Before continuing with the final chapters of the story of Father Davidson’s beautiful life and perfect death, I think it would be helpful first to backtrack just a bit; and to share briefly with you, a little about Ryan—the boy who was accidentally killed in the café fire—and his mother. Because their stories intersect with Father Davidson’s in several important ways.
Ryan had no siblings and lived alone with his mother, Deirdre, in a small house on a spacious property south of town. Ryan’s father left them when he was a toddler, leaving the young mother to raise him on her own. She did admirably, at first, motivated by her anger towards Ryan’s dad, and by an intense desire to prove everyone wrong who doubted her ability to take care of herself in these circumstances, let alone raise a boy on her own.
Deirdre’s motherly love for her son, and her devoted attention to his needs, surprised everyone who knew her, who knew her inclination to become overwhelmed within the world of her own turbulent emotions. She fought back the sadness and the anger admirably in her effort to be a good mother to her only child. But these emotions seemed to have a life of their own within her, and they reappeared when she least expected and at the worst times.
She wasn’t herself when the sadness or the anger returned, and she treated her beloved child poorly when this happened; sometimes yelling in a rage, so that he fled the house in tears, or other times retiring to her bedroom and locking the door, ignoring the little boy for hours, or sometimes days at a time.
Over the years Ryan learned to adapt to his mother’s mercurial temperament, and in some ways he even learned how to thrive within her orbit. He loved her immensely, and always found a way to forgive her for her unexpected outbursts; and he knew how to focus his mind on the love that she had showed him over the years, coaxing his memory to linger on only the good times they shared, and concentrating his hopes for the future on these memories of the past.
His young life was plagued with loneliness, and as he grew older, he also discovered a depth of sadness within himself, similar to the one that his mother possessed. Had she taught him this sadness, or passed it along to him unwittingly? Who knows exactly the method that it was transferred to him, but the result was that Ryan learned at an early age to wage his own battle against a profound and chronic sorrow. Fortunately, he had several allies in this fight: his imagination, his love of books, and his best friend, Buddy—a small dog his mother had given him during one of her happier episodes.
As a youngster, Ryan relied especially on Buddy to meet his emotional needs; and the little dog willingly played multiple roles as mother, father, and brother to him. He licked Ryan’s wounds when he fell, protected him against enemies real and imagined, and he wrestled with the little boy, sometimes even competing like a sibling would for the best place on the couch, or battling with him over a tasty treat.
Their refuge was the backyard, in good times and in bad; they could easily spend all day playing in the expansive yard. And when his mother locked herself in her bedroom, they often also spent all night out there. This sounds a little sad, but Ryan and Buddy didn’t see it that way. There was too much to be done to be sad: too many imaginary places to discover, and monsters to defeat, people and dogs to rescue, and prizes and honors to be won!
In winter storms, they braved torrential rains and stormy seas—sometimes defiantly like Captain Ahab, in search for that great white whale, Buddy, hidden beneath waves of tall grass—or other times shipwrecked like Robinson Crusoe, with his trusty dog, Buddy, marooned and trying to survive. And in summer heat, they found shelter from the hot sun under the tall trees, in a hidden grotto at the far corner of the yard; and there they waited for the sun to set, the moon to rise, and for someone like Peter Pan, or their mom, to rescue them.
And Ryan rarely let his mother see him cry; he didn’t want to add to her problems. So he tried to keep it inside, although he sometimes let himself cry when he was safely hidden away. At night was a good time to let it out, under the cover of darkness, and when Buddy was curled up next to his head, so that he could bury his face in the warm, soft fur and silence his sobs. But mostly he would lay there, next to Buddy, not crying, but just thinking about things, wondering what he’d be when he grew up, and praying that Buddy would be there with him when he did.
He often thought about his mom, wondering what he could do to make her feel better. He drew pictures for her, and even performed little plays for her, and she seemed to enjoy these things. She laughed the hardest though when he acted silly, pretending to be a little wooden soldier—or like Pinocchio—walking stiff-legged, and twirling about, and always about to fall down.
And she loved flowers, so he brought her flowers, ones he picked from the garden, or wildflowers that he found growing along the base of the tall stone wall which enclosed the backyard. He’d scatter them throughout the house, across the tables and chairs and over the counter, because she liked them that way; the wildness of the flowers—and the disarray of their varied colors—strewn throughout the home made her happy. When she saw the flowers in this way, she felt free.
As Ryan grew older he turned his attention to books more, and spent less time in the yard playing games; though because the house was so small, and the pain his mother experienced was so great, he preferred to spend most of his time reading, out in the fort he made amongst the trees. He performed less and less for her, and rarely drew her a picture after he entered high school, but his gift of flowers scattered throughout the house had become a family tradition that neither son nor mother could bear to abandon. Though, for Ryan at least, he took less pleasure in giving them, because he saw the happiness they brought his mother was very short-lived. Flowers didn’t solve her problems.
There were periods when Deirdre left the house for a night or two, leaving Ryan to take care of himself. He didn’t ask questions when she’d return, though she was clearly hungover and smelled of alcohol. One time she was gone for several days, and he learned later that she had been taken to the hospital—that she had nearly died—but he wasn’t given much more information about it other than that. A neighbor came to stay with him until his mother returned home. For several weeks after that incident, she was like a new person. She hugged him, and told him how much she loved him, which she hadn’t done in quite some time. She also noticed and appreciated little details about life which had previously always escaped her, and she commented upon these things in an exaggerated and dramatic way, and exclaimed how grateful she was for everything! For Ryan, her new attitude was refreshing and surprising, and a little entertaining. They both enjoyed each other a lot during this period, though it too was short-lived; and soon things returned to normal again.
In his senior year, Ryan got a job working in the kitchen at Café Diamandis, owned by Apollo and Lilian Diamandis, parents of Mark, one of his classmates. Mark also worked there and helped get him the job, which Ryan appreciated the most because it gave him a good excuse to get out of the house, and away from the confusing and complicated emotions he felt towards his mom. At work he also became good friends with another classmate—Josh Davidson.
Nature is always looking for ways to heal; similarly, Ryan’s nature unconsciously sought out ways to heal the pain and suffering that he experienced. In Josh, Ryan saw an example of the wholeness and health that he wanted for himself; so he was drawn irresistibly to that. He looked for any excuse to be near Josh, to watch him and learn from him. I don’t believe that Ryan did this consciously, nor do I think he was aware of the reasons, but somewhere deep inside him, I think he believed that Josh could show him the way to a new and better life. In this way, Ryan awakened and opened to the idea of a God, and the possibility that there is a God who might be able to help him. How he made the leap from Josh to God, I can’t say exactly; perhaps it was an intuitive understanding of a connection between health and wholeness, and God. So that when he saw Josh, he also perceived the source of Josh’s health and wholeness—that Josh wasn’t responsible for his own mental and emotional health, but rather enjoyed these as a gift. But if they were a gift, and he came to believe that they were, from where did they come, or from who?
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