravine where the stream flowed. Very seldom, one or two people might be seen walking through the water down there, and this could rouse his companions; but nobody ever tried to climb up to Richard’s location, the ravine was too steep between the water and him. It never occurred to him that someone might be approaching from the tunnel, so he was thoroughly startled once again by Josh, when he fell out of the brush into a heap on the ground, not far from where Richard was sitting.

Many things flitted through Richard’s mind in quick succession: fear that his home had been found, surprise that Josh found the tunnel and had made it all the way through, concern about what would happen next, and then humor that Josh was once again sprawled out upon the ground before him. Why did he always do that? Richard wondered, then he laughed. It worried him greatly that his secret home had been discovered, but the spectacle of Josh lying on the ground made him forget this for the moment. Josh hadn’t intended to make such an entrance, but he accepted the wisdom of it when he saw Richard’s reaction. Fate, or something, had willed it and had made provision for their meeting by thoroughly disarming Richard by this ridiculous impromptu entrance, and it allowed Josh to endear himself in a way that he never could have done intentionally.

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The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 14

“What happened?” Amelia asked, as they watched Richard continue to shuffle down the sidewalk, periodically turning to see if anyone was in pursuit.

“Actually—he laughed at me. I think it helped him relax a little bit,” Josh answered.

“I bet he was relieved, to laugh at someone else for once,” said Amelia. “Not to be the butt of everyone else’s jokes for a change. That was horrible, Josh. Did you see the terror in his face, and the misery?”

“Yes I did. It was hard to watch. I felt it in my chest, like I couldn’t breathe.”

“I couldn’t look any longer, I had to turn away.”

“You’re right though, Aim, everyone is relieved to laugh at someone else. To take the pressure off themselves, and give the blame to someone else, to point the finger so they can hide in the shadows, even in plain sight and in broad daylight. Richard is their scapegoat. We’d all like one. I felt it, didn’t you feel the temptation?”

Amelia didn’t answer at first but stared painfully at her brother. “Yes…I did. For a moment I wanted to laugh a little bit too.”

“I did laugh, Amelia. I felt complete hatred for Richard over there, I felt it course through me and I could have accepted it. I easily could have said, alright, this guy deserves it and I’m going to give it to him, and it’s going to feel really good. And everyone else is doing it, so all the better, I won’t even look especially bad as I do it.”

Amelia looked with horror at Josh with her mouth slightly ajar. “What are you saying?!”

“Don’t worry. I didn’t feel that way for long, and besides I didn’t entertain those hideous thoughts or feelings, I’m just saying I noticed them. I’m no different than anyone else in that mob, I could easily have done what any of them did, other than that I chose not to. Why? Because I felt the pain and sadness of Richard too. I felt as if everyone was yelling and laughing at me, I really felt as though I was standing next to him in there, and everyone was doing that to me. I felt my humanity drain out of me and I began to believe what they were saying about me. I lost any sight of my worth, for a moment, and accepted that I was less than a human, but it made me angry. And it made me sad, incredibly sad.”

“He looked so sad, he must be very sad. And alone. I don’t suppose people would pick on him so much if he had friends. We should be his friends, Josh. Oh, God do we have to be his friends? I’m sorry, it’s just so much easier not to worry about him. What am I saying?”

“Aim, you’re right. He needs someone on his side. I’ve seen him, he’s always alone, and he has nobody. Nobody makes him laugh. I think we should try to be his friends.”

It was unspoken between them at that moment, but both Amelia and Josh weighed the cost of being Richard’s friend. Would they bring his status up among the other students, or would he drag their status down? Probably it would happen a little both ways; Richard would be more accepted and he’d be left alone, while at the same time they would get some ridicule from their peers. Amelia decided it was worth it, and screw anyone who doesn’t like it; Josh knew it would be better for Richard this way, and also figured some ridicule might actually do himself some good. He found the prospect of befriending Richard a little exciting and exhilarating; and decided that it might be an adventure they all would enjoy.

Later that afternoon they went out for a sail in Amelia’s boat and worked on a plan. They decided that Josh should try to become friends with Richard first, since he already made Richard laugh, and then if that worked, Amelia could join them and they all could spend time together. Since there were only a few weeks left in the school year they had to work fast before they lost track of Richard for the summer.

The rest of the week however, Richard was nowhere to be seen. Josh spent his breaks and lunches searching the school for him but without success. Meanwhile, Richard had retreated to his home in the trees following his ordeal that Monday morning and hadn’t come back out, except during the nights when he searched for food. The school trash cans were the most likely places to find discarded food, but he had to act quickly because they were emptied each evening by nine or ten. Since the days were growing longer this really only gave him about an hour, or a little more, of darkness for cover, to safely search the schools for his meals before they would be removed and dumped. In the event he was too late for the school garbage, there were both the dumpsters behind the grocery store and the café. But the one behind the grocery was often locked or difficult for him to climb into since it was so large. The one behind the café however was smaller and was never locked, so he found discarded pastries, burnt cakes, pieces of bacon and toast; plenty of edibles could be gathered there to stay alive.

It was the dumpster behind the café that Josh found Richard that Saturday night. Josh was riding his bike home from work, and he often cut through town past the alley which ran behind the café, when he noticed Richard sifting through a garbage bag. Richard hadn’t noticed Josh, as he quietly got off his bike and cautiously walked up the alley. He hoped to get close enough to talk, before Richard discovered him and ran away. They were only a few yards apart when Josh spoke quietly, “Richard.”

Richard was startled and dropped the bag and stared wildly at Josh, but froze, unsure whether to fight or run. Josh knew this was his chance, and since it had so worked well last time, he lowered himself again to the ground, kneeling and looking up at Richard. Inexplicably, Richard began to smile and started to giggle and then point at Josh.

“I don’t want to hurt you, Richard. Trust me. I think we can be friends. I want to be friends.”

Richard took a step closer, then glanced up and down the alley, squinting into the shadows and trying to discover the trap he was certain must be laid for him.

“My name is Josh. I think you and I are alike, we can be friends. Would you like that?” Josh asked hopefully.

Richard stopped smiling and looked intently at Josh, prostrate on the ground before him. He couldn’t understand why he was down there, or what it meant. It was funny though, and made him laugh, but what did he want? Why did he want to be his friend? It must be a trick. He stepped backwards and then turned and ran up the alley, away from this trap whatever it might be; he became very frightened as he ran and suddenly felt very alone. He left the alley and ran as fast as he could back to the ravine where he lived.

Meanwhile, Josh got on his bike and followed at a distance, keeping Richard in view but hiding in the shadows as he went. He hoped to discover Richard’s house; as he followed, he grew certain which neighborhood it must be, and he noted this so that he could remember where to find him in the daytime. But then suddenly he vanished. They had just crossed a small bridge and turned to the left, and Richard was only half a block ahead and easy to see under the street lights, but then, somewhere between one light and the next, in the shadows between them, he was gone.

Josh got off his bike and walked back and forth along this section of the road, glancing into the trees, trying to find a driveway or path, but there was nothing. He had just disappeared; could he be up in a tree? Josh looked up into the canopy overhead trying to find someone up there. But that was unlikely, it was doubtful Richard with his physical limitations could have climbed a tree that quickly, if at all. After a little more searching along the margins of the underbrush, Josh gave up for the night. He decided to return tomorrow in the daylight, and try again.

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 13

The events which Amelia was alluding to occurred decades in the past, in her senior year of high school; but the relationships and emotions which led to these events, formed a year earlier than that, at the very end of her junior year. In fact, if one were to trace all of the various threads back to their origins, one would come to a very specific moment in time and a very particular place on the school grounds where all of this began.

It was a Monday morning, before the first class of the day. As Josh and Amelia arrived they noticed a very large group of students gathered in front of the school. It appeared that nearly the entire student body was present, and had formed a large ring around something, or someone, hidden somewhere deep within. It was a strange and foreboding sight, and they looked at each other warily, unsure of the meaning of this impromptu gathering but sensing something wasn’t right about it. Additional students arrived from various directions, some running, some walking, but all drawn as if by a magnet; or like moths to a light.

They approached with trepidation because they were unable to simply walk away. It was too curious and unprecedented to miss out on entirely. They even jogged to get there a little faster, both feeling uneasy about what they might see, but wanting to be sure to see it as quickly as possible nonetheless. They stood on their toes trying to see what was happening further in; many other students also had no idea what this was all about. However, many others understood, and these were either laughing or jeering, or yelling out obscenities, or in some cases talking in loud distorted and exaggerated voices, as one might do when making fun of someone’s intelligence.

Within moments Josh understood that this was not an innocuous gathering at all, but rather had the elements and ugliness of a mob. It was baffling to him how this could have originated as if out of thin air; there had never been such a gathering before in his experience at any school he had ever attended. Amelia also began to understand the cruelty of what she was witnessing and the horror of it began to overtake her. They looked at each other with growing apprehension and fear. The mob moved and swayed like one organism— like an amoeba—growing denser at one end one moment, undulating, and then shifting to another end the next. As the group shifted, the way opened to Josh and Amelia so they could finally see into the middle; and for the first time view the focus of all the rage and vitriol being expressed by so many of their fellow students. It was just a boy, one skinny boy. That was all. They looked at each other incredulously, trying to make sense of it, but neither could find the answer in the other’s face.  They looked back to the boy, they both recognized him but didn’t know him personally.

They knew his name was Richard but not much more than that. They had seen him being bullied before, because of his appearance and his speech impediment. He was an easy target. But they had never seen such force brought against him. Typically it was just one, or maybe two guys making fun of him for a moment or two, then Richard would run away, and that would be it. But this was completely disproportionate and overwhelming, and utterly devastating. Amelia began to get tears in her eyes, and looked down at the ground to avoid seeing any more. Josh looked intently at the terror-stricken creature cowering not more than 20 yards away, in the midst of a sea of hostile faces. It struck Josh that Richard no longer seemed human, in a way, but had rather transformed, in some strange and indescribable way, into a wild animal.

As Josh was apprehending this thought, and grappling with the incongruities of this entire experience—the meanness of his friends, the ferocity of the crowd, the littleness and insignificance of Richard in comparison to the size of the masses against him, with no justification that Josh could comprehend to satisfy any tangible reason for such a stark display of cruelty—Richard caught sight of his way out, and he bolted past Josh and out into the parking lot, running aimlessly and without direction, confused and irrational.

And without a clear understanding of his purpose, Josh darted after him, saying to Amelia, “I’ll be back, everything is okay.” She looked at him with surprise and concern and smiled wanly as he turned and ran into the parking lot after Richard. He easily caught up to him since Richard stumbled repeatedly over his lazy foot as he ran. But as he got closer Josh slowed and then stopped pursuing, seeing that Richard covered his face and head with his arms anticipating blows from Josh. His heart sank when he realized that Richard thought he might hit or attack in some way; and he felt it was a mistake having chased after him, causing him more fear.

“No, no, no, I’m not going to hurt you,” pleaded Josh. “Please, don’t worry.” He held both hands and arms up in the air with palms facing out towards Richard, hoping he would understand that he meant no harm. “I want to help you, I am so sorry about what happened back there.” He moved slowly towards Richard, with his arms still outstretched but he lowered them as he got near.

Richard’s face was squeezed tightly, his lips and nose puckered gruesomely, and he wheezed as he stood staring at Josh. He kept his arms up, partially shielding his face and head, in case his pursuer decided to attack after all. He didn’t trust Josh, and wondered what new insult or aggression was coming. Preemptively, he hollered and grunted at Josh and spat towards him.

Instinctively, Josh knelt down and looked up at Richard, and then down at the ground. Again, he wasn’t certain of his purpose, but it intuitively seemed like a good idea, and might work to calm Richard’s fears. He waited with his face to the ground to see what Richard would do. Nobody moved for several moments. “I’m not going to hurt you,” Josh repeated and looked up into Richard’s eyes. He was startled by what he saw.

Richard looked down at Josh and didn’t understand why he suddenly had gotten on the ground but it struck him funny. He snickered and then laughed loudly. He pointed at Josh kneeling before him and laughed and then looked up into the trees smiling. He hugged himself and stood that way for a while as Josh got back to his feet. Richard backed away, then turned and ran across the street and down the sidewalk as Amelia came up to Josh’s side.

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 12

The next day I decided to visit Amelia’s art store and gallery with the intention of meeting her, and possibly learning more about what exactly happened back in the Father’s youth that led to a prison term. On the way there I observed something very remarkable that left a strong impression in my mind; subsequently, I heard several others who also witnessed the event share their differing point of view.

We have a relatively large number of people living on the streets in our town. One man spends most of his days in the square at the center of town; sleeping many nights on one of the benches that line the square, or else in the park across the street to the southwest. I’ve never met him but he is typically bundled up inside several coats, one of which hangs down close to his knees and covers most of the holes in his tattered pants. His shoes are torn and appear to have little or no soles any longer.

As I walked past the town square I first noticed Father Davidson’s bicycle, leaning against the back of a bench. His was the only bicycle I’ve ever seen with packages hanging from the frame so it caught my eye. On the bench sat the homeless man, with Father Davidson sitting on the ground at the man’s feet. He was smiling and laughing with the man on the bench as he pulled his left shoe off and put it on the man’s foot. I stopped to watch as he placed his right shoe on the man’s other foot and then laced them both up for the man. The old tattered shoes, he tossed into a nearby garbage can and then sat on the bench, and the two men continued to laugh together. I was struck by the humility of both men: one man willing to allow another to dress him, and the other willing to sit on the ground before the first. Next the two men embraced for a moment before Father Davidson got on his bike and rode away.  My eyes were drawn to his bare feet as he pedaled down the street. For me, there was something very powerful and beautiful in those bare feet as I watched them go round and round before he disappeared around the corner.

As I walked past the coffee shop a moment later, I saw Lilian and Apollo looking out the window, and Dian was standing in the doorway. I smiled as I passed by, and she commented, as she gestured towards the bench with a nod of her head: “Some spectacle, and that’s why we have the homeless filling the park.”

“I thought it was very kind,” I replied.

“Yes, I know. He likes the attention. But it’s all for show. It’s not good for anyone, they need more than some shoes, but he keeps them coming. Word gets around and they come, more and more vagrants every day. They need more help, they can’t get it here in the park. Not good for business either. It’s a shame.” She shook her head in disapproval.

Then from inside the coffee shop: “Another morality play, huh, Dian?!” called Apollo and the three of them laughed.

“Brought to you by the good Father himself,” scoffed Dian. And they laughed again.

I wanted to defend Father Davidson to them, and also defend the act of humanity that he displayed just then on the park bench, but I felt it would be a waste of time. Slightly demoralized, I walked to Amelia’s store. Granted, the Father wasn’t going to solve the homeless problem simply by giving someone his shoes, but I don’t think he was trying to solve the homeless problem. Knowing what I did about Father Davidson I think he was only trying to solve one man’s shoe problem. Others may have wanted to turn it into a political or moral statement but I doubted that the Father ever intended it that way.

Inside Amelia’s I wandered the aisles looking for nothing in particular, while determining how to strike up a conversation with Amelia. Just then another customer spoke, “I saw your brother giving his shoes to that homeless guy on the bench. That was nice; but it’s kind of a waste of time isn’t it?”

“Why? I don’t think so,” answered Amelia. “Besides, he wasn’t just giving him shoes. It’s more than that, I think.”

I was interested in this conversation so I moved closer and grabbed something off the nearest shelf pretending to examine it while listening.

“Oh, I only saw him give his shoes. I didn’t see anything else. Still, you can’t help those people, most of them are on drugs or have mental problems anyway.”

Amelia rolled her eyes and sighed, “You’ll never get it, will you? My brother is just acknowledging them, showing that they matter. He gives them a little taste of family. That’s all.”

“Okay, okay. I get it. Just seems a little late for that, it’s not going to change any of them, if that’s what he’s hoping. I’m not saying he isn’t a good guy. It’s great he wants to give them his shoes, if that’s what he wants, it just doesn’t make any difference.”

“How do you know, Mark?! How do you know it doesn’t make a huge difference?! Did you ask them, did they tell you that?! I mean, I see you out there talking with them all the time, so you must know, right?”

“Okay, I’m sorry. Aim, it’s okay, we don’t need to fight about this. I’m sorry.”

“No, you ignore them just like everyone else does. You don’t talk to them, and you don’t find out what they think. You don’t know anything about them.”

“All right, I’m sorry. I just wanted to say hi, let you know I saw your brother. Just trying to be nice, that’s all. We can talk again another time. See you around, Aim.” Mark said as he backed out of the store and left.

I glanced up to look at Amelia and she caught me. Uncomfortably, I tried to look away but I then looked back at her, knowing I had been discovered. “I’m sorry about that. I agree he doesn’t get it. I love what your brother does.”

Amelia looked intently at me and said, “Oh, I know you. I’ve seen you, I’ve seen you down at the campfire sometimes, you know my brother.”

“Yes I do, I admire him. Has he always been like that, helping people? I can’t understand why Mark doesn’t see that.”

“Oh. Mark’s an idiot. I’ve known him since we were kids. He’s always been an idiot. We dated off and on. I guess I like idiots. Anyway, I’m Amelia and you are…?”

“Francis, nice to meet you.”

“Likewise. Sorry about that, what you just heard. Mark’s a good guy but he has never understood Josh. My brother. Well, sometimes it seems that nobody does.”

“He’s gotten some bad press it seems,” I answered. “Hard to understand.”

“People don’t want to forgive—some people—they don’t let go. They don’t believe that someone can change. They don’t give them the benefit of the doubt. They won’t empathize, will they? They won’t move on and let others move on. It’s not that hard to understand. But it is maddening.”

“Yes, true,” I nodded in agreement. “I know we’ve only just met, but can I be of help in any way? Can I help your brother? Or you?”

“He can look after himself. But it’s always been this way, and I guess it always will be. We’re fine. This town is too small though. Too many memories and hurt feelings. Things just got crazy a long time ago, a little out of control. I expected too much, I guess. We’re fine.” She smiled quickly, and turned to arrange some things on the shelf behind her.

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 11

Father Davidson continued: “I was only a visitor at Mar Saba. I was given a glimpse at spiritual giants—just a child among men, really—allowed a brief sojourn amongst the angels.  At least that is how it felt to me. Elder Lazarus, and the other monks, illustrated how it is to live from the inside outward. What are we, all of us…what are you, when stripped of all artifice so that your inner life is revealed for all to see? Imagine if that inner self could be what you wished and hoped it would be…so that, what you see is what you get. No deception, no more hiding the truth of yourself behind a falsified personality.”

“Some look at the face of a monk and they see something stern, maybe even mean, because they may not be smiling, or laughing; but no, the monk that has achieved stillness and has found themselves is gentle like the deer, and warm like the risen sun.”

“Once, two of the brothers entered into an argument, each blaming the other. Tension and animosity grew between them but they were unwilling to make peace. Each prayed fervently before the altar of God, even acting as though they had forgiven, but in their hearts they still harbored anger. Elder Lazarus saw the danger they faced and eventually intervened.”

“One day the Elder was standing on the garden terrace. He appeared deep in thought, with his eyes closed; and his lips were moving. I thought he was singing a song so I listened for a while. A small dove was standing on the ground not far from the Elder, and it appeared to be listening as well. Soon, one of the fighting brothers came close and watched the dove; and not long afterwards the other brother, who had been fighting the first, also came near to watch the dove.”

“Each of the brothers stared intently at the small bird, seemingly transfixed by it, their faces tense. Suddenly, as if out of thin air, one of the monastery cats jumped on the bird, grabbed it violently by the neck, shaking it from side to side while running off with it. Both brothers gasped, horrified, and jumped backward, completely surprised by the cat. With mouths half opened they turned to watch the cat leap over a low wall with the bird still in its mouth.”

‘There you are,’ cried Elder Lazarus. ‘Each thinking that you are the dove, calling the other the cat. But each of you know in your heart, that you alone are the cat—attacking and destroying the innocence of the other.’

“The brothers turned to the Elder and fell to the ground sobbing, repenting. After that day everyone could see that peace had returned to their hearts.”

“When I first arrived at Mar Saba,” Father Davidson continued, “I stayed in a small cell adjoining another cell of the same size, connected by a smaller antechamber which led out to one of the many hallways of the monastery. I was very grateful for the presence of the monk in the other cell—though we hardly spoke to one another—because I often felt quite lonely, having left my home and country, my family and friends, and nearly all of my possessions behind.”

“I speculated that even if a loved one were to find Mar Saba itself, far out in the Judean desert, they likely still couldn’t find me, hidden away someplace within its labyrinth of hallways, staircases, terraces, rooms behind rooms, rooms below rooms, caverns, and caves. Often the only sounds one could hear all day were the wind as it whistled through a crack in the wall, or one’s own breathing.”

“As one dives deeper into the solitude of the desert, many divisions shed away. Time itself attains an eternal quality—the past, present and future merging together—a quality that affects material space in unexpected ways. One of the oldest monks, Father Elijah, had dwelled in the silence of the desert for most of his life; he appeared to be in his late nineties, perhaps older, but was still able to serve at the altar during the weekly Liturgy, and I often saw him walking the halls, or heard him praying late at night by candlelight in his cave near the monastery’s northern wall.”

“I first met him in a semi-darkened hallway as he silently made his way towards me; his black cassock concealing him nearly completely from view. As we passed each other I saw only his face in the fading light and to my worldly eyes he appeared almost as a ghost—pale and lifeless, expressionless, and his skin nearly translucent. His appearance was very unsettling and I felt the hairs on my neck stand on end. As I spent more time observing him however, I came to a different conclusion about him.”

“His uncanny appearance gradually changed as I observed him serve during Liturgies; he was not as one dead but incredibly alive. Physically he certainly appeared near the grave, or maybe returned from it, but deeper within his countenance a different energy radiated from him, a light that could not quite be called such, but appeared similar to light nonetheless. Sometimes as I watched him he seemed almost to fade from view, so that I had to look again, very intently, to bring him back into my vision. Sometimes it seemed as though he wasn’t there at all one moment, and then he appeared again briefly, before vanishing once again. At night he merged with the darkness, and in the daylight his face, the only visible part of him, merged with the sunlight and the surrounding desert rock so it appeared that his cassock was standing up on its own.”

“One evening during the apodipnon, or compline service, just before bed, I observed Father Elijah standing against a side wall of the nave as the service was concluding. As usual, by candlelight, I wasn’t at first sure if he was really there or was instead one of the icons painted upon the walls. I moved quietly towards him to get a closer look to confirm his presence in the room, and then focused once more on the final prayers to Jesus Christ. After the service, he was gone, though I hadn’t seen him leave, nor had I heard the doors of the church open or close, and they were notoriously squeaky doors.”

“I hurried to my room, and on the way I turned and climbed partially up the stairs leading to Father Elijah’s cave. At the top I could see his candlelight flowing out through the cave opening and I heard him saying his prayers. How this old man had vanished from the service, and had somehow managed to climb up to his cave before me I couldn’t comprehend.”

Adam interrupted Father Davidson: “So did he time travel? Is that what you are getting at? Or could he walk through walls or something?”

“It’s a mystery,” replied Father Davidson. “Like so many things in the desert, or in the spiritual life for that matter. But don’t mistake what I’m saying: mystery is not the defeat of reason, or a lazy resignation to what is unknown or unknowable. Mystery is not fantasy; it is the essential foundation for humility. And humility is what we all need in order to begin to understand these things. Without mystery, and without humility, we only think we understand, or we dismiss the possibilities; and our presumption and our pride hems us in, and causes us to become foolish. It is time for me to retire, let’s continue again tomorrow night.”

Father Davidson returned to his cabin, the others made their way back to their tent and RV, and I drove home pondering the Father’s story and his statement about mystery. Could I accept mystery? I come from a world that demands answers, and values the intellectual conquest of the unknown. Mystery is unsettling—fine in a story—but difficult to endure in real life.


The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 10

After I left the coffee shop I wandered through town a bit before returning to my car. Dian had said to talk with Amelia, Father Davidson’s younger sister, if I wanted to learn more about his past; and I knew where to find her. She owned an art store and gallery just a short stroll away, and nothing stopped me from heading over there right now and talking with her. As I walked in that direction I went over in my mind what I might say to her. I’d never met her before and it seemed invasive, or rude, to just start asking her questions about her family history. It was no business of mine after all; and what craziness made me seek to pry into their affairs anyway? This activity people have of entering into the business of others, whether with good motives or bad, always annoyed me and I considered it to be a waste of time at best, and hurtful and destructive most of the time. However, in this case I wanted to know more, I felt an urgency to know the truth about Father Davidson’s past. So, as is often the case with these sorts of things, I corralled my reasons and lined them up behind my desires, in order to justify my actions, which otherwise I would have disavowed and found irksome in others.

With a mollified conscience, at least for the moment, I hastened to Amelia’s store. At the window however, I paused unable to enter. I glanced nonchalantly through the window and discerned a few ladies standing near the cash register towards the back of the building. I suspected one of them was Amelia and then I lost my nerve. Was it conscience, or embarrassment that stopped me? I’d like to think I decided to do the right thing for the good of all mankind, as a silent protest against the human habit of meddling. Perhaps. But I suspect it was simple vanity instead, an aversion to placing myself in an uncomfortable situation; one in which there was a high likelihood of looking foolish or boorish, or both.

Suddenly at ease, and with a subtle sense of having avoided a social catastrophe, I gently exhaled and walked slowly across the storefront while glancing at the things inside the windows. I couldn’t help but smile as I looked at the art supplies: paper, brushes, pens, paints, books teaching how-to draw this and that, and on an easel a schedule of classes by Amelia herself—drawing and painting landscapes, capturing the innocence and beauty of wildlife, techniques using pen and ink, and several other classes. I filed this away in my mind, and considered taking a class or two from her in the future. Further along, in the windows on the other side of the front door, gallery items were displayed; paintings by local artists including Amelia, a wide variety of pottery, abstract and animal sculptures, fused glass and some jewelry. Towards the back of the gallery was another small room, warmly lit and inviting, but I couldn’t see what was displayed in there. I decided definitely to return and take a look inside the store at another time.

Later, that evening I drove to the orchard to hear the Father continue his story. I took my place around the fire and as I waited for him to begin, I reflected on the uniqueness, at least for me, of having a daily story time like this. I remember telling stories around the campfire as a child, telling ghost stories and that sort of thing, but those were typically one-off things, reserved for summer vacations or something special, but never part of my daily run-of-the-mill routine. I briefly lamented living now in such a visual and digital culture. Not that I don’t enjoy a great television series or movie, but a story, told orally, or read from a book, allows one’s whole being to expand a little bit through the effort of one’s imagination. This mental, and emotional work draws us into direct relationship with the story itself in ways that we cannot do with visual storytelling.  But hearing a story or reading a book takes a lot of time—time is what we’ve lost now—and time is what we cannot seem able to find again. These things were jostling around in my head, when Father Davidson sat down and began his story again:

“Let me ask you, is there anything to be gained from looking at a stone, do you think? Well, wait…I must first apologize to all of you. Last night, you asked how it is possible to commune with another person from many centuries ago; how Elder Lazarus could confide as a friend in John Damascene, who lived long before us, and I cryptically answered that time is a funny thing. I was foolish to be so flippant about such a mystery, please forgive me for my arrogance and my presumption. That question deserves a real answer and I’m sorry that I do not know.”

I noticed several of our group shift uncomfortably in our chairs, as the Father continued: “I know some of you hope that I am some special kind of saint, but I’m not. I know a little, but not a lot. I am only learning, and I can only hope to point you in His direction, if it is God’s will and by His grace, that we may together find that good way aiming squarely at Him. Now, this aim is the entire reason for the stillness of the desert which I want to share with you, for there is no other person, or purpose for which one could sanely give up the noise and purposes of this world. We don’t empty ourselves merely for the sake of emptying but for the sake of being filled by the Creator of all. This is the meaning of my story of the desert.”

“Now. The desert is filled with stone, walls of rock everywhere you turn. Mar Saba, the monastery I was blessed to call home, is built against the side of such a wall of rock. Its foundations rise up from rock, its walls merge with the cliff face, terraces of rooflines and walkways cascade down the cliff like so many layers of sediment—building built upon building over the centuries—windows punctuating the rock like little nests, and copper cupolas like little saucers turned upside-down, rising up from the jagged cliff, announcing that man has survived here, and is flourishing in this hostile place. Man came from the rock, from dirt, and man is merging with it once again. Man has built upon the rock, and man is being taught by it forevermore.”

“But what can a rock possibly teach us? It depends entirely on our heart and what our heart is prepared to receive. Most of the time, for most of us, our heart is entirely overwhelmed by our mind—a flurry of thoughts swirling incessantly, desires seeking endless activity and entertainment, ambitions that take us far from the truth of ourselves, countless lies and deceptions that we tell ourselves and others—and in these ways, and in other ways too, our mind obscures the working of our heart, covering it under layers and layers of psychological and emotional sediment, turning it to stone. The desert helps reverse this process, transforming our stony hearts back into flesh; it reveals a spring within us rising up from a still pool of sweetness. Finding that still pool, discovering that stillness, this is among the first things that contemplating the rock will teach us.”


The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 9

Amelia was the youngest of three siblings. The Davidson children were Meg, Josh, and then Amelia. Her older siblings could talk your ear off: Meg was commanding, while Josh was imaginative and could tell a good story. So Amelia took a more laid-back and quieter role as a counterpoint to them; although once you got to know her, she was no less engaging than her two older siblings. She was sensitive and smart, and loved beauty. At an early age she was drawn to art and literature, and she possessed an intuitive understanding of things far deeper than many adults. She could see into the depths of things, and of people, so that her love of beauty achieved a refinement that exceeded most people’s, enabling her to see beauty where others were unable.

In seventh grade she did a report on Amelia Earhart, choosing the topic because she shared the same first name, of course. She fell in love with airplanes, and flying, and decided that she wanted to be a pilot. Her parents weren’t wealthy and couldn’t afford to indulge her new-found passion with flight lessons, but her father had the idea to teach her sailing instead. The family owned a small sailing dinghy and kept it at the local marina; so, over the summer between her seventh and eighth grade years he taught her how to sail. Sailing began as a great disappointment for Amelia; it was far less romantic than the idea of flying into the clouds chasing adventures. But over time the disappointment gave way to a reluctant pleasure, and eventually she came to love sailing even more than her previous dream of being a pilot.

Amelia admired her older brother Josh and trusted him more than any other person, because he was more like her than anyone else. He understood her. When she was upset he usually knew how to make her feel better and when she had a problem he listened and cared. She often confided in him, and he had an uncanny ability to predict what she was about to say and how she felt about something even before she spoke. The two spent many hours together in Amelia’s little sailboat, laughing when he would finish her thoughts, and also just passing time in silence—communing with one another and with the world around them—in a way that mysteriously forged life-long bonds of devotion.

How is it that these bonds can sneak up on us so magically and unexpectedly? Often we have no way of knowing at the time they are being forged—imperceptibly—how they come to be, and in what manner they grow over time. We look back to find the moment that they sprang forth out of nothing, but we cannot pinpoint a particular moment. But we are transformed together, within the complex matrix of this natural world; and then made into something heavenly—matter infused with spirit, souls intermingled as friends and family forever.

Amelia and Josh were bound together in this way, as family and as friends; and naturally out of these intimate bonds there arose between them many solemn agreements and oaths. One such solemn pact is of particular note and importance that it should be shared now so that you, the reader, may better understand what transpires in the following chapters of Father Davidson’s story:

It was late winter, the two had been sailing together for much of the day, staying within the shelter of the cove. The water was choppy, but manageable for a talented sailor like Amelia, and not nearly as dangerous as the waters in the bay beyond. The small, light craft sliced through the water, bouncing slightly as it glided over and through the waves. The little sail was full and taut, and pulled them forcefully forward, yanking on the lines in her hands like an eager puppy pulling at his leash. The boat chased some imaginary prey just beyond its reach, its bow lurching slightly to the left and to the right searching, searching for something just over the next wave.

As Amelia tacked she caught sight of something, or someone in the waves off the starboard side. She yelled to Josh to look and pointed in the direction of the lifeless form some thirty yards away. As she pulled close she let the sail down and used a paddle to try to slow the boat’s momentum. It was clearly a person, face-down in the waves and motionless. Josh pulled some lengths of webbing stashed in the stern of the boat then tied them off to the tiller.

“Aim, I don’t think we can pull them in. Try to keep the boat close, and I’m going to try to pull them up to the stern, and see if we can tie them off somehow using the webbing.” Josh took his shoes and jacket off, then jumped into the water and swam to the body. He was a strong swimmer and was able to grasp the person around the chest, turn them over, and pull them up partially onto his chest as he leaned back into the waves, with one arm clasping them close. Amelia had actually brought the sailboat closer to them, which impressed Josh, though he didn’t have much time to think about this fact until much later. As he approached the stern of the boat he hit his head against the side and momentarily saw stars as the sharp pain engulfed him. Had he more time he may have indulged the pain, but adrenaline, and the sure knowledge that time was not to be wasted now prevented him from yielding to it, and he worked hard to pull the body up to the back of the boat where Amelia then grabbed and held the person firmly by the jacket. He turned and quickly grabbed at the lengths of webbing and managed to wrap them under the arms and around the torso before tossing the ends back into the boat.

“Hurry!” Amelia yelled. “I’m losing my grip, I’m going to lose her.” She could see now that the newcomer was a woman.

Josh scrambled up over the side and back into the boat. He then took hold of the woman and yanked her up out of the water as well as he could. He was a strong young man and managed to get her chest out of the water as Amelia pulled at the webbing, taking the slack out, and then tied it tightly around the tiller. With the extra webbing Josh reached under water at the woman’s pants and found what he hoped for—belt loops—which he managed to thread the webbing through in several places and then brought the ends back up and tied these also off to the tiller. In this way Amelia and Josh created a makeshift sling that kept the woman’s body partially up out of the water.

Amelia raised the sail and with some difficulty steered the boat back towards the marina. The weight of the woman attached at several points along the tiller didn’t make maneuvering the small craft very easy but she did it. Josh couldn’t tell if the woman was breathing, her jacket was too heavy to see, and the wind was blowing too much to feel for breath. It was impossible to do CPR properly with her in this position, but he could at least help her with some oxygen he decided. So as Amelia piloted the little sailboat to the dock he began to exhale deeply into her mouth, in hopes of filling the woman’s lungs with air. He didn’t think she was dead yet although he couldn’t be certain. He could be certain however, that she had been drinking earlier in the day because she smelled and tasted of some kind of alcohol.

Back at the marina they finally had help: the woman was hoisted up onto the dock by several of the marina workers, proper CPR was administered, and she was taken by ambulance to the hospital. The paramedics said she had a good chance of survival.

On the long walk back home from the marina Amelia and Josh walked in silence for much of the way; but suddenly Amelia burst out crying.

“That poor woman! Why did she do that?!” She turned and looked at Josh.

He knew what she meant, and had come to the same conclusion himself. They both believed that she had tried to commit suicide. He looked into her eyes, “I’m sorry Aim. I don’t know. A lot of pain I guess.”

She continued to sob. “We have to help her, we have to help people. She looked so alone, so frightened.”

To most observers it would be a stretch to think that one could see loneliness and terror in the face of an unconscious, practically dead person. But Amelia and Josh both saw and recognized the pain this woman was carrying as if it were a physical feature.

“She shouldn’t have to die. It’s so ugly. Death is so horrible and ugly. I hate it!” she screamed and then sobbed quietly for a moment, “You have to save her Josh. Don’t let her die so frightened and alone.”

“Okay, Aim.” Josh answered sincerely. “I will do whatever I can to help her. I promise.”

Amelia wiped her face with her sleeve and looked around at the trees. She took a deep breath and then sighed. “We have to promise each other only to help. We can’t hurt anyone. Please. From now on we only help…and save…people, animals, everything. I don’t want them in pain.” She looked up at her brother with resolve, almost angrily, pleading with him.

“Okay, Aim. I promise.” Josh agreed, though he felt a weight descend upon him and he worried would he be able to keep this promise. But he had to, for Amelia, for others. She was right, of course, it was the way required of him.

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The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 8

Before continuing with Father Davidson’s story, it would first be helpful for the reader to learn more about Richard, because his story plays such an important role in the early life of the Father. And ultimately, his relationship with Richard is what set the course and trajectory for the remainder of Father Davidson’s entire life.

Richard was tall and thin but his body was twisted slightly to the left due to a curvature in his spine, so he didn’t stand as tall as he actually was. He held his right arm up close to his chest most of the time, with his right hand hanging flaccidly at the end, so that he somewhat resembled a bird with a broken wing. His right ankle also lacked strength, so that his toes pointed slightly inward and his foot dragged along the ground a bit when he walked; this was mostly imperceptible, but when he ran, he moved with a pronounced limp. He had an attractive face, but unfortunately most people he met never recognized this, due to a chronic spasm which caused his mouth and nose to pucker—giving him a look of perpetual disgust.  His voice was high and nasally, which didn’t endear him to the girls, of whom he deeply desired to be endearing.

He was prone to fits of anger, so this made it scary and difficult for others to get close to him, and caused him to live much of his life alone; so he was lonely most of the time. Most of his energy he expended on running away, and on finding places of relative safety. His father was usually drunk, his mother generally too busy, and his siblings totally embarrassed and horrified by his presence; so his home was not a safe place. At school he had no friends, and his teachers—they put on a brave face—on a good day they could be cordial towards him; but most days they tried their best to ignore him, hoping he might go away.

They often got their wish. Whenever possible Richard retreated to a place of refuge he had found not far from his Junior High School—a short distance off the path he took to and from his home. It was down in a ravine, through thick underbrush which nobody but he had ever tried to pass. Were it not for a group of kids from school who chased him into the ravine one day he never would have found it. Terror-stricken he pushed his way into the brambles, and though they tore at his face, he kept pushing and pushing through until eventually he came out the other side into a small opening under the trees, beside a little stream. It was quiet, it was safe; and he loved it.

For the remainder of his adolescence he considered this place his home. Over time, he brought planks of wood and arranged them in a semblance of walls, which he fashioned between the trunks of several closely growing cedar trees. During the rainy months, the trees shed most water off of his little home, but he brought some pieces of plastic that he had found, and was able to string them up to make a serviceable roof to catch any water that came down from the foliage above. He had blankets and a pillow that he brought from his bedroom.

He liked the feeling of safety that he experienced in his forest home, and most of the time he liked the solitude. When he was with his family, in his other home, his life was difficult and he yearned to be back in the forest. So his feelings confused him, and he couldn’t understand why he often felt sad when he finally was by himself under the trees—he missed his family. Actually, he missed the idea of his family, but he couldn’t have told you that. That was a more sophisticated understanding than he could have articulated. He badly wanted a family to love him; just not his family, which didn’t love him. He wanted to be loved.

Perhaps to fill this void, or for some deeper, unknown psychological reasons, Richard learned a great deal about birds. He became obsessed with everything to do with birds. But in particular he devoted himself to bird nests. These fascinated him and he began to collect them. He found them in the obvious places—in trees—but also in unexpected places like wood-piles, and sheds, and even old discarded cars. They could be made of all sorts of materials and woven in many different patterns, or built-up like mounds of clay, and some even still had eggs in them. He loved these the most, and he spent many nights up tending to the eggs, keeping them warm, and waiting for them to hatch.

He rearranged his own sleeping area under the cedar trees to mimic the style of nest typical of a ground bird, this nest is known as a ‘scrape’, and it is simply a hollowed-out depression in the ground. He made his scrape in the fallen cedar foliage and cones which littered his private clearing. He felt something approaching joy when he curled up in his ‘scrape’ and looked out from under the cedar trees. He pretended that he was a quail or maybe a killdeer, hiding under the foliage, safe from all predators. In time, quite a few other birds made their homes in the vicinity, even using some of the nests he had collected and had hung in various trees and tucked here and there into surrounding shrubs.

He observed them intently and tried recreating their songs and mannerisms. They felt like a family to him and he imagined that they loved him. He began to make more nests himself, learning to weave small twigs and grasses intertwined with pieces of fabric, or hair, or whatever else he could find while he was at school or wandering around town. He searched for special objects to incorporate into each new nest that he built, maybe a piece of foil he pulled out of the trash, or a necklace he found under the bleachers. He believed these little touches made each nest unique and important, and it made him smile to give his loved-ones these gifts. “Every nest needs to have at least one special thing hidden within it,” he decided. “The most special thing to the ones who live in it. That’s a home.”

Several years passed, and Richard was in High School now. He didn’t like the changes with his new school: the different buildings, the different classes, and the different directions he had to walk—he preferred that everything would stay the same. He liked routines. But there was one very important change that he did like. He liked it so much that he sometimes sang at the top of his lungs at night while he lay in his scrape under the cedar trees. It was something that he had never had since the time he first made his nest there. Something all the other birds had in their nests that he alone didn’t have. But now he did have it, and it made all the difference. Hidden away in his nest was a special thing, the thing that made his nest finally a real home. It was a small photograph of a girl, a girl he had met in school who he loved more than anything else in his life now—a beautiful girl named Amelia.

*  *  *