After Father Davidson completed his story, he retired to his cabin for the night. A short time later, Tara and Adam walked off to their tent, and then the trio made their way back to their RV, leaving me alone at the campfire. I pondered the Father’s amazing and surprising story for a while as I watched the embers cool. Everything he shared about his time in the Judean desert intrigued me, and I looked forward to learning more about that, but right now, as I thought back to what he said at the beginning of the evening, I was preoccupied by the fact that he confirmed he had been in prison. It was only a brief mention as he described the priest he met there, and how this priest had first brought the Father to faith in Christ. I wondered who this priest was, and if he was still alive. And if he was, I wondered where he lived now, and if I could find him. Perhaps I could talk with him, and learn the reason Father Davidson had been in prison.
The next morning I decided to return to Amelia’s store to see if I could learn anything more from her; maybe she knew the priest and could tell me where to find him. It struck me, as I walked through town on my way to Amelia’s, that I had lost my reservations about looking into the Father’s past. I no longer questioned my motives as I sought to learn more about him. I was convinced of his goodness by now, and believed there would be a reasonable explanation for his trouble with the law. I wanted to learn everything I could about that time in his life. In fact, I wanted to know more about his entire life, whatever I could discover, because I felt now that I was in the presence of a singular, and remarkable human being, and everything about him had become intriguing to me.
As I entered her store, I considered how best to bring up the topic of the Father’s past with Amelia. I had witnessed in my previous visit to her shop, how she defended her brother against attack, and I didn’t want her to perceive my interest as antagonistic, or my questions as criticism. She obviously was sensitive about her brother and how he was viewed by others; she also was clearly perceptive about other people and would sense if I was false or hiding something. I decided my best tactic would be honesty and simplicity, hiding nothing, imitating the way her brother himself lived his life.
“I was at the campfire again last night, with your brother. He was talking about his time in the monastery, and he mentioned the priest he met when he was younger, the one who brought him to Christ. Your brother’s had an interesting life.”
“Father Seraphim. Yes, he has.” Amelia answered. “Are you enjoying the campfire stories?”
“Very much. They’re fascinating to me. Has he always done them?”
“No, not for a long time. Well, yes the campfires, but no, not stories about his past. You must be bringing it out of him. He ordinarily doesn’t talk all that much,” she said, smiling.
I almost asked her then about his time in prison, but it didn’t quite feel like the right timing. So I asked about the priest instead: “The priest, Father Seraphim was it? Yes, is he still alive, do you know?”
“Of course. His church is just north of town. I haven’t seen him in a while, but Josh goes to services there every week. He became Orthodox, but I didn’t. Father Seraphim’s a good guy, though, you’d like him,” she smiled again.
“Maybe I’ll try it out sometime,” I said nonchalantly. “What’s it called?”
“St. Silouan’s. It’s a bit hidden in the woods but not too hard to find, just google it. Beautiful church, if you’re an artist you’ll love it.”
“Sounds great, thank you,” I replied, as my eyes scanned the store. On the wall to my right, was hanging a beautifully drawn portrait of a young woman, which I hadn’t noticed before. I walked over to get a closer look. It was a simple pen and ink drawing, technically unsophisticated, and yet immensely expressive. The artist had captured such a profound depth in the girl’s eyes: longing, sadness, innocence and love. And upon her face was presented an inner strength and passion that was startling, and which contrasted vividly with the lightness and vivacity of her hair, which seemed to swirl about her playfully. She was beautiful, and the artist had masterfully represented an amazingly broad range of her character; this wasn’t merely a documenting of a person’s appearance, but rather a revelation of a being’s soul. I was dumbstruck, and gazed at the portrait as if in a trance, for who knows how long—until I heard Amelia’s voice.
“Do you like it?” she asked.
“Well, yes, of course! It’s very good. Did you do it?”
“Oh, no! A friend of mine. He’s much better than me,” she laughed.
“He clearly loved her,” I said as I looked back again at the portrait. “He knew her so well, it seems, maybe better even than she knew herself. I wonder…” and then it struck me, “is this you, this is you isn’t it?” I turned to look at Amelia, who was also staring at the portrait as if in a trance.
She smiled and nodded, “Yes, it is, about thirty years ago. You’re right, he did, does…did love me. And you’re probably also right, he might have known me better than I knew myself, at least back then.”
We stood for a few moments together in silence, both reveling in the portrait and the window it provided into our shared human experience. For me, it was a window into the depths of a human soul, but in a general way, yet in a way which I could relate with; yet for Amelia it was a window into her own particular soul, a mirror that she could gaze into and see herself more clearly.
“It is a wonderful drawing,” I said. “It really is, I can see why you kept it all these years and why you have it displayed…and the artist is quite a talent.”
“Yes, he is,” she replied.
* * *