The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 53

It was just before sunset when Amelia parked her car and ran through the orchard towards her brother’s cabin. The sun cast a warm golden-orange hue across the grassy meadow, illuminating each strand beautifully, and turning the edges of the fruit trees a molten red. Long shadows stretched across her path as she ran; and pockets of darkness gathered between the trees as the night began to overtake the faltering day.

Up ahead Amelia saw thin strands of grey and black smoke twisting up into the sky from the cabin’s stovepipe chimney. Seeing this gave Amelia comfort, and she used this observation to convince herself that she was overreacting. Deirdre was right, Josh was still young and in good condition; a small accident like falling off a wall couldn’t be enough to…she wasn’t able to finish the thought. As she approached the cabin she could see light coming out through the window—another good sign—and everything appeared ordinary. His door was shut, and she was reluctant to knock; she didn’t want to disturb him.

Walking gingerly up to the edge of his front deck she craned her neck and stretched up onto her toes to try to get a glimpse into the cabin through the window. The curtains were drawn but they were sheer, and they only muted the view slightly; through them, she could see her brother’s back as he sat in the far corner of the room, presumably praying. She turned and sat on the edge of the deck for a moment, collecting herself; her pulse had been racing and she had become short of breath. Forcing herself to breathe deeply, she laughed, and scolded herself for worrying without cause. It was really a beautiful night, and she had hardly noticed because of her unfounded fears. She looked around at her surroundings and felt a depth of gratitude for everything around her; ‘what an amazing place we live’, she thought to herself. But mostly she was grateful that her brother was praying inside his cabin like he always did, and that nothing horrible had happened to shatter the beauty of the life she loved.

Amelia walked back to the house feeling relieved and at peace; her contentment allowed her mind to drift. She thought about her meeting earlier with Deirdre. She resolved to devote herself to Deirdre; the poor woman had nobody, no family in this world any longer. She thought about Richard and how she missed him, though she was glad he found a place where he belonged, and where he was safe and happy. She was surprised when her thoughts also turned to Father Seraphim, who had befriended Richard and her brother, and had become such an important influence in their lives. He always attempted to win her over as well, and she always resisted, though in a friendly way. She liked him because he had a good heart and was sincere. Suddenly she also thought about Apollo, and his wife Lilian, the owners of the café, and their friend Dian; she doubted their goodness. But in the midst of the equanimity she was currently feeling towards all things at that moment, she decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they too had goodness within them, and she should seek to discover it. She knew her brother would encourage this, and would approve her efforts to befriend them.

As Amelia went into her house for the night and closed the door behind her, the campfire down in the orchard was just getting started. It had been a long time since I had attended, not since the previous fall; but now that I had seen Father Davidson around town, I anticipated that he might begin his stories once again, so I took a seat and waited hopefully for him to join us. And I was concerned about his health, after his fall at Deirdre’s, so I also came to make sure he was feeling better.

The evening wore on, as the usual folks gathered and were seated around the fire. Everyone was cheerful to see one another again after the long winter; but after the initial cavalcade of conversation—general questions about how we all were doing, and what we did during the winter—the group fell more or less quiet, waiting for Father Davidson. It was a cool and peaceful night; it was strikingly silent, few animals stirred, no owls called, and the wind was noticeably absent. As I think back, it was a strange night—I suppose mainly due to the silence—it felt as though the night were holding its breath, and the earth was also waiting in hushed expectation.

As I sat, I remembered back to the stories Father Davidson told about his early experiences with silence, in the desert, and the uneasiness he experienced there; how, he would explain, that silence brought with it, at first a kind of terror, and discomfort deep within us, that would only dissipate as one sat with it, and faced it, confronting it and then finally becoming one with it. Stillness came from silence, he would say, though it was a state of being, and not an absence of sound; and it was the doorway to a deeper relationship with oneself, and ultimately the doorway into a true relationship with God.

One by one the group thinned, as folks went off to bed. And I struggled to stay alert to the silence I felt during this unusual night; trying to do as Father Davidson taught, to not run or fight it, but to learn from it. Finally, I was alone at the campfire, and the embers were losing their color and their heat; the uneasiness I had been feeling faded as I grew tired, though it didn’t go away. I decided to walk down to the Father’s cabin and maybe lay in the hammock for a while before driving home.

Smoke rose from his chimney and a faint light flickered from his window; I assumed he must have been praying, and the light from his candles or oil lamps, was causing the flickering. I didn’t want to disturb him, so I walked to the cherry tree and climbed into the hammock. I glanced at my watch, and noted the time was just before midnight, before I drifted off to sleep for a few hours. I was startled awake some time later by a loud sound coming from the cabin, though it may have been a dream. I woke feeling disoriented and unsure what exactly had caused me to stir. But I glanced towards the cabin and was startled fully awake.

A warm but bright light emanated from his windows and his door was open. Assuming he had stoked the fire in his stove, and had come outside, I glanced around to see if I could find him. The night was still unusually still and silent, which caused me to shudder; I was still far from mastering the silence in the way that Father Davidson had described. I approached his cabin slowly and cautiously, though I can’t say why, and from a safe distance I peered in through the open door. The fire was burning brightly in the stove and appeared to have been recently tended; but the room was quiet, and nobody stirred inside.

I walked around to both sides of the cabin, looking for Father Davidson, and I called his name quietly; but there was no reply. I considered he may have walked up to the house, but it was unusual for him to leave his door open. I took a step or two up his front stairs and looked through the open door to see if he might be asleep in his bed, but it was made and didn’t appear to have been slept in that night. The open door blocked my view towards his prayer corner, so finally I determined that he must be deep in prayer on the other side of the door; having recently stoked the fire, perhaps getting too hot and thus opening the door for a little fresh air, he then returned to his corner to pray.

I breathed a sigh of relief at this thought, and decided to return to my hammock for a little more sleep before heading home in the morning. But the night was getting cooler, and perhaps he would like his door closed now; it was very strange that he left it open. So I climbed the remaining steps and leaned in to grab the doorknob, intending to pull it shut. But curiosity caused me to push it further open instead; I just wanted to make certain my theory was correct and he was inside.

I was right, there he was seated in his chair, with his back to me, facing his cross and icons. The light from several oil lamps and candles reflected in the icons on the walls and illuminated the cross which hung at the center of them all. From my perspective, Father Davidson appeared to be among family; sitting peacefully in the midst of them, and intimately in communion with his beloved. My gaze rested for a few moments upon Christ as he hung on the cross, several feet in front of Father Davidson. Jesus was crucified, and his head lay tilted slightly to the right, resting against his chest and shoulder; it was a very familiar scene for me, and one I knew since childhood. My eyes then fell upon Father Davidson, and I smiled gratefully as I watched him sit there, seemingly in the depths of prayer with the one he loved.

It was a beautiful scene of peace, and spiritual tranquility. I stood silently, enjoying this intimate glimpse into the life of Father Davidson; I felt as though I had been given a gift then—granted participation in his communion with God.

I was about to turn and leave when something about the Father caught my eye, and seemed strange. His head was tilted slightly to the side and was resting forward on his chest; from behind it had, at first, appeared to be a prayerful pose. But upon second glance it didn’t look right to me. I called out to him quietly, “Father Davidson…are you okay?…Father Davidson?”

I walked closer and knelt beside him, looking up into his face. His eyes were softly open, squinting slightly as was their custom; but they were vacant now, and revealed to me that Father Davidson was no longer with us.

*  *  *

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