The Daily Miracles of St Elizabeth Parish

The Lord is the one who answers prayer.

He has heard our prayers and satisfied our requests.

Let us glorify the Lord, for He is abundant in kindness, and in compassion towards all who follow Him, and trust in His name.

 

I have been like the Israeli children of old, as they wandered in the wilderness.

I have forgotten the good things that God has done.

Even now, I must work to avoid forgetting.

His blessings are all too numerous to mention, but hear of just a few—

 

We called upon the Lord to bring healing, and long life for Cornelius,

and he was healed and stands among us.

We prayed for safety and strength for Rachel and the child Sam, born of her,

and God has brought them through a long trial, healthy and strong.

We hoped for work closer to home and more convenient for Rafael and his family,

and just like a vision, after months of waiting, God answered our prayer and fulfilled our hopes, granting him the work he desires.

 

I have seen these things first-hand, and they have inspired and encouraged me.

 

We prayed that Helen would recover from her stroke, and that she and Kirk might have more time in this life, to share their love and time with one another,

and You, Lord, are giving Helen strength and ability once again, in answer to our prayers. We hear of her progress daily.

 

These are only a few of the daily blessings God has given.

Help me to remember You Lord, always, and bring to mind all of the remarkable and surprising things that You do for us.

Likewise, help us always to call on You, God, and to look to You for all our needs.

 

Forgive me for my blindness, to the miracles that stand, literally, all around me—testaments, all of them, that You are, truly in our midst.

 

~FS

A Vain-Glorious Trap

The mind can act like a vain-glorious trap—catching the gifts and virtues which have been given to us on loan by God, and holding them as mental images depicting us as men or women in glory, worthy to be admired, or honored, or even worshiped by others and ourselves.

Every good gift is from above, and one can receive nothing, unless it has been given them from heaven. Yet the mind can imagine itself to be the originator, and cause of every good thing; and then it can falsely endow our self-image with these gifts, convincing us that they are really our own.

Beware the vain-glorious trap, that our mind can be, and its creative capacity for delusion! For the Spirit, the giver of every gift of grace and virtue, is like the wind—moving this way and that—and impossible to contain.

Behind every goodness we think is ours, is the Creator of Goodness, the only Goodness. At best, we are merely the glass through which His light shines forth. Are we wise, are we knowledgeable, are we talented in some art or music, have we love, or mercy, kindness or compassion? Beware! Lest these good things become bad, being twisted by the minds-eye, which inclines to fantasies of self-love.

~FS

A New Declaration of Independence

When in the course of a human life one becomes aware of the bondage and servitude to which his or her inner nature has become ensnared, and it becomes necessary to dissolve these bonds and to reorient them from what is bad towards what is good, and to assume the natural use of the powers granted them by the God of nature, to which His image and likeness entitle them, then for the benefit of this person, and for that of all mankind, it shall be declared, the causes for which this reorientation is required, and for which this new independence is sought.

These truths remain self-evident—that all people are created free; endowed by God with powers of mind, desire and strength, for the purpose of growing in love, peace and joy.—That by using these powers in the way intended by nature and by God, every person can achieve these ends.—That by the misuse of these powers mankind falls into every kind of difficulty, suffering, pain, deception and entrapment. —That the ruler of this world has used deception, trickery, seduction and malice to corrupt these natural powers to turn humanity from what is good towards what is evil. —That because mankind has fallen into enslavement to this evil, by improper use of our freedom, so that we desire what we shouldn’t, and hate others whom we should love, it is clear that we have become self-destructive and it is our necessity, and our duty to abolish this rule of evil within us, and to lay a new foundation upon Christ, Who’s power will reorganize the powers within us, so as to attain liberty once again.

By a long train of abuses and temptations, the current ruler of this world has reduced mankind under an absolute Despotism, so that it is now our duty, by the right of our Creator, for each to throw off this tyranny, and shelter under God’ grace for his or her future security. The history of the present ruler is a history of diabolical malefactions and malicious deceptions, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over mankind. To prove this, let facts be submitted to an honest and straightforward world:

…he has rejected, and causes mankind to reject, the law and commandments given us for the public and private good.

…he has confused and confounded mankind into becoming lovers of ourselves, instead of lovers of one another; seeking self-gain first, and then what is good for others only to the degree it benefits us.

…he has manipulated our natural desires, causing us to turn them towards superficial, transient or forbidden things which don’t satisfy our needs and which, after fleeting pleasure, yield greater sorrow.

…he has caused murders, wars and every kind of violence, by turning our natural anger away from evil as its only proper object, and towards our brothers and sisters, and has deluded us into justifying our misdirected anger and our atrocities.

…he has caused us to lose our self-control, so that we are no longer masters of our appetites or our emotions; but have become slaves to the caprice and whim of our emotions, and easily manipulated by our desires.

…for entrapping us in despondency and hopelessness.

…for enticing us with money and fame, which never satisfy our inner longings.

…for mesmerizing us with possessions which we expect should give us joy, but only create a deepening emptiness within us.

…for isolating and dividing us from one another, under every pretext and justification, but yielding only more anger and misery.

…for causing us to see one another as objects, tools, or means for satisfying our own desires, rather than each as unique and precious images of God, with vast inherent worth.

…for using every kind of material deception to draw us out of ourselves, and away from God, so that we become lost and unable to perceive God any longer, so that we lose our relationship with the only One that can heal us and save us.

…he has bewildered us with entertainments, dulled our minds and hearts, and caused us to grow lazy and indifferent towards our spiritual realities.

…he has plundered us, ravaged us, burnt us, murdered us, raped us, and in every way destroyed the lives of mankind, all while hiding in the shadows so that mankind even doubts his very existence.

…he has made himself, thus, our perfect enemy, and turned each of us into unwitting accomplices to our own destruction.

We, therefore, each of us who desire to be truly free, appealing to the Lord of all, do, in His name, solemnly publish and declare, that we are by nature and by right afforded through His mercy and grace, independent and free from all allegiance to the ruler of this world, and that all spiritual connection between us and Satan, is and ought to be totally dissolved, and that as free and independent beings, we have full power, by God’s grace, to live virtuously and in accord with the commandments given for our peace, in control of ourselves, making proper use of all the faculties of our soul which have been given us for our fulfillment and blessing, and to do all things right and proper to those living in spiritual freedom.—And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm and total reliance on the protection of the Triune God, we pledge to God our complete and enduring love, issuing forth from our mind, our heart, our soul and our strength, and we pledge to one another, a love that equals the love we have for our very selves.

~FS

 

 

 

 

The Resplendent Lightness of Turning

Before, when I lived in a darkness of my own conceit, I was as one dead to life, but sadly too numb to know it. I spent my days, content and at peace with myself—happily engaged in trivialities, self-assured by my inner virtues, which I measured, conveniently, against anyone clearly worse than myself. This satisfied my conscience, superficially, and was approved and encouraged by the lazy elements slumbering within me. I was wrapped inside a blanket of darkness, though which appeared as light, to my night-accustomed vision; for there was a hazy twilight, as from a far-off sun over the horizon, by which I could see. I called murkiness, daylight, and convinced myself that it was enough. What need had I of pure light, when dim light suited my darkened soul much better? And though I lived for the future sunrise, I could wait until a future time to see it.

Then, a revelatory light punctuated my darkness—unsought, only partially welcomed—inexorable, omnipresent, and casting my comfortable malaise in high-contrast, starkly before my eyes. There was nowhere to turn, to close my eyes, to pretend not to see, for it was clear to me that living in the semi-darkness, as I had, was actually a fatal luxury, afforded only to those with little hope…and little faith. I understood then, that we were made for brighter things—to be called out from the stupor that our negligence and complacency has wrought for us, made to turn from this numbing darkness which bathes us in self-satisfaction, or remorse—and created for the freedom which can be found only in perfect love.

Now, instead of a life of constant propping, of human effort, of dwelling in the shadows while seeking the limelight, or of hiding from shame; I see before me a life of repentance—the life that is resplendent and shining, and ever open to love’s pure light. Clothed in humility—repentance, is a life which transcends the sickly morass of remorse or shame, and will not bind us like these human chains will do, but rather, repentance allows our soul to take flight and to soar upward, even as we bow ourselves downward. This is the life of genuine courage and unfeigned joy. Not a one-time turning, but rather a life-turning, a never-ending turning, from the past towards the future, from our darkness towards His light. It is a shower of silver waters cleansing us perpetually, from out of a clear and golden sky; a snowfall that covers our soul in purest-white, forgiveness for all that has come between ourselves and God. Repentance is the parting of the clouds forevermore, and the shining forth of God’s love and grace, out, from within our hearts. This is the true life for which we were made.

~FS

Reminiscences on Childhood in the Valley of the Moon (parts 1 & 2)

I.

When I allow my mind to wander back to those times, when we were very young, just beginning our journeys here, bringing forth our fresh lives together, within the soft arms of those ancient hills, I cannot help but feel embraced, even now, by the gentle joy and warm comfort that was our childhood in the valley of the moon.

Ours, actually, was a little valley, Rincon Valley, at the northern tip of the Sonoma Valley, which stretches from San Pablo Bay in the south, up through the town of Sonoma, past Glen Ellen (the home of Jack London) and into Santa Rosa, our home. More specifically, we lived in several neighborhoods set among the oak trees, at the base of the hillsides making up this small valley, made golden by flowing grasses in the summertime, and green in the winter, as the flush of new growth covered their rolling slopes.

Each of us occupied some special spot within these neighborhoods, in homes smaller or larger—neither so opulent as to be a danger of losing ourselves, nor so tiny as to despair—but we lived here with our families in these places, nestled together, side-by-side, sharing our lives, almost as if we were one large organism, knowing one another, familiar, and at peace.

As is true with any organism there is a variety within a unity, and this was true for us. We were so many unique individuals with distinct attributes, strengths and weaknesses—we were a variety of characters. Our common life revolved around our school, this is where we met and made our friendships, where we enjoyed our victories and setbacks, where so many of life’s lessons were experienced, for better and for worse.

Sequoia Elementary School was situated nearly at the heart of our world, geographically as well as spiritually. It was our world within the world. Of course, our homes were this as well for each of us, so perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Sequoia sat at one pole of our world, and our home resided at the other, and our lives consisted of travelling from one pole to the other, and back again.

Life at Sequoia, for most of us, began when we were five. At that age, though it was only a half-mile journey, I remember the walk from my doorstep to the kindergarten classroom seemed so very long, as I passed through a labyrinth of streets: San Luis Avenue, San Juan Street, Yerba Buena Drive, then cut across someone’s pasture, climbing through the old barbed-wire fences and down the narrow dirt path which kids had made from time immemorial, and finally arriving on the other side, climbing across the drainage swale that ran alongside Monte Verde Drive, and then finally the long walk down Calistoga Road, through the schoolyard, or around the block to the far corner of the school, where the Kindergarten class was located.

Mrs Moresi was our kindergarten teacher, and Adrien was the school custodian. She was kind and wonderful, but he was intimidating (more about him in a moment). For the most part kindergarten was a pleasure: lots of art and crafts, learning the alphabet and numbers, and plenty of time to play outside in the small fenced-in yard. The smell of wet cedar chips drying in the heat of the sun is a pleasure I still carry with me from that time. In the midst of this cedar chip play area was a steel slide which became so hot in the afternoon sun that it actually felt cold at first when one slid down it. This was a surprising discovery which didn’t stop us from sliding down it over and over again, even while wearing shorts or dresses.

One afternoon, just after lunch we were told that we would be having a visit from Adrien and he wanted to talk to just the boys in the class. When he arrived, he lined us up side-by side in a long row. It was all very intriguing and curious. Adrien walked up and down the row looking us over with a scowl. He didn’t seem pleased or happy at all. There were around twelve of us in line and we looked at each other nervously, but giggling and smirking at the same time. We could barely hold our line, truth be told, since fidgeting and moving about in constant motion was more our forte. But we did our best as he looked us over and then he began his speech. It was more of a scolding actually.

The kindergarten classroom had two small designated bathrooms in the corner, one for the girls and one for the boys. Adrien had no problem at all with cleaning the girl’s bathroom, but he had had all he could take cleaning the boy’s, and he wanted to let us all know about it. “Someone!” Apparently. “Keeps missing the toilet!”

“I don’t know who it is, and I don’t care, but you all need to learn how to aim better because I am sick and tired of cleaning up the floor and the seat!” It was terrifying. I looked at my collaborators lined up beside me, and none of us were smiling or giggling anymore, well perhaps a few of us here and there were, but a seriousness had descended upon us. I suspected others had done this dirty deed as well, but I knew for a fact that I had done it, and I was almost certain that it was obvious to Adrien, somehow, that it was me. I’m not sure how he could know, but I felt certain he did.

After he left us, the boys of the classroom were quiet for a while, until we forgot about it, and went back to having a good time. Collectively we may have been peeing on the floor but nobody admitted it to the others. For my part however, I determined not to take any further chances; so this is when I left standing behind, and took the extra precaution of sitting down for the remainder of my kindergarten career.

II.

In the 1970’s Sequoia Elementary was a humble school, but I would contend, a quietly spectacular one. What it lacked in sophistication, it made up for with heart and soul. This was before the time of trumpeting accomplishments on school signage, where every school today claims its fame as a distinguished institution. Today, it is a fancy place by comparison, and while probably just as fine a home to this generation of children, I lament the loss of its former understated simplicity.

Currently, a charter school has been added to its grounds, and where once occupied a dirt and gravel parking area, this has been replaced with an asphalt parking lot and raised veggie beds. And many of the sacred sites, which formerly witnessed our amazing feats of sporting prowess, our innocent amorous adventures, and our budding human dramas, have now been covered over by numerous new clusters of additional classrooms, and sparkling playgrounds with elaborate structures, burying the physical testimony to our former glories and tribulations.

Nevertheless, these triumphs and trials still exist in memory, and can be unearthed again through the telling of the tales; and as these stories are brought forth, I suspect others will corroborate their authenticity, shining new light upon my imperfect remembrance, yet adding to the veracity of their core truth.

There are many tales to tell, but allow me to first set the scene. Sequoia Elementary occupies roughly five acres at the corner of Calistoga Road and Dupont Drive, in eastern Santa Rosa. A rectangular property, oriented more or less in a northerly direction, with Calistoga Rd. on the western edge, Dupont Dr. to the south, and residential properties lining the northern and eastern edges. It is a fairly flat property with a slight rise to the south, where the first row of buildings resides. Centered, and running parallel to the southern edge of the property is this first row of buildings, which are home to the administrative offices, teacher’s lounge and kindergarten classroom to the right, and the cafeteria to the left (when looking at it from Dupont Drive).

A rounded driveway approaches the front of the building from the far right, stops at the midpoint, and continues to the left to rejoin Dupont Drive. Apart from a grove of Redwood trees to the left of this driveway, and some shrubs lining the front of the building, and a few small trees along Calistoga Road, there was virtually no other foliage on the property back in the 70’s, save the perennial weeds that made up the playfield in the back, and which lined the surroundings of the school buildings and asphalt playground.

The structure of the school consisted of three rows of buildings, connected by a central covered walkway. This walkway began at the midpoint of the first row, essentially dividing the cafeteria to the left, from the offices to the right. The second row, to the east of the corridor, was home to the first and second grade classrooms, and the fourth and fifth grades to the west (although these could change somewhat from year to year). The final row was home to the third and fourth grades to the east, and more fifth and sixth grade classrooms to the west. Where the central corridor cut through each of these buildings, along their inner walls, you’d find bathrooms, the custodian’s workshop, and a supply room or two. To the west of the fourth and fifth grade wing were three additional portable buildings which housed the school library, and two additional classrooms.

Around all of these structures stretched the hallowed grounds, the playground and the playfield further to the north, all of which were the stage for so many of our comic exploits and epic adventures, as well as our mundane misadventures—our plans to jump the fences and break out of this prison, or our trips to distant planets, our Superbowl victories, as well as errant balls kicked into yard-duty faces which landed us in the principal’s office for hours of interrogation and cross-examinations, the four-square, the dodge-ball, basketball, football and soccer and other games with names you could never say in our current times, such as ‘butts-up’ and ‘smear-the-queer’, which upon reflection, is probably a good thing.

This was the place you’d ask a girl to ‘go with you’, and what they meant is you’d walk around the track together, holding hands. Or, on the other hand, if she was a faster runner than you, instead, you’d challenge her to a race, to prove that you could beat her.

By the time each of us had spent our seven years in this place, or fewer if we had joined part-way through or left early, I imagine that every square inch of it could provide us with a unique and lasting memory, something that remains with us, and shapes us, in conscious or unconscious ways. Each room has a story—some were dangerous yet magical, some were off-limits, others were strange and maybe repulsive, or even secret with hidden surprises and treasures; or places of boredom and tedium, discovery and anticipation.

Time was measured by the big, round, white clocks at the front of every class-room, but the schoolyear was measured by anticipation. Each school-year began weeks before classes actually started, when teachers posted the names of their students for the coming year on a simple sheet of paper posted on the door of each classroom. Each of us made our way down to the school, with a mix of dread and excitement, hoping we’d get the teacher we like, avoid the one we didn’t, and get our best friends in the same class with us. Then we looked forward to Halloween and the parade of costumes, the parties and the candy. After that, the beginning of holiday crafts, practicing Christmas songs for the annual Christmas show, and then the long winter break.

For our birthday, Mr Wilson, our principal, would invite each of us into his office, that dangerous place of discipline and remorse, but this time we could enter, in order to pick out a polished rock from his interesting and extensive collection. Who wouldn’t love a polished rock? A magical, colorful, shiny object that reflected the kindness of the man who gave it to us, and who watched over us all, students and teachers alike, with gentleness and benevolence.

After the New Year, we might look forward to the annual book sale. For this, we were given a small catalog which contained a myriad of wonderful books, art supplies and games which we could choose from, place an order, and then anticipate their delivery several weeks later. The library was transformed at this time into a marketplace of these books for sale, where we could see, touch and smell the offerings, samples laid out on tables, the real-life versions of the amazing things found in the catalog. And then there was the annual carnival, with games of all kinds, tickets bought to try to dunk a teacher in a tank of water, or smash an old car with a sledge-hammer, or win a cake at the cake-walk.

And finally the events at the conclusion of the year: first, the big track meet which we hosted, inviting rivals Binkley Elementary, and Rincon (now Whited Elementary) to compete against us in all sorts of track and field events, and finally giving us the opportunity to try out the clever nick-names we thought up, calling our opponents ‘Binkley-Stinkly’ and ‘Rincon-Stinkin’; and second, the annual watermelon-feed, when Adrien, or Mr Wilson, would pull a huge flat-bed trailer filled with watermelon out onto the playground, using the old, ancient, rusty tractor that must have come from the Romans, and they would cut the watermelons into huge wedges, and hand them out to the entire school, crowded around the trailer, and everyone got their piece, and then another, and another, and then we all chucked the rinds at each other, littering the playground with greenish-white and pink slop. Those were the days!

~FS

Remembering God

To remember God is to forget ourselves, in every good way. Remembering God is the end of sadness, when we put to rest our attachment to everything fleeting and passing, and find eternal life within our Source. It is the end of striving, and we find our ambitions satisfied, and our desires fulfilled. It is the death of melancholy and boredom, when His life fills us with purpose and vitality. Remembering God causes courage to blossom, and fear to wilt; it is the revelation of unity and the vanishing of division. Anger towards our brother and sister, or towards the world in general, dissipates, as our eyes are fixed only on our destination in God. Remembering God deflates our ego, and the false belief in our own autonomy and power, as we come to our senses and recognize our true source of existence, from which every power and gift flows. Remembering God is the beginning of self-control in all things, as His peace fills our soul, and the ragings of our appetites are weaned. Remembering God is the life’s work of our soul; it is the occupation of our mind, our body, and our heart every moment of every day. It is the fulfilling of His commandments and the beginning of love. Remembering God is our beginning and our ending; it is our life and it is our salvation.

~FS

The Transients (A Short Story)

Marcus Trent had a wild weekend—again—just the way he liked it; with barely time to catch his breath. He was a busy man, knew a lot of people, knew how to have a fun, and had plenty of money, and health, to pursue happiness. He had an easy smile, his life was easy, and he knew that he mattered—because he was young and ambitious and connected.

But he was just a regular guy (he’d say), no different than most of his friends (not really), and no…he was not a hedonist…whatever that means. Besides, even if he was, what’s wrong with that? Man has been pursuing pleasure, in one form or another, for as long as he’s walked the Earth, hasn’t he, and it’s only natural to keep up the pursuit…besides, what else is there to do?

His weekend began Friday after work, meeting friends for dinner at a place downtown. He had a nice steak and some wine. Afterwards, they drove to a party uptown, and later, to another out in the country. Saturday he slept in, and then went to the gym for a pick-up game of basketball. After that, he returned home, took a quick shower and got dressed in time to make it to a friend’s wedding mid-afternoon—taking in the reception—and then off to dinner with some other friends, and then out to a movie. Later that night, he and a buddy went to a club, danced a bit, had a few drinks and then he returned home and turned in a bit early, since he was planning to meet a girl the next morning, one that he had hooked up with the previous weekend.

Sunday morning they had breakfast together, and then a nice, long walk around the lake. He had spent a little more time with her than he had intended, causing him to miss the kick-off of the early afternoon game. His buddies gave him a hard time as he walked in the front door, mid-way through the first quarter, but after a beer or two everything was good. His team lost, so they went out to dinner to forget about it.  He had wings and a beer or two, and then went home.

He didn’t have anything planned for the night, so he paced the room restlessly until he remembered that he had that girl’s number. He called her up and she came over a little while later. She stayed a few hours and they did what people do, and then she had to get going. He took a shower, then pulled out the X-Box and played until a little after midnight, and then went to bed so he’d be ready for work in the morning.

It had been a good weekend—nothing extraordinary—but not too boring. Monday morning was a little rough, his head didn’t feel great. Maybe he should have had one less beer last night, or more water. He poured himself a coffee, sat down at his desk, and took a look at his calendar: a few meetings, one or two solid leads for easy sales, and closing on a house Thursday.

“That’s a good one,” he thought to himself. “I should bag about $8,000 commission on that one alone. It’s going to be a good weekend,” he smiled.

Then he frowned; the weekend was so far away. He looked at the clock: 8:45am Monday morning.

“Man, how am I going to get through this week?” he asked himself.

He glanced around the room, searching for a distraction. He spotted a colleague at the far end of the office and yelled out to him, “Hey, Steve, how was your weekend?!”

“Not bad. Just a little of this and a little of that,” came the reply from across the room. “How about you?”

“The same,” replied Marcus.

He looked out the window. It was raining.

“Rain goes perfectly with boredom,” he muttered. “Why is life so boring?”

He looked back at Steve, who had taken his seat at his own desk now and was typing something on the computer. Steven Bennis was a good friend, though they rarely did anything together. He wasn’t the kind of person that you’d go to a party with, or catch a movie together. It didn’t seem like he’d enjoy these types of things, so Marcus never thought to invite him. But he was good to talk with, very good actually, and Marcus always felt that Steve really listened, and actually heard him, when they talked. Almost nobody made him feel that way, everyone else was always too busy, and moving too fast for that.

Steve never moved too fast, but he didn’t move too slowly either. Rather, he always seemed to match his speed appropriately to the present situation, and his temperament to the needs of the moment—never stressed, never bored, just steady. He seemed to glide through life, or float a little above it, living somehow unaffected by the things that provoked everyone else. Sometimes this annoyed Marcus, but it was difficult to be upset with Steve for very long because he was always on your side. Even when he was against you, so to speak, if he disagreed with you, or disapproved of something, he could somehow manage to express this in such a delicate and gentle way that it was disarming, and difficult to resist. If the world were a sea in constant motion, Steve was a rock, irresistible and resolute.

At the end of the day, Marcus and Steve left the office. As Steve walked downtown towards the park, Marcus decided to follow him at a distance, since he didn’t have anything else to do, and needed to kill some time.

“Let’s see what Steve gets up to in the evening. What secrets he’s hiding.” He laughed at the thought of this.

The park was situated near the corner of a large intersection. Flanked by apartments and businesses, it was the only spot of nature in the vicinity, and was a favorite destination for everyone living and working nearby, and also for many visitors just passing through town. It wasn’t extremely large, but it was beautifully planted, and had been designed by someone with an experienced eye. It wasn’t a small park either however, with a central fountain shaded by large American Sycamores, which dominated the perimeter of the main square; and tangent to this were several paths leading off in various directions, through densely planted borders, and alongside colorful copses of birches, maples and hornbeams, revealing hidden rooms with floral and foliated walls, and small glades of lawns opening up to the sun or the clouds above. The park snaked its way between the neighboring high-rises and back to the true gem of the park, which was an old brick and stone church hidden beneath the trees, and a collection of outbuildings organized in a tight formation to the side of the church, which comprised a small but functioning monastery of Orthodox Christian monks.

The church was Steve’s destination. On most weeknight evenings the monks offered a vespers service at 6pm, which the public was allowed to attend, and he rarely missed it. Actually, he rarely missed any of the services offered by the monks throughout the year, including the weekly Sunday liturgies, special feasts and vigils. In fact, it was the routine of these services year by year, along with his steady participation in the mysteries of the Church, more commonly known as sacraments—Confession and the Eucharist in particular—that he attributed for his even-temperament and serene manner of life. He would say that it was all of these things which had refined and polished him over time, and had somehow softened him, working away his rough edges.

On his way through the park Steve stopped at the fountain, and sat on its edge, next to another man. From where Marcus was standing, partially hidden behind the furthest sycamore, at the edge of the park, he couldn’t recognize the other man but his appearance made Marcus uncomfortable.

“Why the heck is Steve sitting with that guy?” he wondered, as he peered more intently at the two men, craning his neck a bit further around the mottled girth of the old tree to get a better view.

Steve had sat down next to Willie Bobson, a homeless man, who had been living in the park for the past week. They had struck up a conversation and the beginnings of a friendship at the fountain several days earlier, when Steve had stopped to admire the little ripples on the surface of the water, and the way they refracted the sunlight, casting patterns across the bottom of the pool.

“It looks completely random and irregular doesn’t it?” Willie had interjected that afternoon into Steve’s silent soliloquy.

“Why, yes it does,” Steve had replied, startled and bemused.

“It ain’t though. There’s a regular pattern there if you look hard enough…and maybe squint your eyes…can’t see it? Maybe take a step back, try that…No? Well, then,” Willy shrugged.

They both looked silently for a few moments down into the water.

“Sure is pretty though,” Willy said slowly.

“That it is,” Steve agreed.

They smiled at each other, and recognized something familiar in the eyes of the other—and in the ways common to most children everywhere—they knew instantly they’d be friends for life.

“They’re talking about something,” Marcus thought to himself. “Man, if I could just get a little closer. Wonder what they’re saying?”

The two stood up just then, and began walking together slowly down one of the paths leading to the back of the park towards the church. The church was their destination, but Marcus had no idea of this, because he had no knowledge that there was even a church at the back of the park. He had never been to it, and, apart from a party or two that may have taken place here back in high-school, he couldn’t actually remember ever being in this park before. He liked it though, something about it comforted him.

He considered following the two men down the path, but suddenly realized he was hungry. It was almost 6pm and he needed some dinner.  So instead, he turned around and walked back to the office, got in his car, and drove home to eat.

It was about 6:45pm when a small group entered the park. They were jovial and in a good mood. One of them carried a red balloon in his hand and talked loudly and animatedly. He was obviously the center of attention, and all eyes were watching him adoringly, although some also with a little sadness.

“I’m five!” he yelled out to anyone in the park that might be interested. “I’m five!” he yelled again to everyone interested or not. He claimed to be five, but he certainly was not. By all appearances he was closer to twenty-five, standing close to six-feet tall although severely hunched over, and he had what amounted to a slight beard scattered here and there across his face.

“It’s my birthday!” he exclaimed with joy, and then smiled from ear to ear.

The elderly couple that was walking with him directed him to a nearby bench and the three sat down together, while the little white dog that accompanied them jumped up onto the birthday boy’s lap, and curled up contentedly. He pet the little animal lovingly, and anyone watching the two of them would have had a difficult time telling who loved who more, but perhaps they adorned each other equally.

This little band of four were waiting for the next bus, and while they waited, Steve and Willie came back up the path from the church. It was beginning to get dark now, which made the crispness in the air feel colder. The rain that had fallen earlier in the day had stopped now, but water covered the ground, and gave every flat surface a sparkly incandescent glow, reflecting the streetlamps, the lamps in the park which had just come on, and the light from passing vehicles.

What happened next, all occurred so quickly, that nobody is quite sure how it all transpired. Those who observed the events each had somewhat different accounts, and nobody could completely agree on the details. Most people seemed to agree however, that it really wasn’t the bus driver’s fault, and that he shouldn’t be held responsible.

As the bus was driving north, just after it had passed Fourth Street, with about a block remaining before arriving at the bus stop in front of the park, an altercation broke out at the front of the bus, and it escalated rapidly. Before the driver was able to react, he found himself in the middle of the fight. As he explained to the police later that evening, he had meant to hit the brakes, but somehow in the confusion, he must have pumped the accelerator by accident. He doesn’t remember how this happened, or why, and he is so very sorry.

As he later told the police his account, the paramedics finished wrapping his head to stop the bleeding and were applying pressure to slow the swelling. This probably explained a lot, Sergeant Brixt surmised, and wrote as much in his report, stating that the driver most likely had suffered a concussion during the melee, and this was the cause of his error.

Meanwhile, as the bus approached the park, the little dog saw something that either scared him or excited him, so he leaped off the young man’s lap and darted out into the boulevard. Fortunately, there wasn’t a lot of traffic, and he made it safely to the raised median in the middle of the road. But then, he must have become frightened, and began barking desperately for help. The boy, whose birthday it was, screamed hysterically and floundered out into the street after the little dog. But the young man couldn’t run, in fact, he even had trouble walking, so as he stumbled along, he tripped and collapsed on the asphalt in a heap, crying out in pain and probably a great deal of fear.

Steve and Willie had just sat at the fountain when all this took place. In Steve’s heart he just wanted to go home, it had been a long day, and he was tired. He preferred to ignore this situation but instead, he got up and ran out into the street to help the boy. It was instinct, not thought, that caused him to run out to the boy’s aid, and it must have been adrenaline that enabled him to lift the little-boy-in-a-man’s-body with relative ease and get him out of the road. He had just pulled him to the sidewalk, and was returning to get the little dog, when the bus driver mistakenly hit the accelerator rather than the brake. Steve disappeared beneath the bus.

Onlookers, horrified and distraught, later consoled one another with words like, “It happened so fast, he probably didn’t even know what happened” and “I’m sure he didn’t feel much pain” or “He was a hero.”

The elderly couple, after giving their report to the officers, held their little boy in their arms and kissed him, and they hugged him, and he smiled again. By now the little white dog had been returned to his family, and the boy kissed him, and hugged him, and as he did this he clutched his red balloon happily.

Willie had just lost his new friend, so he cried. But he had also noticed something unusual at the moment Steve was hit, something that none of the other onlookers had seen, and he kept this in his heart, and it consoled him.

Willie Bobson was always on the move, never spending much time in any one place, not letting the dust accumulate on his shoes, he’d say. He hadn’t ever wanted a steady job, or a stable home, though he had also never tried for any of these things, and didn’t really know what they’d be like if he had them. His was a life of the mind, ideas intrigued him, and he found that he could think better while on the move. The wind in his hair, and the air in his face stimulated good thinking, he liked to say, and a little of it blowing through the ears was good for clearing away the cobwebs inside, he joked.

But he was getting older now, and he was tired. He was tired of moving, always looking for a place to sleep each night, always on edge, never at rest, never at peace. This park had provided some welcome comfort, and had gotten him to start thinking of a change of pace.

Even more, he had begun to think about a change of state, a change more significant and essential to his being than a mere change in the number of places he slept, or how often he hit the road, or how many meals he missed.

The past few days meeting and talking with Steve had opened a new door in Willie’s mind, and a new consideration, of a new kind of stability that transcends place and time, yet dwells inside of us. He began to consider for the first time the reality of God, but more than just a mental consideration of the fact of God, he had spent time with these types of thoughts since he was a child. No, this felt more like a confrontation, in the sense of an experience or meeting with someone beyond time and space. It was as if he had felt eternity for a moment, and it felt very good.

His life appeared anything but stable, and his choices, throughout his entire life, gave the appearance of utter randomness and confusion. Nevertheless, upon further reflection he could see that there had been a certain flow of ups and downs in his life, an even oscillation over its span, although comprised of multitudinal smaller oscillations if one were to take the time to look closely. But he felt trapped, for all of the freedom he had sought in this transient existence, he couldn’t get free of himself. The amplitude of his existence operated within finite limits that he couldn’t transcend and this vexed him. So he ran, he always ran, driven to get free, struggling to get free, but never truly free.

But then the moment finally came, in the most unlikely way, at the most paradoxical time, as his friend ran into the street, and at the exact moment Steve was hit by the bus. Willie felt a surprising surge of energy within him, saw a bewildering deluge of memories and images from his past, and knew a certainty about his future. His life had flashed before his eyes: past, present and future. He saw how he had tried and failed to find freedom throughout his entire life, he saw the constant limits pressing in on him, and the sorrow and pain of this existence. And then he saw his past few days living in the park, talking with Steve, visiting the church and the monks. And then he knew, with a certainty beyond any doubt, that this park also would be his final resting place. He knew that he would never leave this park, and he felt a thrill of peace and freedom in recognizing this truth.

It was as if he had died along with Steve, or rather, as if he had been given new life through Steve’s death. Somehow, the moment of death and life, seemed inextricably intertwined, and for Willie he now understood something no one had taught him. He understood empirically that his life, his freedom, would be born now out of this death.

The monks that had been feeding him the past few days, and whom he had curiously watched during services he attended with Steve, now took on a new appearance in Willie’s mind. They were his future. That little old brick and stone church at the back of the park would be his new home, and he would live out his days learning and growing in the knowledge of God—and he would depart this world someday from within the walls of that church, or from under a birch, or maple tree, or perhaps even from here, beside this very fountain.

By now the accident scene had been cleared, and traffic was moving normally again. Willie sat up and walked deeper into the park, found a quiet little place, and went to sleep.

The next morning at the office, Marcus was told about Steve’s passing. He was stunned, and spent most of the morning staring out his office window, but seeing nothing. As the day wore on however, he grew more agitated and restless. Whereas Steve’s death had brought peace to Willie, for Marcus it brought war. Life no longer made as much sense to him, and it suddenly no longer appeared to be the game he thought it was—and that he had been winning with such ease. Steve wasn’t that much older than he was, and he’s dead; Marcus considered this hideous reality for a moment, and shuddered slightly.

Death suddenly seemed behind every corner ready to jump out and take him next. This disturbed him, but something Steve had said to him just a few days earlier was disturbing him even more. It struck at the core of his entire existence, and now seemed even more poignant. He couldn’t remember the context of their conversation, or what exactly brought it up, but he remembered Steve had looked him in the eyes in an odd way, like he was about to say something to Marcus that he wanted to sink in very deeply.

“Marcus, you do realize, I hope, that there aren’t any pleasures in this world that come for free. Every pleasure in this world has hidden within it the seeds of pain and sorrow.”

“Well, thanks for that uplifting sentiment,” he remembered replying. “Rather macabre. Are you a pessimist, Steve?” he had asked.

“No. This isn’t defeat or despair talking, Marcus. Every worldly joy ends, every happy moment or excitement has its conclusion, it’s just the nature of it—even our loved ones, our children, our friends, everything ends, sometimes sooner and sometimes later. But always, no matter when it happens, it happens right now…I’m trying to tell you that your pleasure, your money, everything you are putting your desires into, it is all transitory, and has no true existence. You don’t have to keep chasing these illusions your entire life.”

Marcus remembered that he had wanted to make a joke at that moment, because he was uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was taking, but he couldn’t think of anything funny to say, so he grimaced instead.

“Something to think about,” Steve had said, and then slapped Marcus on the shoulder. “Give it a lot of thought, if you can. But consider this also, there is a way out, there is a lasting joy to be had in this place, and you can find it if you want it.” Then he had smiled and walked away.

Marcus had kind of wanted to punch Steve at that moment. This conversation annoyed him, but of course he didn’t. And since then, the idea of it had been eating away at him. Every pleasure is infused with latent pain and sorrow waiting to burst forth. What an idea! Who could live with such an idea?! Who would want to?!? It made him feel like slitting his wrists right then and there. What was the point then of this life? If not for pleasure and personal satisfaction, why live?!

And now Steve was gone, just like he had said. And though the memory of him brought some happiness, he was also right, the loss of him brought more sorrow and pain. So what was the point of this life then? And what did he mean, that there is a way out, a lasting happiness, and one that can be found…if we want it?

Marcus spent the next few days wrestling with these thoughts, and also with his emotions, as he tried to come to grips with the death of his good friend, especially with Steve’s sudden and permanent absence from his life.

As people often do, he went over the events of that evening in his mind, wondering what would have happened if he had only followed Steve and the other man down the path, or had invited Steve out to dinner with him, couldn’t he have prevented his death? And who was that other man Steve was talking with anyway? He was obviously homeless, probably crazy, and most likely just trying to scam his friend out of some money. But then, why did they look like they were having so much fun together…and Steve didn’t look bothered by the man at all, in fact, he looked pleased to be with him…It didn’t make any sense. But maybe that man held the key to his friend’s death, maybe he knew something…or maybe even, he was responsible and should be charged. Marcus decided it was time to find the man in the park and ask him a few questions.

It was Friday and Marcus decided to take the day off so he could find the man and get some answers. He found him at the fountain, as he expected, and approached the man with determination mixed with caution. He was prepared to get to the bottom of this, and he wasn’t going to let this thief, and possibly murderer, get away. But he also had to be on his toes in case the man attacked him, he had to be ready for a fight, and maybe the guy had a knife…he had to be prepared for that as well.

The man was dirty and wore too many layers of clothes, which they always do, Marcus thought to himself, slightly repulsed. He hoped the guy didn’t smell bad, and hopefully he didn’t have anything contagious either. The man looked up, as Marcus approached him, and he smiled. This smile, along with the sincere kindness that Marcus saw in the man’s eyes, caught him off-guard, and confused him momentarily.

“You must be Steve’s friend,” Willie said as he stood up.

This stunned Marcus. His eyes widened a little, as he asked, “How do you know that?!”

“We saw you watching us the other night from behind the tree over there,” Willie replied. “I expected I might see you again, and I’m glad. My name is Willie Bobson, good to know you.”

“Good to know you too,” Marcus stammered. Then he remembered that this guy was likely a con-artist, and this was probably part of his con. He reminded himself that he needed to be careful here.

“You want to know about your friend. You think I might know something, or might even be responsible, don’t you?”

This exposed Marcus and he didn’t like it, but it also, strangely, made him like Willie a little bit. Clearly the man was sharper than he expected, and also way more insightful than he ever would have thought. He also seemed normal, apart from his clothing and lack of hygiene. But even that was understandable, given his living conditions and circumstances. Marcus decided that maybe he was wrong about this guy, and maybe he should give him a little more respect.

“Yes, the thought crossed my mind that you might have had something to do with it,” Marcus replied.

“Well, you’re right. I did. Not in the way you are imagining though.” Willie sat back down on the fountain’s edge. “When Steve ran out into the road to save that handicapped boy, and then tried to save his little dog, he was also showing me something. He was showing me a different way to live.”

Marcus sat down beside Willie. “He died trying to save a dog?”

“No. He died trying to save me…We had just been talking, right before it happened. We were actually talking about eternal life. Well, no, in a way it was more about eternal stability; he was talking about what it is that can make a human being stop running, stop constantly chasing or hiding…or fighting.”

“And what’s that?” Marcus asked.

“Knowledge of God. Simply that—no, not simple at all. A simple concept maybe, but meaningless as just a concept, and not very helpful to me…but the deepest thing possible as a genuine event. And then…transformative of everything that we think we are; and the stabilization, or maybe healing, if you will call it that, of every turmoil within us—if lived out as our life’s purpose and goal. At least that is what I now believe. I believe our life purpose is to know God in every moment, in every action and thought. Always remembering Him, always calling upon Him.”

“I’m sorry, that’s just not possible,” Marcus interjected.

“Says the man who never tried. Have you kept God in your thoughts all the time? Every minute? Do that, and then let’s talk.”

“There isn’t time to do that,” Marcus complained.

“What else are you doing, Marcus, that is really all that important? Besides, it isn’t hard to think about something every moment, you’re doing that anyway. Just change what it is you are thinking about,” Willie replied. “Anyway, this is what Steve and I were talking about. He was trying to impress this upon me before he ran out into the street. And I think that final gesture of his was the ultimate expression, and proof, of his argument. Love—sacrificial love—saves, and gives birth, like nothing else in our world has, or ever can.”

They sat in silence for a while. A tall figure approached them from the direction of the church, emerging on the narrow path from beneath the canopy of a large birch tree. The Abbot of the monastery called out to Willie.

“Come, Willie, we have a place for you—it’s ready now. Come…let me show you.” He smiled and gestured to join him.

“I’m ready,” Willie called out to him. “I’m coming!”

He turned to Marcus and smiled. “Visit me sometime. I’ll be at the church, in the back of the park.”

He got up, and walked to meet the Abbot; they turned, and walked down the path together and out of sight.

The End.

~FS