The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 49

Deirdre recovered, and after a brief stay under suicide watch in a nearby hospital, she returned home to her beloved son. He was so precious to her now, more than ever; as life itself held more meaning—and more hope—than it had before her close brush with death. And she was profoundly grateful to the two teens who had saved her life, allowing her to return to her little boy (though not so little any longer). Who were they? They were a brother and sister she had been told; the girl had masterfully sailed them back to shore, while the boy had plucked her from the waves and somehow performed mouth to mouth resuscitation while she was still partially in the water, until she was back on land and could be treated by paramedics. Amazing!

Deirdre wanted to meet them, since she owed them both her life, but time passed, and the more time elapsed, the more embarrassed she became, having never thanked them. Eventually, the shame she felt about this, transformed in some strange way within her, so that she became angry with them instead. She blamed them for saving her life, believing that she would have been better off if she had died. At times she believed this with all her being, but then at other times she was still glad to be alive—for Ryan’s sake.

But it would have been so easy to just slip below the waves and disappear, she would think; in fact she had already become unconscious, so she wouldn’t have known anything, the hard part she had already overcome. Death had been within her grasp, and she was already half-way there, until the young man, Josh, had pulled her back. Was that fate? Or dumb luck? She believed in both. Life was so ugly, and death seemed so right—the perfect answer to the ugliness of her life, so why was she saved?

She even considered that Josh had saved her intentionally in order to torment her. These are the twisted maneuvers that her mind could make. And if there was a God, he surely had it out for her, somehow wanting to cause her as much pain as possible in this life, and using Josh to do it. She began to see Josh, not so much as a savior anymore, but as a tormentor and a messenger of evil. But then she’d stop herself, because these were crazy thoughts, and he’s just a kid after all, and he saved her life! Of course he didn’t want to hurt her, he didn’t even know her! So she’d stop with this painful, demented train of thought and come to her senses again, feeling gratitude for the second chance at life that resulted from Josh’s, and his sister’s, act of bravery and selflessness towards her.

But Deirdre was a restless sort of person, so she could never finally settle on one way of thinking, or the other. Until the café fire and the loss of her boy, proved once and for all that Josh was indeed a bad person who had come into her life to hurt her, and to make her life “a living hell,” as she often would say. She wanted nothing more to do with Josh Davidson, even hoping that he might die; but if that wasn’t possible, at the very least he should go to prison for a very long time. She hoped she’d never have to see him again. But as fate, or dumb-luck works, we often don’t get what we hope for in this life. Some would say that God has a better plan for us; but Deirdre didn’t know anything about God, and this didn’t cross her mind.

Josh did go away to prison for a while and this pleased Deirdre; though she felt it wasn’t nearly long enough. She was alone now and missed her boy tremendously. She often thought about his final moments in the fire, but she couldn’t bring herself to dwell on the horror of that for long; so she’d distract herself by reading through the journal that Ryan had left behind: filled with his thoughts, fears, and hopes for the future. She was surprised to see how much Ryan had begun to think about God; and also how much influence Josh Davidson had on her son. These two things bothered her and they made her feel very uncomfortable; to distract herself from this, she’d cleaned the house a little, but surprisingly she wouldn’t pour herself a drink. She had grown too weary for that, and she was tired of feeling hungover all the time. Most days she still needed a drink, but not so much as a distraction anymore, just for maintenance.

She’d gaze out the back window into the spacious backyard, imagining her little boy out there playing with Buddy the dog. She could spend hours daydreaming, going over all of his exploits in her mind, almost imagining that he was really out there, dancing along the top of the old stone wall, or picking flowers and bringing them into the house to give her.

Until one day, years later, suddenly and as if out of a dream—or out of a nightmare—that young man showed up again (now quite a bit older). It was Josh Davidson walking along the top of the wall, dancing and hopping, and twirling like a marionette, imitating her dear son Ryan! Deirdre stood at her back window watching him, in shock and disbelief and unable to move. A cascade of thoughts flooded her mind, and she was unable to keep up or focus on any one of them: “…how did he get there? where did he come from?…how did he know her little Ryan used to do that same dance on the wall?…and why is he imitating him?…and why is she enjoying watching him?…how could she enjoy it and why can’t she turn away, or close her eyes?…what are these tears falling now?…and why am I crying…and how does he know?!”

Deirdre wiped the tears from her face, and this broke the trance; she immediately jumped into action, running around to the back door, and out across the yard to where Josh was balancing on the wall, and she yelled up to him with all her strength: “What in hell are you doing up there?! Get off my wall!!!

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The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 48

Thoughts about God led Ryan in new directions; he lost interest in his old books about adventure and intrigue, and sought out more philosophical and theologically themed works. He and Josh both worked together early in the morning, before Ryan went to school, and he looked forward to these times to talk about what he had read, to get Josh’s opinion about these matters. And while Josh had done some reading himself, his feeling was that it was more important to seek God directly in life and living, rather than through a book. Ryan jotted down some notes about one of their conversations in a journal found at his home, from which I’ve tried to reconstruct the basics of, and share with you here:

“I’ve always felt as though you know God personally,” Ryan commented to Josh early one morning. “How do you know him?”

“If I know him at all…I’m not always sure that I do…I think it is by using my body, or everything that I am, to search for him,” Josh replied. “I watch for him, I listen, I think always about God, if I can…and I stop my thoughts as much as possible, so that I can experience him through my living.”

“But I don’t experience him, it doesn’t seem to me that he is near. I like to read about him though, a lot of what’s written makes sense to me, though a lot of it also doesn’t make sense,” Ryan countered.

“God is much closer than we realize, I think,” Josh continued. “I think we just don’t know how to understand his presence. That’s what we need to learn…is how to train our senses to experience him. It’s like we can see, but our eyes don’t understand what they’re seeing.”

“How do you do that!?” Ryan exclaimed.

“I don’t think books can teach us that; maybe they can point the way, or inspire us a little. I’m not sure how we learn it actually,” Josh shrugged innocently. “Or…we learn by doing, and by asking. I ask God to teach me how to find him. I pray, I guess you’d call it. I talk to God—whether I think he’s there or not—and to my surprise…eventually he appears to me, somehow.”

Conversations such as this one gave Ryan hope. Josh had made the prospect of knowing God seem possible, and this hope became a new powerful and important ally in his battle against his sadness and despair. He also hoped that his mom would discover this herself someday, and find a way out of her own darkness. In fact, one morning he even asked Josh directly for his help with this. He was almost pleading that Josh would teach his mom how to know God, so that she could be happy; and Josh promised Ryan that he would try.

However, several months later the café burned down, and Ryan died in the fire, and Josh confessed to starting the fire. This horrible and tragic event greatly complicated his relationship with Ryan’s mother, and prevented her from allowing Josh to fulfill his promise to his friend.

Deirdre already knew Josh, from an event that had occurred a few years earlier, and this event left her with very strong, and very mixed feelings about the young man. So that now, as he was apparently the cause of her own son’s death, she understandably didn’t want to have anything to do with him; the anger that so often had derailed her in the past, now seethed within her towards him, and yet she was confused and unsure about this anger. She felt ashamed of her anger, in this particular case…at one moment chastising herself because she owed her own life to the boy…and the next moment wishing she and Ryan had never met him, wishing that Josh had died, instead of her son.

Deirdre hadn’t wished someone else were dead, since Ryan’s father had left them; he was the last person—other than herself—that she seriously had these thoughts and feelings towards. But as she devoted herself to raising Ryan, eventually her anger towards her ex-husband faded, replaced by new causes and objects of her rage. But the one person who always made her feel better was her son; though she regrettably and incomprehensibly often directed her anger towards him. How could she do it?! She often asked herself this question, while locked behind her bedroom door—as much to protect her little boy from herself, as to protect herself from the world.

Rage turned to sadness turned to despair; but drinking set her free. A gin and tonic, or a vodka and coke always helped her breathe again, when life seemed to want to suck the oxygen right out of her lungs. And with a smile, she’d pour a second drink, and gaze out the bedroom window, and secretly watch her beautiful baby boy as he was playing with the dog. Her heart always softened—and she entirely forgot the issues she had against life—as she watched him play: picking flowers, climbing trees, and dancing like a silly marionette across the top of the stone wall, at the far end of the yard. Whatever he did out there always made her smile, and chuckle to herself; and after a third or fourth drink, she was often in hysterics—a happiness due to her son, mixing with a desperation at her sinking life—until she collapsed and fell asleep on the floor.

Sometimes she felt very ashamed that she drank so much, with her innocent son in the house. So she started to leave the house to go drinking. And this made her feel better, at least until she had to return home again. By the time Ryan was in high school she had made a habit of leaving the house to visit several local bars; and sometimes she checked in on him before leaving, to make sure he was okay and had food available, in case she didn’t make it back for a few days. Little acts of kindness like that, convinced her that she was doing a pretty good job as a mother, so that she could leave and go to the bar with a clear conscience.

One winter, in the early morning, Deirdre left the bar and attempted to find her way back home. She had a bottle hidden in a bush outside the bar, available in case she hadn’t had enough inside before the bar closed, in case she was still thirsty. She grabbed this vodka on her way out, and took it with her for the long walk home. But she never made it home.

Somewhere along the way, she got confused; she saw the lights across the bay and they looked like streetlights, so she followed them. After that she must have fallen into the water, and sometime after that she must have lost consciousness. Fortunately for her, not too long after that, she was pulled from the water and taken to safety by the Davidson kids, who heroically managed to get her up out of the water, and tie her off to the tiller of their little sailboat, and sail her back to the dock at the nearby marina. Along the way, Josh Davidson kept her alive—filling her shrunken lungs with his own breath—while Amelia piloted them back to safety.

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 47

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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The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 46

“The door creaked slightly as I entered the blue room, and Brother Bezalel turned toward me, smiling as he saw me approach. He placed his palette and brush down upon the table and waited, as I sat down beside him. Ours was never a friendship of many words, nor had it ever needed to be; and so we sat side-by-side, in silence, simply enjoying the presence of one another.

The icon of St John of Damascus painted upon the wall in front of us, was now fully revealed, cleaned, and mostly re-painted. Richard had done a masterful job restoring the old icon; it was clearly still the original work of a different artist, another master long-since gone, but it also had an undefined quality that was uniquely Richard’s, something personal from him, which gave it a new distinction. I’m not an artist, so I can’t say what exactly gave it this quality, for it certainly retained the hallmarks of another artist, looking nothing like one of Brother Bezalel’s original works, yet, even so, when looking at this restored icon, I clearly felt Richard in it—in the brushstrokes, or in the paint, or perhaps in the saint’s eyes themselves.

As we sat together I felt joy rise up within me, as has so often been the case in the past, when sitting silently in the presence of one another. Perhaps it is always there, latent and waiting to arise, yet unable to, because of the activity of life; but this joy arises from within our depths and then carries us into the presence of God. This is what I believe, based on my experience. Suddenly, a quote from the Saint came to my mind, and I sang it softly, its melodic notes carrying its meaning back and forth between us: ‘The beauty of the icons delight my vision, like a verdant meadow, and without my noticing it stirs my soul to praise God!’

I recalled then, how Elder Lazarus often described his time spent with St John of Damascus: how, whether through the depths of prayer, or by some other mysterious miracle, they would, in brotherly friendship and love, ‘share the sweetness of life’ as he would say. This same transcendent feeling of sweetness now filled the space between Richard, St John and me. And by some mystery of light, St John’s halo, that golden nimbus which illuminated his head, radiated outward, filling the small room and engulfing us in its brilliance.

That unspeakable brightness carried with it an ineffable experience of fulfillment, and a peace with many facets—too numerous to express in words. I suppose this is why it is called ‘a peace which surpasses understanding’; because it is a peace which encompasses a totality beyond what the mind can understand, or the emotions can feel.

I was disoriented—no longer knowing where I was, or in what epoch I was living. And I can’t say how long this experience lasted; only that it was an experience of absolute completion—it was the perfection of everything I knew or could imagine. I looked at Richard, and I could tell from his expression, that his experience was the same as mine. He was looking lovingly at St John, who was returning his gaze; and I was reminded briefly of another icon by Andrei Rublev entitled, The Holy Trinity. It now seems presumptuous of me to place myself at the table of the angels in that icon, as if I were a living part of that scene—or one of them even—but at the time it seemed fully appropriate. Perhaps this is what participation in the life of God can feel like, His grace raising us up—and fully beyond our deserving—allowing us to feel in some measure, like Him.

That was the last time I saw Richard, and I can’t imagine a better way to part—having participated together in, what felt to me like, a divine epiphany.

Several days later, I left Mar Saba and returned here, to the orchard…and, that concludes my story of the desert,” Father Davidson said, as he glanced around the fire, at each of us in turn. “Now I must retire to my cabin, as I have a few things to take care of,” he said, as he got up from his chair, nodded good night, and then left.

“Is it just me, or does that seem like an abrupt ending to his story?” Adam asked the group, after Father Davidson had left.

“How would you end it differently?” Tara asked. “I mean if that’s all there is, that’s it then…what more could he say?”

We sat for a while watching as the fire died down; and I imagine each of us was running through the events that Father Davidson had shared with us around the campfire the past several weeks. It was a brisk night, with the feel and smell of autumn in the air, and though I was feeling chilly, I had no desire to leave. The young man who lived in the RV with his parents got up, and added some branches to the fire; and within a few moments they erupted in a cloud of orange sparks and golden flames. Everyone smiled at the renewed warmth—though it was short lived—and as the branches were consumed, we began to disband, and return to our places to sleep for the night.

I had no interest in going home, I preferred to stay in the orchard for the night. The clear sky was filled with stars, and I excitedly anticipated falling asleep in the hammock while gazing up at this beautiful and mysterious night sky, and contemplating everything that Father Davidson had shared with us about his unique time in the desert.

He left several blankets and a pillow for me, in the usual spot at the top of his steps, just outside the door to his cabin. As I gathered them up, I gazed briefly through his window and could see him praying at the far corner of his tiny room, with his back to me, and hunched over as he knelt. I settled into the hammock, and gazed up through the cherry branches, with the stars appearing to me like little lit buds, adorning the lengths and edges of every branch. I fell quickly to sleep, with the impression of the tree’s silhouette in my mind; looking as if someone had taken an eraser to the night sky, and had rubbed out the stars in the shape of a tree.

I dreamt again of the ship at sea, although this time I couldn’t actually see the ship, so I had to assume that the ship was there, somewhere below the surface, submerged, with only its mast in view. But the mast had become a tree again, as it had been before, in my previous dream. And in the tree were numerous birds populating nests and singing magnificent songs. And then I saw a small photo or drawing in each nest, and as I looked closer, I saw that they were Amelia’s portrait placed into the nests. And the tree was ablaze with flames of gold and silver but it wasn’t consumed, and neither were the birds, or the nests, or the portraits. Finally, I saw an axe and the tree was chopped down, though I couldn’t see the one who did the chopping. But the tree, still on fire, fell into the sea and vanished beneath the waves. After this, my dream was over, and I slept the night without further remembrance.

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The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson:Chapter 45

“The snow continued to fall throughout Holy Week, and into Bright Week. One week, shrouding the entire earth, as if in its funeral garment; and the next week, glistening in the sunlight like a pure and radiant mantle.

After returning to the monastery I went to speak with Elder Lazarus: “Brother Seraphim! Welcome back! How was your Lenten journey?” The Elder asked with a smile, and a knowing look in his eyes. “Were you able to love, as our Lord loves? Could you put the old man—your love of self—to death within you?”

“No, I failed at that task. I’m sorry,” I replied to him shamefully. “But God showed me his love and mercy, and in the end, well…I believe that the men I met saw it as well.”

Elder Lazarus smiled again and nodded his head, “Good…that’s very good. Now, it’s almost time for you to leave us, and return to your home.” He opened a window behind him which allowed a tiny glimpse out into the gorge; and a sharp, cold breeze blew in, filling the room, and bringing a small cloud of snowflakes with it. “You made it back safely, in time for the snow, the most we’ve had in decades,” the Elder continued. “Come and see!” He motioned me to join him at the window. After watching the snow falling together for some time he asked me, “What do you see in this snow, Brother Seraphim? What does it say to you?”

After a moment’s reflection, I answered, “It is love…which covers a multitude of sins; this snow is forgiveness…a covering for us, and an offering of new life.”

Elder Lazarus took a deep breath of the cold air, and held it in his lungs for quite some time before exhaling. “We are awaiting new life, now, especially during Holy Week…expectantly awaiting our Lord’s resurrection, and all the hope that brings. Yet, you are speaking about something more than this; there is a new life awaiting you at home, when you return to the United States. A life that has incubated here in the desert, but will emerge and grow and reach fulfillment there. You know this already, of course…you are a prophet, so you are familiar with God’s will and his plans.”

“It is also purity and a hope, this snow is,” I continued. “It calls us to a better life, and is a sign of the life to come.”

“Interesting…and how is that?” Elder Lazarus asked.

“By softening the harshness of this world. Temporarily, for the brief time that the snow falls, it reveals a glimpse into a softer and quieter world, showing us momentarily what is possible, what can be, if we also will calm our soul—letting the cares of this world rest.”

Elder Lazarus added, “The desert and the snow are good for aiding us in this, and they can also be a needed and helpful protection—shielding us from the harshness that you spoke about just now…the crassness even…of this world. This place is a home for us, an oasis away from the spiritual desert which the world has become, and here at Mar Saba we can focus everything on the only one who truly matters to us, dedicating our life to our Lord. But for some…you for instance…you will take this peace—the beauty of this way—back with you out into the world. It is a treacherous calling, I fear, because it is so easy to lose the way out there. But by God’s grace…”

“I think I’ll visit Brother Bezalel once more before I leave,” I said. “Is he with the icon?” I asked.

Elder Lazarus answered, “I expect so; most of his time lately is in the blue room, with Saint John. You should find him there. Brother Bezalel has truly found his home here, you know. God brought him here to do an important work and to protect him. The world out there was always too harsh for him; yet, even out there, God protected him through you.”

“And Brother Bezalel showed me…he showed me how to find the beautiful way.”

“Yours is a silent and a solitary way, but lived out in the midst of a tumult…you are a calm within a stormy humanity. Their waves will break against you, but they won’t break you, Brother Seraphim. I believe this will be true.”

“May it be as you say, Elder Lazarus. God willing.”

“Mar Saba has been your home, for a short time. You are a sojourner, as we all are in this world. We have no true home here, but we are tenants in various locations, for limited seasons. But you will carry your home within you wherever you go; and may you also help others find their spiritual homes, until our Lord returns.”

“Thank you, Elder Lazarus,” I said, as I knelt before him and received his blessing for a final time.

I left his room and walked along the silent path to where my dear friend, Brother Bezalel was working. I walked down the dim hallways, lit by faint daylight from windows high in the walls, and also down old, half-crumbling staircases made of tiles and stone—broken away at the corners, and revealing ancient shells, and pebbles, embedded and held fast within the rough sockets of mortar underneath. I crossed the garden terrace—its stone surface hidden under layers of snow—and I left dark footprints behind me as I went, and these remained for a brief time, but then they faded, as the fresh, fallen flakes slowly filled them up again. Snow clung to the branches of the overhanging trees—then fell in clumps here and there, giving way under the gathering weight. I was in a somber mood, sensing this may be the last time I would see my friend in this lifetime. I had known Richard—Brother Bezalel—since I was young, and no one else in my life had made such a strong impression upon me. In fact, the mark he made upon me was indelible; and I took comfort in recognizing this, knowing that he would never fade from my memory, but would remain with me forever.

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 44

I bought the icon of St John of Damascus. I’m not completely certain why, other than wanting more time with it. Something in the way Richard made it, made me want to know more: more about that saint and also more about something inexpressible—or at least I couldn’t express it—behind, or beyond the image of the saint. I wanted to know what he knew. Something in his eyes made me feel uncomfortable, yet not in a bad way, but rather in a way which caused me to yearn for something—or someone—I didn’t know yet. I desired to see what I imagined St John was seeing.

It was similar to how I often felt around Father Davidson; I had a feeling, a sense, that he could see something—many things—that I couldn’t quite perceive. And yet, he made these things feel very attainable, in no way exclusive, or beyond my capability, nor beyond any of us; but rather, he brought them very close, as if these things were dwelling within us actually, and it were only up to us to pursue them—to discover them.

Father Seraphim interrupted my reflections as I contemplated the icon, as he pointed at my new purchase, “You know, that saint…Richard grew very close to him many years ago, in a certain sense…the saint died of course…he fell asleep in the Lord centuries ago, however Richard was one of only two monks, he and his mentor, who helped uncover and restore one of the greatest discoveries of the past several decades…right there at Mar Saba…where the saint lived and died. It was said by many, that the saint often visited the two monks, as they worked tirelessly for many months, to bring the icon of St John back to glory. I believe it was a revelation of the glory of God!”

“Yes, I know a little about that,” I replied, and as I looked at the icon, something suddenly came clearer to me. “He found himself in the desert, didn’t he?! Both of them did…Richard, and Josh…Father Davidson often talks about the desert stillness revealing the truth of ourselves…if we will listen.”

“We don’t often stop and listen do we?” Father Seraphim added.

I continued, “He once said that we’re all like the sediment…like layers of dust and rock—hardened, and hiding our hearts…but, in the stillness, we can discover ourselves…the layers of dust can slough off, revealing our true selves underneath…similar to what happened with that icon of St John: stillness, like water, washing over us…and exposing our glory once again.”

“Is there anything more difficult for us though, than to be still inside?” Father Seraphim asked. “Perhaps there is, but few things can be more beneficial, I think.”

“That must be why it’s so difficult,” I quipped.

“Yes! Exactly so!” Father Seraphim slapped my back affectionately, before leaving me and exiting the store.

I took my new purchase home, and then went to hear Father Davidson conclude his story of the desert. He began, where he previously left off: preparing to leave the home of the three brothers and their grandfather, waiting for a sudden rainstorm to subside.

“By early afternoon the rain turned to hail. My hosts tried to persuade me to stay another night and leave the following morning, but I politely refused, hoping to make it back to the monastery that day, for the celebration of the raising of Lazarus. Walking back the way I had come, along the gorge, would be very wet and dangerous, but there is another, paved road leading up out of the town of Ubeidiya, up to the monastery, which I planned to take instead. The hail subsided by mid-afternoon and the skies partially cleared; so I prepared to leave. As a final gesture of our new friendship, Khalid gave me his bicycle to speed my journey. This was a significant gift, which I wanted to refuse, knowing that the bicycle was very necessary to him; but I also understood that it was very important to him to make this offer. So I accepted it gratefully, and began my ride back to Mar Saba.

Along the way it began to snow; it was a late snow, falling towards the end of March. It began lightly and dusted the road; the wind blowing it in small swirls across the empty street, collecting it amongst the rocks. I was alone in the desert—the bicycle creaking under the strain—as I slowly climbed towards the monastery. Small flakes landed on my cassock and stayed there; soon creating constellations of white, wet stars scattered across the black fabric. A small bird darted past me through the air, diving and swerving erratically to avoid the tiny, falling stars; and finally finding a safe perch in the branches of a nearby acacia tree. She let out a song of triumph, or of pleasure; her notes falling softly, muted against the surrounding landscape, now blanketed in snow.

The crisp air stung me, deep within my chest, as I breathed it in; and its sting at that moment, more than other things, awoke me to the glorious joy of being alive. And it alerted me to a power within me: as I breathed in that cold, seemingly impersonal air, from the world outside, and then transformed it—warming it—and then giving it back to the world again…the very breath of life—an act of creation—and an illustration of our constant, unbroken union with all of life.

With Mar Saba coming into view, as I crested one final, small hill, the snow fell more heavily. My spinning tires dug shallow furrows into the soft white snow, and gently slowed my progress. I coasted the final distance, down a long, steep slope, to the stone wall that protected the monastery, and then walked along the wall, to the little door which allowed one inside.

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 43

The weather was beginning to turn, as summer gave way to fall; the last of the summer fruit was either harvested, or fell to the ground—left for animals to forage, or to return to the earth. Father Davidson was making plans for a quiet winter, and he let us know one evening, as we sat around the campfire together, that he would be wrapping up his story soon; we were welcome to stay at the orchard, and also to make fires in the evenings, but he wouldn’t be joining us any longer.

I was sad about this, as I had grown accustomed to our shared ritual—the evening story around the campfire—but as with everything in this life, insofar as it exists naturally, it isn’t meant to last, and its ending is always threatening to arrive sooner or later. I made my peace with this fact, as best I could—which was very imperfectly—and went to visit Amelia’s art store to distract myself from this disquieting reality.

As I entered, I was happy to see Father Seraphim, from the Orthodox Church north of town, standing inside, admiring the portrait of Amelia.

“Our discussion the other day reminded me of the unique beauty of this portrait,” he explained, as I came up beside him. “I had to come take another look, to refresh my memory!”

We admired it together for a moment before he exclaimed, “You know, there are more of Bezalel’s…Richard’s…icons here at the store. I showed you several that he had done, back at the church the other day, but there are some wonderful ones here…if Amelia hasn’t sold them. Come, take a look!”

He ushered me up the steps into the gallery portion of the store and then around to the back, to a small, well lit room. I remember having seen this room through the front windows, and had always intended to take a look inside it, but had never done so before. There were many icons lining the walls, and several more placed on a narrow table which ran around the perimeter of the small room. All were beautifully done, which didn’t surprise me, knowing Richard’s talent; however, about midway around the room there was a noticeable and sudden change in the icons—in the materials used, and in the quality of workmanship. “Are these done by a different artist?” I asked.

“No, they are all done by Richard,” answered Father Seraphim. “But I agree, there is a break between his earlier work, which you are seeing to the left, and his more recent work on the right.”

Just then Amelia joined us in the tiny room, and she added, “Those come from overseas…in fact, this one of St John of Damascus, just arrived yesterday.” She picked it up carefully and admiringly. I looked at it with curiosity and surprise. I was suddenly confused, “But…you say that Richard drew that?”

“Technically, he wrote it,” laughed Father Seraphim. “That’s the correct term.”

Amelia nodded, but rolled her eyes, “He painted it…that’s fine, you can say that. Yes, it’s Richard’s work…exquisite!” She placed it back on the table.

“But, well…I guess I thought,” I stammered, “…I guess I had assumed Richard died. I didn’t know he is still alive.”

Father Seraphim and Amelia both looked surprised, and she asked, “Why would you think that?!”

“Something you said a while back…something about him ‘being in a better place now’. You said that and I just assumed…well, people often say that when someone’s died, you know.”

She laughed. “Oh, of course! Well, that’s very funny. No, he is very alive. Maybe I shouldn’t have put it in that way.”

“But you can see, this is the reason for the change in his work,” interrupted Father Seraphim excitedly. “These here he did back while he lived and learned from me. They’re good…nothing wrong with them at all…in fact, they are very good. But he was learning…and the paints, well…”

“What is wrong with the paint?!” asked Amelia, with an air of feigned offence.

“Nothing at all, my dear,” replied Father Seraphim soothingly. “We bought the paints here, of course” he said conspiratorially, and then more emphatically, “But there is something extra…special about the paint in the old world. It is just…different. The raw materials they use…it gives it something…a quality. Anyway, he was good while he learned from me, but he exceeded my ability, and there was nothing more I could teach him. However, there is a master iconographer…a monk at the monastery of Mar Saba…in Palestine, east of Jerusalem…not far from it…and he could teach him a great deal more! He could teach him everything …there would be no limit to what Richard could do in his presence, I was sure of that! So, we sent him there…almost twenty years ago…he was reluctant at first, but he had nothing here…not really…to keep him. Well…Amelia, yes…and Josh also…so it was difficult for everyone, but it was for the best, I think.” He looked at Amelia questioningly. She nodded in agreement, yet with a trace of sadness in her eyes.

“We missed him, of course…we still do!” Father Seraphim continued, “Josh missed him so much in fact, that eventually he followed him all the way to the desert…half way around the world! But then…in time, Josh came back to us; but Richard…Bezalel…he found his home. His place is at Mar Saba, writing icons…creating beautiful things and dwelling with God there, and then showing us all the way…the beautiful way into that other, heavenly kingdom…through his work!”

“It almost makes me want to be Orthodox,” Amelia asserted. “Almost!”

“There is still time!” Father Seraphim replied joyfully. They both smiled, as if sharing a long-standing, inside joke.

“Yes, I can see it now, that it is the same hand that drew…wrote…all of these icons,” I interjected thoughtfully, as I squinted and leaned closer to the icon of St John which Amelia had just received. “They have that same quality…like his portrait of you, Amelia…it seems that he knows…intimately…the person he’s painting…and he brings out the depths of that person…it’s as if he shows us a private, profound glimpse into their soul…but at the same time, I feel as if I’m seeing myself…in some way too…it’s strange.”

“No, it is God…and the universality of man,” Father Seraphim quietly added. “That’s what you’re seeing. You see the individual, of course…but he has the ability to show us also…what unifies us all…the fact, that we are all brothers and sisters…the truth, that we all share the same Father. That is his brilliance…his genius!”

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 42

Father Davidson remained silent for some time before continuing his story. Someone threw a few more logs on the fire, and soon it was burning strong again. I had felt as though he might stop for the night, but with the added heat and light from the reawakened fire, he appeared to gain more energy and began once again; those of us listening around the campfire, settled happily into our chairs, for his next episode.

“You may have noticed,” the Father continued, “I’ve never named the three brothers. That is an interesting thing…I suppose kidnappers generally aren’t on a first name basis with their captives. Their grandfather had shared his name however…Ibrahim…the father of nations is its meaning. A good name…that is something that can make friends from enemies. So I took the grandfather’s inspiration, and shared my name with the youngest when he brought me food later that day.”

The boy placed the dish of food on the ground before me and turned to leave. “I’m Brother Seraphim!” I called out to him, before he left. He stopped and turned back to look at me, with a confused look on his face. He seemed to be startled that I confided this to him. “What’s your name?” I asked him. “Brother Seraphim,” I said again, tapping my chest, “…and your name?” I asked, pointing to him.

The young man looked sheepishly around himself, and back at the door, seemingly looking for permission to speak.

“Ibrahim, your grandfather, told me his name,” I reassured him, “…so I’m certain it is okay for you to tell me your name too.”

“Khalid.” He said flatly, before turning and hustling out of the shed.

Khalid, like many people, wanted to be known, so exchanging our names was the opening needed to allow a new kind of relationship; he and I were no longer strangers. But this was not the case with his older brother, who resented being known by someone like me—somebody he didn’t trust.

After sharing his name with me, Khalid returned often—for short spans of time at first, but then for longer periods, as we came to know each other better—and I taught him simple sentences, helping to improve his English. Several times he came also with his grandfather, and the three of us spent, sometimes, several hours talking, and laughing at our misunderstandings…or playing chess on a small and ancient board they brought with them.

But one evening the middle brother brought my meal, and as he turned to leave I called out his name—which Khalid had shared with me…”Qadir!” I called out.

He turned back towards me, wild eyed and angry, “What did you say?!”

“Qadir,” I repeated, more quietly this time. “I am Brother Seraphim. You are Qadir and I am glad to know you.”

But he was not glad to know me, and he yelled, “You don’t call me that! You don’t know me! Never!” He grabbed me, pulled me up, and then spit in my face, before throwing me back against the wall. “Never again!” He warned. He was insulting, but I wasn’t insulted.

“I am Brother Seraphim,” I repeated once again while assessing his expression, wondering if I could name him again and possibly break through his veneer of anger, or would it only antagonize him further. I decided to leave it alone; so I sat back down, wiping his spit from my face. He slammed the door shut and I heard him bolt it behind him.

I saw neither Qadir, nor his younger brother, or grandfather again for nearly a week. Only the oldest brother came to bring my meals. Aariz was his name—Khalid had also shared that with me. One afternoon I asked Aariz, finally, what their plan was for me. Lent was soon to be over and I hoped to return to the monastery for Holy Week, as Father Lazarus had instructed me. I suspected by now that they had no plan, and his hesitation to answer confirmed this to me.

“You know Aariz,” I said with kindness, “I want to help you. I want to return your father to you…but I don’t think you can force this. I don’t think there is a way forward…for you to manipulate, or demand his return.” It appeared that he agreed with me, but he said nothing.

He left quietly and slowly closed the door, locking it behind him.

Several days passed and then one evening Khalid opened the door and motioned to me to get up and follow him. We walked together through the sparse olive grove; he led me into their home, to a table in the kitchen, where his grandfather sat. The old man gestured to an empty chair to his right, and I sat down. Aariz and Qadir were standing in the kitchen nearby; I nodded to them, and Aariz nodded back, while Qadir frowned and looked away.

Ibrahim began, “First, I want to apologize on behalf of my entire family, from the bottom of my heart. All of my grandsons agree and apologize to you; we treated you poorly, almost like an animal, and we are ashamed. But you have acted perfectly, you did not return evil for evil. In fact, you gave us a gift in return…to me first, the gift of a memory, of something beautiful…my life before the suffering…which I had forgotten…and through this you returned a part of me that I had lost…that I didn’t know I had lost. You have not seen it, because we kept you in that wretched shed, but because of you…you have restored my grandsons to me…and I am restored to them. Resentment is a violent fire, and it burns in the heart of the unforgiving…unforgiveness divided our household for a long time…for generations, if I am being honest. But now, you…you have shown by your example…your being here showed me the way of forgiveness…how not to become resentful, even when you had every justification, every right to be…resentful…and vengeful…for the way we have treated you. This is a great lesson to me, and to my family. Don’t you agree, Qadir?!” The old man looked to the middle brother sternly, and then continued, “…some of us are still learning this lesson. My grandsons planned to capture someone, wanting to exchange them with the Israeli’s, to win their father’s freedom…my own son…you can understand a son’s desire to be with his father…to love his father, and be loved by him. They want their father back…and you offered yourself freely to help us, you gave yourself to be mistreated and you didn’t know what might become of you…I’m telling you now…you have already given them their father back! Our family tree broke long ago, but you have shown us the way to repair it, how to mend its broken branches…I promise you that we will follow your example, and when their father returns…which he will in only another year or so…we will graft him back into this family…we will show him what you have shown us…the grandfather will teach his son, and the grandsons will teach their father…and this family will be restored!”

The old man stopped his speech on this high point, with great emotion and tears welling up in his eyes. I looked around the room and the other men too had become caught up by the grandfather’s oration; Aariz and Khalid both smiled broadly, Aariz walking around the table and laying his hands warmly, with great affection, upon Ibrahim’s shoulders, and Kahlid dabbing at his eyes and wiping his cheek as he stared affectionately at his grandfather. Even Qadir betrayed a small smile, before turning to hide his face from his brothers. I thanked them all for this kindness and expressed my gratitude, grabbing Ibrahim’s forearm firmly—as he had done with me in the past—and I said a prayer of blessing over their home.

That was my last evening with them; we ate dinner together, and though they invited me to stay the night in a spare room, insisting that I sleep under their roof, I declined, and spent my final night in the small shed that I had grown accustomed to. The next morning as I prepared to leave, the skies opened and a torrential rain fell for several hours, delaying my departure.

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 41

Many days and nights passed after meeting Ibrahim; I spent this time mostly in solitude and prayer, with the occasional visit from one of the brothers, usually the youngest, who brought me food, water, or replaced a dirty bucket. But Ibrahim didn’t return, not for a long time, though I felt something change in the brothers’ visits with me, which I attributed to their grandfather; it was not quite a respect for me, but something more akin to an openness, or a willingness to see me for the first time.

It began as a faint smile during one visit, or an extra glance before shutting the door; a softening expression in their eyes, which admitted my humanity, that betrayed a dawning awareness I was more than a mere utility for their needs—that I was a being, apart from them, yet the same as they. Like the dawning of the sun on a new day, their awareness was opening in an equally surprising way; a recognition of something shared between us, that bridged apparent gaps between us, that revealed an expanded brotherhood—a shared humanity, of which we all belong.

I wondered to myself—could they put aside past pain and suffering, and follow the path opening up before them? Could they sacrifice their desire to add suffering to sufferings—their wish to return pain for pains—and discover a new desire, to heal the past divisions, and forge an expanded, and renewed community of man? I understood they felt oppressed, had been treated unfairly, and adding to these injuries, they had also lost the presence of their own beloved father—who they were now attempting to rescue in their own power, and to bring back home. But perhaps I was reading too much into these subtle changes I perceived in them; I didn’t really know what was in their hearts, since we are all masked from one another to a large degree.

When Ibrahim finally did return to see me, as I suspected he would, he was very serious and somber as he sat down beside me, and leaned back with a sigh, against the cool wall of the little shed. We sat side-by-side in silence for a while; and as I waited for him to begin I glanced through the open door at several chickens wandering beneath the olive trees searching for something to eat. He hadn’t bothered to close or lock the door behind him, knowing now I had no intention of attempting an escape.

He began by grasping my forearm firmly, and he smiled warmly, as I turned to face him and he confided, “I have to tell you some things…it was not easy for me to come back here. No, I did not want to come see you again. But…I have had a hard life…good enough, but difficult…fighting…many things to fight for, and against…and many things lost, just like anyone. But you reminded me that life was tender…and sweet…I forgot that sweetness…as a child, I knew it. And it pained me, to remember…and what I’ve wasted, by fighting…all these years, my entire life…but I’m old now, what do I have to fight for now?!…But what if I had fought for that sweetness!?! Why couldn’t I have fought for that tenderness?! That is what pains me now…I think, I fought the wrong things…the wrong people…I should have fought myself!”

Ibrahim tapped his own chest with his clenched fist, then grabbed my forearm again urgently, and repeated, “I should have fought against myself! Anger, vengeance…these things were right, they seemed right to me…but they were impossible…whatever it was I hoped for in these things…they were a mirage! Worse than a mirage…they were a cancer in me…they destroyed sweetness and beauty in me…do you understand?! No, I should have fought for what matters…that very thing…a peaceful soul…and good relations…we lost land, we lost our homes…but worse, we lost ourselves…I lost my son! No, he’s still alive, in prison now…but I lost him to the same cancer…to anger, unforgiveness…and these boys…” Ibrahim gestured and nodded towards the open door, “…they are doing the same as I did, the same as their father. It is not what I should have given them…it is not a good inheritance!”

“You’re free now, to give them something better,” I replied. “You still have time to give them…yourself, truly!…Although that can be a fearful thing.”

We sat for a few moments watching with amusement, as several chickens began to bicker over an empty bottle near the base of an olive tree.

“Do you remember any of the Bible stories your old church-man told you as a child?” I asked Ibrahim, “No?…I was thinking about the main story…the gift of love, given away at great cost…it cost the giver everything, giving his love to others, it cost him his own life…so love can be a fearful thing.”

Suddenly the chickens interrupted me with loud squawking as their argument over the empty bottle intensified.

I continued, “But it also surprisingly returned everything back to him…and also for those he loved, they gained everything they had previously lost…so that in the end, everything was gained…His was a beautiful life…and also a perfect death, if there can be such a thing…it was a beautiful thing, his gift of love…his sacrificial life…and it yielded an abundant and fruitful death.”

“Well, that is a very good inheritance!…Perhaps you are right, my friend…and maybe I can do something similar for my own son, and for those boys also…my grandsons,” remarked Ibrahim hopefully. “I must go,” he said, getting up and walking through the doorway.

He turned towards me and smiled once again, before walking around the corner and out of sight, leaving the door open behind him. The chickens had given up their fight over the empty bottle, and were now wandering beneath the olive trees.

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 40

Later, we approached the home of the three brothers; having left Yusef on the main road into town, we turned south and traveled a short distance, to a collection of homes situated within a small olive grove. Chickens and children ran back and forth across the path and in between the buildings, lending the scene a quality of happy chaos. I was taken past the houses to the far side of the grove, to a second collection of smaller buildings—presumably for animals and storage. Into one of these I was thrust, with the door shut and bolted behind me. It was a small room with a dirt floor, a pile of leafy branches lay in one corner, which I assumed was for sleeping; though I expected the dirt floor would be more comfortable. Several little openings covered with wire mesh were set high into one wall, just below corrugated steel roofing, and these provided some fresh air, and a bit of light in my otherwise dark and dreary accommodation.

The day passed slowly as I waited in my new home; eventually the light faded from the tiny apertures in the wall and the night enveloped me. Food was brought, and some water, along with a bucket for me to relieve myself. In most ways my circumstances were little changed here from my cell at the monastery, or the cave where I had planned to spend Lent; I was at peace with my new surroundings, and hopeful that my presence would be of some benefit to these troubled men—my captors. Though they intended to use me, like one might use a tool, to achieve some end or accomplish some purpose; I had offered myself freely with the hope that my utility would accomplish something greater, in addition to their limited plans for me.

Several days and nights passed in this same way, with little variation; and it dawned upon me that the brothers didn’t have a plan for how they would use me, or perhaps their plans were delayed, or they were also waiting, for some reason. I prayed for clarity, for myself in understanding how I could best serve the situation, and for the brothers, that they would discover a way through their difficulties—through their anger and unhappiness, and through their sorrows. I prayed for clarity for all of us—for the world—that we all may see through, to the other side of this world of tears.

It was sometime—about ten days into my stay in that shed—early in the morning, as the light was beginning to fill the darkness of my room, that a song came to mind; it was a hymn actually, one I remembered from my childhood, though I hadn’t sung it nor thought about for many years, but one of my father’s favorites. I began to sing: ‘For the beauty of each hour, of the day and of the night…hill and vale, and tree and flower…sun and moon and stars of light…Christ our God, to thee we raise…this our hymn of grateful praise!’ Unbeknownst to me at that moment, but outside my room, in the gathering light, the brothers’ grandfather, Ibrahim, had begun to water the nearby trees, and had stopped to listen to me sing. He would explain to me later, that he stood there listening and suddenly was overcome by some faint and distant memory…and he was confused…looking about him, he felt somehow disoriented…and then, as if in a trance he raised his eyes to the sky and felt a calm and a joy, mingled with sadness…a feeling from his childhood that had been removed entirely from his thoughts for nearly seventy years…and then tears had filled his eyes and he cried as he listened to this hymn…and then he fled back to his home, leaving the watering for a later time. He told no one about this, but the next morning he returned to begin watering the trees again, and hoped for something more…though he couldn’t say exactly what he hoped for.

The next morning, at about the same time, I too felt a yearning for something, and in my desire, I began to sing once again that long-forgotten, but newly remembered hymn: ‘For the beauty of the earth, for the beauty of the skies…for the love which from our birth, over and around us lies…Christ our God, to Thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise!’ This time, Ibrahim had pressed his ear against my door, and listened intently to the song, as memories began to clarify within his mind; he remembered an old man singing this song to him as a child, but he couldn’t remember why, or who the man was, nor how they knew each other. When I finished singing, he wandered back to his home, puzzled by these new revelations.

The following morning I began singing again, this time aware that someone was just outside the door, listening to me. ‘For the joy of human love…brother, sister, parent, child…friends on earth and friends above…for all gentle thoughts and mild…Christ our God, to Thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise!’ Suddenly the door burst open and Ibrahim stood staring at me with wide and tearful eyes…and with an expression of pain mingled with joy upon his face; he appeared incredulous, and hopeful. He walked slowly towards me, transfixed by the music…and I continued to sing as he sat down on the floor in front of me and stared deeply, inquisitively into my eyes.

“I remember now,” he began to say, as he continued looking at me with an expression turning to shock and surprise. “I remember it all now…I had forgotten for so long…I don’t know how I did forget. That song…I haven’t heard it since I was a young boy…a church man used to sing it to my brothers…he taught us all to speak English. It was before the war, before we had to fight for our land. He was very kind and brought us fruit…oranges from Jaffa. He taught us words from the Bible…which was forbidden for us…and dangerous for him I imagine. But we learned to speak…English, and learned about Jesus Christ…and I…I loved that song and how he sung it…he had love in his voice…like you do. You do too.” Ibrahim stopped and then nodded his head as he continued, “You have reminded me of all of that now…it was a good time, a lovely time…thank you for reminding me.”

*  *  *