The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 52

Father Davidson woke early and left Deirdre’s house while she was still asleep. He rode his usual route around town, purchasing or gathering various things into little white packages, tied up with string, and hung from his bicycle; they were life essentials which he would give to his friends later that day, when he returned to the orchard. On his way back home he stopped briefly at his sister’s shop to take care of some business inside with Amelia. That completed, he mounted his bicycle again, and rode a wide loop around the town square before continuing up the road to his cabin.

Tara saw the Father later that morning from a distance, as he parked his bicycle in the usual spot against the fence, and then walked across the orchard on the way to his cabin. She waved but he hadn’t seen her; he seemed engrossed in his own thoughts, and purposeful, as he walked briskly past the rows of ancient fruit trees. It was just before noon when Adam saw Father Davidson enter his cabin and shut the door behind him.

Later that afternoon Amelia made a delivery, in order to fulfill the business her brother had requested earlier that morning. She loaded her car with a new easel, an assortment of various sized canvasses, full sets of acrylic and oil paints along with brushes, palette knives, pens, colored pencils and a number of drawing pads, and miscellaneous other items. She had been surprised when her brother came to the store and paid for all of these things, and was even more surprised when he told her who they were for; and then she grew anxious when he asked her to deliver them for him.

Amelia had mixed feelings about Deirdre, but had never needed to sort her feelings out because she never saw Deirdre; it had been many years, possibly decades, since they last met. She felt sorry for the old woman now, and all the pain she apparently bore. As she drove to Deirdre’s home, Amelia remembered back to the first time they met—though it wasn’t a proper meeting—when she and Josh had saved Deirdre’s life, as she lay face-down and unconscious in the water. She had such an outpouring of empathy for that woman back then, and she remembered the pact she had made with Josh that evening, after rescuing Deirdre: a promise to rescue her from her pain and save her from her despair, to do everything they could to help people and never to harm them. She smiled as she thought back to these childhood memories, and to the simplicity they represented. How much she still had to learn about life back then; even so, she wasn’t wrong to think that way then, and it still wasn’t wrong to continue to think that way now.

She was glad that Josh had asked her to deliver the art supplies to Deirdre. It was time to meet and try again. Amelia grimaced as she remembered the terrible difficulty that Deirdre put her brother through, during the trial and sentencing for the fire and Ryan’s death. Deirdre had really hurt Amelia, because of the way she had treated Josh. But that was long ago now, and Amelia could easily understand the horrible pain that Deirdre was going through surrounding the death of her only child; it was understandable that Deirdre needed someone to blame. She smiled as she thought about her brother; how clever of him to arrange this meeting, to create an opportunity to finally reconcile with Deirdre.

Amelia knocked on the front door and waited anxiously. When the door opened, both women stood still, with surprised and quizzical expressions. Deirdre had aged a great deal since Amelia had last seen her, and she wasn’t sure it was her; and Amelia was perhaps the last person Deirdre expected to see standing there when she opened the door. Amelia spoke first.

“I’m sorry to bother you, my brother asked me to drop these things off.”

“What are they?” Deirdre asked, as her surprise turned to confusion.

“Art supplies. He thought you would enjoy them…paints, colored pencils…canvasses, paper—an easel, a lot of other things,” Amelia answered pleasantly.

“Oh…no, I can’t accept all of this,” Deirdre shook her head. “No, that’s fine, tell him thank you but…besides I don’t know how to paint, I can’t use them.”

“You’re in luck!” Amelia exclaimed happily. “He included ten private art lessons as well…with me. Anytime you like!”

Deirdre’s eyes grew large, and she looked at Amelia with a mix of surprise, perplexity and happiness. She smiled secretly, as she let out a deep sigh, and commented, “That is very generous. I don’t know what I did to deserve it…I suppose it would be rude to decline such an offer….but you don’t have time for that…to teach me, do you!?”

“It’s my job!” Amelia laughed. “I mean, even if it wasn’t, I would be happy to teach you. But it is, and it’s all paid for. Josh really wanted you to have this.”

“Well…I don’t know what to say,” Deirdre struggled, but then shrugged gratefully, “Thank you! I guess I can’t refuse then…Please, come in…here, let me help you.” She grabbed a few things from Amelia’s arms and showed her into the house. They spread out the bags of art supplies on the kitchen table, and then Deirdre offered Amelia some coffee. “Please stay for a little longer, I would really like to talk with you. I need to say some things,” she appealed while motioning for Amelia to take a seat.

Deirdre poured the coffee and sat across the table from Amelia and sat for a few moments, seeming to gather her thoughts, before beginning: “I want…I really need to apologize to you for how I acted towards your brother, and to you during the trial. It was wrong, I was wrong…I’m very sorry. Please tell your brother I’m sorry. I wanted to tell him when he was here but I didn’t have the chance, and then he left before I could.”

“When was Josh here?!” Amelia interjected as she sat up in her chair. “Why was he here? Recently?!”

“Yes…he just left this morning. He was here for several days…he hurt himself, he fell off the wall in back, and he hit his head. I think he had a concussion. I tried to convince him to go to the hospital but he refused. He insisted that I take care of him. So I…well, he’s very stubborn isn’t he? So I did what he asked.”

“Was he okay?” Amelia asked urgently and then fell silent as she thought about their meeting together earlier that morning. “He did seem fine when he came to the store this morning.”

“He was banged and bruised a bit, and had a big knot on his head for a few days. But I think he’ll be okay,” Deirdre said reassuringly.

“He’s such a klutz!” Amelia exclaimed. “He’s always falling down, ever since he was a kid. Oh, my goodness I hope he’s okay.” She looked through the back sliding door at the stone wall at the far end of the yard. “He fell off of that!? That is really high!”

“He fell into the shrubs first, and they broke his fall…don’t worry dear, I’m sure he is going to be fine. He’s a young man still and in good shape.”

The two women sat in silence for a while, sipping their coffee. Amelia grew more worried as she sat; Deirdre wished she hadn’t said anything about it.

“I should go,” Amelia said suddenly as she stood up to leave. “I’m sorry. Thank you for the coffee. And I’m really looking forward to painting with you…I really am Deirdre. I am so happy we’re going to do that together…I need to apologize to you too. I’m sorry about everything that happened…I’m so sorry about Ryan, he was such a wonderful person…I…can we talk more later though, Deirdre?! I’m just worried about Josh…I have a bad feeling about this for some reason…I need to go check on him.”

“Of course! You go, dear. Don’t worry about me…we’ll paint together soon. I will call you to set it up…and thank you! Thank you again. It means so much to me…you really have no idea how much.”

Amelia let herself out and ran to her car; and then drove faster than is legal, back to the orchard to check on her brother.

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The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 51

Deirdre went quiet on the other side of the wall; and I listened closely a little longer, trying to hear what she was doing, before continuing on my walk. Flower petals fluttered past me through the air, and I smiled contentedly as I viewed the path ahead—looking like a street after a parade—multi-colored and festive. I could no longer hear Deirdre so I continued on my way, almost reaching the large chestnut tree at the southern corner of the wall, when I heard the familiar creak, and clackety-clacking, of Father Davidson’s bicycle behind me. I turned around and watched as he parked his bike, leaning it against another chestnut tree near the northern corner of the wall, some 75 feet or so away from me; and then he clambered like a squirrel up the tree and across a low-hanging branch, and then onto the wall. For a man nearly fifty, or thereabouts, he was quite agile and limber; and I admired his dexterity.

He stood still and very erect for a brief moment, staring down at Deirdre, before saluting to her, and then jumping into action; dancing along the wall in the same way he had when I first met him—one step, two, and a little hop, and a twirl, and then repeating. This time however, flower petals flew in all directions as he went; and he reminded me of a child with a pile of fallen leaves. He smiled broadly, and glanced often in Deirdre’s direction, to make sure that she was still watching him.

“Come on, get down now.” I heard her plead, but more gently this time than before. And then: “You don’t need to hurt yourself. You win, I’m too tired to fight you anymore.”

Father Davidson didn’t stop however, but continued to hop, and twirl, and kick up flowers in all directions. Yet, when he had reached about midway along the wall, he laughed loudly—or did he shriek?—and he tripped, or was it intentional? And he fell off the wall and out of my sight, landing on the other side with a rustle and then a thump.

I’m still unsure what exactly happened on Deirdre’s wall at that moment—when I go over it in my mind. It seemed that he may have slipped, as perhaps the petals were wet and slick from the morning dew. But he may have tripped, as his right foot appeared to hit a protruding stone and he lost his footing. But on the other hand, he may have simply jumped.

By the time I ran around to the side gate and into the backyard, Deirdre had managed to lift Father Davidson’s torso up onto her lap as she knelt on the ground behind him. His hands and feet were bloody, and he appeared to be unconscious as she held him in her arms. Nearby shrubs must have softened his fall before hitting the ground; although I noticed a large bump growing upon his forehead, indicating that he must have struck it fairly hard.

Deirdre looked panicked and distressed as she rubbed his face briskly with a scarf, which she pulled from around her neck. He was breathing but unresponsive; and the next few minutes seemed to stretch into eternity as we tried to wake him up. Eventually cold water splashed onto his face, and over his head, helped revive Father Davidson. However, he was groggy and mostly incoherent as his eyes struggled to focus; and he turned his head this way and that, attempting to understand where he was and what had happened to him. But when Deirdre asked me to call for an ambulance, the Father suddenly became more alert and aware of his circumstances and adamantly refused—instead, insisting to be brought inside, and for Deirdre to care for him.

And though she was clearly reluctant to do so, she acquiesced, and between the two of us we managed to hoist the Father to his feet, propping him up as he stumbled across the backyard and into Deirdre’s house. Once inside, she directed us down a short hallway, and then into her spare room—Ryan’s former bedroom. We helped Father Davidson onto the bed, propping his head under several pillows; and I sat beside him while Deirdre went to get a washcloth to clean the blood from his hands and feet. He remained delirious as she cleaned him, saying ridiculous and nonsensical things that made her smile, and even laugh; and when she finished, he was asleep.

She had washed him with great care and gentleness, which made it hard for me to believe the things I knew about her anger; for anger or harsh feelings seemed too incongruous for the sweet woman I saw here before me, hovering attentively over the ailing Father. But how complicated, multi-faceted, and changeable is a human being; at peace one moment and then provoked to madness the next, and then settled once again. Though Father Davidson had clearly awakened her to her better nature, and Deirdre looked joyful for once, and her face seemed radiant with a new happiness and purpose. I hesitated to leave the old woman to care for him alone, but she assured me she was fine and could manage.

Father Davidson stayed with Deirdre for several days, until his wounds began to scab over and the bump on his forehead went down. She cared for him like a mother would, much to her own surprise; and her heart warmed to him, as she allowed her own wounds to heal and she began to forgive. She hadn’t intended to forgive him, but the decision snuck up on her unexpectedly. If she had been honest with herself, she always knew in her heart that he had never intentionally hurt her boy Ryan; she had always known this, though it was inconvenient and unsatisfying to admit it.

In fact, she often doubted that Father Davidson, or Josh as she always thought of him, had actually anything to do with her son’s death at all; she had secretly come to accept that it was just an unfortunate accident, and one that was most likely caused by Richard, and not by Josh. Now, as she watched the Father sleeping soundly, she wondered why she had harbored such anger and bitterness towards him all of these years. He certainly hadn’t deserved it, so why had it taken her so long to accept this? She wanted to wake him now to apologize for everything, but she let him sleep. Certainly, there would be time to finally apologize later.

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The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 50

Father Davidson came down from Deirdre’s wall, politely honoring her request; but he was back, dancing atop her wall the following day. He must have had some purpose, or seen some opportunity for helping Deirdre from up there; because he wasn’t one to antagonize another person maliciously, or for no reason. At least that’s my opinion.

Months passed in which Father Davidson often visited Deirdre in this way, even though there never appeared any opening for a reconciliation, nor any healing of the old wounds she carried towards him. Typically, his antics were met by her with chastisement, abuse or belittlement; so that it seemed to most casual observers that he must either be a glutton for punishment, or have a screw loose.

Father Davidson concluded his story about the desert in the late fall, and during the long, cold winter which followed, I never saw him. I returned to the campfire several times but he never appeared, as he said he wouldn’t; and his presence was nowhere to be seen around town. I expect that he spent most of the winter in his cabin praying, since he had explained to us at our last meeting together around the fire, that this is what he intended to do. Whether or not he visited Deirdre during the winter, or danced upon her wall during this time, I am unaware.

But when spring finally arrived it was a glorious rebirth of budding foliage and flowers, and the reemergence of the Father. He announced his return in a most subtle, and extravagant, and beautiful way; though only to one person, Deirdre, and to anyone else who might have caught sight of the sign and understood it. I happened to be up early this particular morning, and taking a long walk around town when I passed by the tall stone wall which sheltered Deirdre’s home behind it, and had lately often hosted Father Davidson’s tragicomedies. It is a sturdy old wall, made of brown basalt and held together by mortar; standing nearly seven feet tall, and perhaps roughly eighteen inches wide—it is normally imposing and solemn. But not on this morning; today it was welcoming and playful, festooned with a cacophony of flower petals piled across its entire ridge, and cascading across its face during every small breeze—leaving mounds of petals piled here and there against its base, and fluttering gymnastically across the street where I walked.

At that time I didn’t know Deirdre, but I heard her moaning from the other side of the wall and I wondered what it could mean. I also didn’t know or understand the meaning behind the flower petals, nor their connection within her heart to the memory of her dear little boy—long since gone. But I later learned that in this way, Father Davidson memorialized Ryan’s childhood gift of flowers to his mother—in this same way—every year on the anniversary of Ryan’s death. Was this kind, was it cruel? It evoked strong emotion from Deirdre, and she cried every time. This is how she later described it: at first the abundant flowers startled her, and then they unlocked a wellspring of sorrows which were held in check and unmoving but finally released each year, and then she felt peace, a deep calm that was always elusive, until after her outpouring of tears. She missed her boy, but she liked this tribute; it made her smile—finally, after all the tears had gone. Little by little it also caused her to reconsider her unmoving and stoic hatred of Father Davidson.

Eventually—she would later confess—she came to look forward to Father Davidson’s visits. For one, they broke up the monotony that her life had become; since she left the house infrequently, and almost never entertained guests. Secondly, the freedom she experienced while watching him, gave her hope. What kind of hope? It is difficult to say; she didn’t know. But the release that his antics created inside her, as she watched him play on top of her wall, this release allowed her to experience life again, and the darkness that had plagued her for so many years parted a little bit, allowing a little light into her soul. The hope she felt related to this feeling of lightness; hope, light, and freedom performed an alchemy that transformed Deirdre.

She had never been a religious, nor even a spiritual person, not that she could remember. Although, she still had some faint memories as a young child being a creative and imaginative person; and she remembered that these things opened doors in her mind, or was it her heart—or both—that seemed to touch upon the realm of other worlds. She still remembered those times, as a little girl, when she felt she could feel and hear angels; and thoughts of God were not antithetical to her nature.

But these things seemed a lifetime ago, and she doubted she could ever be that person again. For one thing, she was far too old now to entertain childish thoughts, wasn’t she? And even if she could allow herself the freedom to imagine once again, and to re-explore the things of her childhood, would it even be possible? How could she learn to do it? Even considering it made her feel afraid and inadequate. And she could hear her father’s voice, the memory of him telling her to grow up and to put aside such foolish thoughts; that she was a ridiculous and silly girl. His voice in particular seized her, and paralyzed her impulse to try again.

But now there was Father Davidson, who seemed to be calling her to confront these fears; and his presence gave her new courage. Perhaps it was possible to begin again; maybe she could discover herself after all the years of pain had obscured her vision. To survive, it had always seemed the better option to let herself disappear under layers of falsehoods,   deceptions, and diversions.  But honestly, she was tired of hiding, running and fighting; and she was curious to see what more Father Davidson might show her.

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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.

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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?

*  *  *

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.

*  *  *

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!”

*  *  *