The Beautiful (An Inner Thanksgiving Journey)

Each day I walk from here to there, and back again; and as I go, I walk through meadows overgrown with thistles, or nettles, or some-such prickly things, and pass by walls covered with masses of thorny vines, which also hang in abundance from the trees, and reach down as if grabbing for me, yearning to hold me in their arms, as I walk beneath them. Wild little creatures populate their foliage, dropping things, or throwing them at me, as they scurry about in the half-dark, amidst thickets of the scrubby, twiggy trees which are ubiquitous here, and hide the sun, I imagine, somewhere up above.

Occasionally I stumble on one of these cast-offs thrown into my path. Now and then, falling to the ground, I let out a curse, before I’m quite able to stop myself. I’ve even gotten myself stuck in the mud, stumbling over these things, as I make my journey here and there.

But the strangest thing began to happen a while back, and this is what I’d like to share with you. It began, I think, when I read somewhere in the Bible, probably Galatians, that the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, and I decided that I wanted these things. I considered for some time how I might get them, when it occurred to me that first I needed to make some room for them.

I already had fruits of a worse spirit within me, things such as anger and lust, self-righteousness and criticism; things which clogged me up so to speak, and backed me up, so that there was no space inside for the better fruits. What I really needed was a spiritual enema, if you will pardon the expression, and so I prayed for this, as I made my resolution to stop feeding myself these bitter fruits, which had given me so much internal strife and discomfort.

Thankfully, with God’s help, I began the long process of starving the bad fruits within me, in hopes they would shrivel and fall off the vine, and make room for the better ones.

One day, as I walked, it happened that I saw a beautiful woman. This in itself should not be a problem, but sometimes my thoughts wander at times like these, in ways that aren’t right, and sometimes I follow these thoughts. In fact, this is exactly how I’ve gotten myself stuck in the past, as I crane my neck to look at her, for a moment too long, and lose my way, and fall into a sticky, sickly-sweet slime. This particular day however, I didn’t follow these thoughts, but let them go on alone. I suppose they ended up, these thoughts, neck deep in the mud, but who cares. Instead, I directed my attention to God Himself, and I focused my thoughts, and my rising desire away from her, and towards Him. As I did this, the muddy, murky, slimy puddle I had begun to thrust myself into, transformed into a clear and sun-drenched pond, with waters still and sublime. What a refreshing change, let me tell you; and I felt no shame wading into these waters, believe me.

I’ve also had the habit of carrying around with me a bad attitude consisting of criticism of things, people, life, existence itself; and to this I’ve added a large measure of irritation and frustration which I have dispersed freely in all directions, without control. Almost gleefully, sometimes, I’ve spread these seeds, like a demented ‘Johnny Appleseed’ throwing criticism to the wind by the handful, and tossing complaints in every direction. What is surprising however, is the way that these seeds have taken root, and grown up into large thickets of ugliness, casting shadows over my world, and thrusting all that I see into a dim and ghastly pallor.  Yet, when first I stopped my tongue, and shut my mouth, behold, the world grew a little brighter.

Then, as I resisted these ticklish thoughts, and when I turned away from the giddiness that wraps these rancorous candies—replacing them with gratitude and humility instead, with words and thoughts of thankfulness—the ubiquitous, sorrowful forests came alive within me with a renewed vigor, and my world brightened tremendously. Light filtered down through the canopy of my previously twisted forest, and touched me with a softer warmth which filled me. And I must tell you, this helped me find my way.

In the rising light I found it much easier to avoid the projectiles and traps thrust into my path by those myriad strange little creatures overhead. In fact, many of them must be night creatures I surmised, because there were far fewer now above me, in the gathering light.

There are times, far too many really, when the thorny vines that reach out to grab me, as I walk about, find me an easy prey. So as I lash out at others in anger, I find myself encircled and constricted by their seductive, deadly grasp. They hug me and hold me close, at times like these, with the love of an asp, and with the tenacity of a boa. I can feel the blood rise into my face and my chest tighten and my pulse increase; and as I strain in my aggression, I can feel these vines tightening, attempting to strangle the life out of me.

But recently I discovered a better use for my anger, perhaps the only really good use for it that exists. I decided to divert it away from the people in my life and instead, turn it exclusively upon myself, or rather entirely upon those bad fruits within me that I was mentioning earlier to you. I gave them no rest, but in my anger I harassed them, and attacked them, and drove them out. And the results were threefold: first, there was no lingering aftertaste of shame from my angry activities, whereas before, whenever I directed my anger outward towards others, I invariably, and inevitably felt remorse afterwards, but in this case I felt an empowerment, and a nobility, rise up within me after driving away these little monsters within; and second, my anger acted like a machete or a potent herbicide which made those thorny vines retreat, and in their absence I felt a wave of peace, and I could breathe again; and third, these vines began to bloom.

They bloomed tremendously and with a fragrance sweet and joyful. For long periods I would just stand beneath these flower-laden vines, where they twined amongst the trees, and I would lift my head and inhale deeply to smell their floral sweetness; and where they rambled across the little walls, beneath the sun-drenched sky, I would bend over and bury my face deep within their jasmine and honeysuckle beauty, and forget all trace of irritation.

By now, I was enjoying going here and there much more than I had before, because my world was becoming more beautiful than it had been before. But there was still the problem of the nettles everywhere I went. These prickly things hedged me in on every side and limited my freedom and mobility. How to get rid of them?

One day—as I gingerly picked my way around them, taking great care not to disturb them, so as not to get stung—I was startled by a sudden, loud sound of applause. Actually, it was only thunder, as the clouds were rolling in, but to my foolish heart I imagined it as applause. I turned to my left, and to my right, in search of my admirers, and in my delirium I imagined the sea of nettles around me were crowds of people, watching me in rapt attention, waiting breathlessly to experience what monumental thing I might say, or do next. Oh, how glorious I was, standing there above my people, the prince of the thistles, the star among the weeds. And as I felt the familiar rush of that deceptive fame rising within me, I felt dizzy with anticipation, hoping that I might be important, and in this ridiculous reverie I fainted, and fell upon my face.

When I awoke, a moment later, my body was stinging all over, and my eyes were watering, I assume from having landed in a patch of nettles. I rubbed my eyes to stop the flow of tears, but couldn’t. I tried to lift myself back onto my feet, but felt so weary. Instead, I lay there beneath the nettles and gave up. I needed a break, although whether I needed it or not, I had lost the will to continue picking my way around these obnoxious weeds.

I glanced around at the world beneath the nettles, as I continued lying on the ground. This world was dust, and emptiness, as a result of the weed cover above, which had choked out most other vegetation underneath. Even so, I saw a small flower here, and a patch of grass there, and these gave me hope. As I spent more time here, so close to the dirt, I grew more comfortable with my surroundings, and became grateful for the simplicity of this humble world. Upon closer inspection it wasn’t so empty after all; in fact, it was teeming with life—little mosses growing in the shadow of rocks, seeds of this and that beginning to push up through the soil, ants doing what ants do—so much life, all interconnected and beautiful, working together so naturally.

I considered how fortunate I was to have been brought down to this place, brought into intimacy with creation, and shown a different perspective. I looked up at the sky above me, at the sunlight filtering down through the nettles, and felt relief, because it was far less troublesome for me now, as I began looking up at the world around me, rather than looking down at it, as I had become accustomed to doing.  

Eventually, I returned to my feet, but resolved to remember the lesson of laying in the nettles. Since that time, when I am tempted to think of myself too highly, or of others too lowly, I remember the humility of the world I met beneath the weeds, and this motivates me to resist playing along with my delusions.

As I continued to resist pride, and vanity, and all of the other prickly things which alienate me from the world, the masses of nettles which had previously hedged me in, began to dry up and wilt away; and in time, the meadows opened up to me, released from the tyranny of the thistles. I ran freely across large open spaces, filled with grasses and wildflowers; and I began walking more intimately with others, without the fear of stinging them, or of being stung by them.

Today, as I walked here and there, I stopped for a while to rest beside a pond. Its clear waters revealed their depths to me, and in its glassy reflection, I saw the clouds passing overhead. Sunshine filled this place, and only the passing hours changed the intensity and color of the light. As the sun descended in the sky, the light around me turned from brilliant to golden, and warmed the trees across the pond—a muted incandescent.

My thoughts had wandered to things from my past as I sat here, and as I pondered these things, I suddenly awoke to the realization that these thoughts were clouding my vision of the present. Quite literally, these musings about the past were acting like a thin veil over my eyes, or putting it another way, they gave the air around me an unnatural heaviness, as if it were a little too thick. When I put away these thoughts of the past, and simply experienced the current moment—witnessing the golden light as it reflected upon the tree trunk in front of me—it was as if suddenly a layer were removed within the air, so that it became clearer, and the world around me appeared closer, and more intimate to my senses. This startled me, but I enjoyed it—the vibrant clarity of the present moment.

Soon after this, my mind began wandering again, this time to plans I was making for the future. The excitement and anticipation of coming events gave me a little thrill, which I reveled in for a moment, until I suddenly awoke again to the realization that these thoughts as well, were obscuring my vision of the present, and diminishing my perception of the beauty of the world around me.  My thought life had a real and ontological effect on my physical vision, and diminished my experience of the world. I experimented with this phenomena several times, purposefully thinking about the past; and observed, as the nearly imperceptible veil returned to cloud my sight. Then, as I put these thoughts of the past out of my mind, I could see the veil lift again.

Now that the twin veils of past and future thoughts had been removed, I experienced the world around me with greater clarity, and as I watched the sunlight moving gently through the trees, I understood that God is present. But soon thereafter, as the mind is prone to do, thoughts of other times, and places, crept back in unnoticed, and clouded my vision of the beautiful. I felt these thoughts carry me out of the moment, out of my true life once again, and I followed them, seduced and enthralled by their promises.

Such is the back and forth journey of the spiritual life, but may God’s grace guide and awaken us—filling us with gratitude for every step along the way. The Beautiful is available to us all. May we discover it, as we journey from here to there; and may we dwell therein, eternally.


Reminiscences on Childhood in the Valley of the Moon: Part 4

Recess! That most important time in every school day; fifteen hallowed minutes arriving mid-morning, and another half-hour or so after lunch, depending on how quickly you could scarf down your food and run out to the playground. How was it possible that we could pack so much living into such a short period of time?! It’s a mystery to me now, looking back upon it from an adult’s perspective, but it was magic when we were children, and somehow time stood still during recess—or it elongated remarkably—allowing us to do amazing feats between the bell’s resounding calls; the first, ringing out a declaration of freedom, as we all fled wildly, half-crazed from our classrooms, and the second, sounding out mournfully, calling us regrettably back to our desks once again.

But, oh! How much we could accomplish between the freedom of the bells. Yes! We painted our masterpieces each day upon the fresh canvas that was our playground. Each moment painted in broad brushstrokes; joy and freedom lived out in our many unique ways, sometimes harmoniously together, and sometimes infringing upon one another. In the classroom we learned how to read, and how to count; but on the playground we learned how to live.

I found joy and freedom in running; and I could run fast. To run is a thrill, from the first jolt of adrenaline when one kicks it into gear and takes off, to the feeling of the wind hitting one’s face, the sound and bounce of your feet as they hit the ground, repeatedly, carrying you quickly across the earth, as one’s surroundings turn to a blurr, and one’s vision focuses acutely, every sight and sound funneling around, then coiling into an intense cone of perception just before you; and you run constantly forward, and into that cone, pushing, pounding, with your lungs exploding, filling with oxygen, until you feel like you might explode for joy, and you can’t help but smile as the world rushes past you, and you leave the world behind. This is running, and I loved to run.

None of my friends at Sequoia Elementary could run as fast as I could run. In fact, I don’t think anyone in the entire school could run faster; with the exception of Wendi. I was fast but, she was faster. I believe it was in second grade, more or less, when we first raced. It was an impromptu competition; and if I remember correctly, she challenged me. The challenge came one day, through her committee; two girls in my class trash talking about how their friend, Wendi, could beat me in a race. I had seen her run, and I knew she was quick, but I was pretty sure I could win, so I accepted the challenge. The next day, during morning recess we met near the northeast corner of the school, just east of Mrs. Dunkleberger’s classroom, in the dodge-ball circle. We’d run to the southeast, in a straight-line, across the asphalt playground, past the portables, and into the weeds, finishing at the old railroad ties which encircled a small play-set just east of the kindergarten classroom; it was a distance of about fifty yards or so.

There was little fanfare about this foot-race, all around us other kids were playing. Girls hung upside-down from the monkey bars, oblivious to our intentions. Kids played ball, chased one another, and made the most of their recess time in a variety of different ways; and only the two trash-talkers, Wendi and I stood preparing for our event. Wendi was an elegant runner, she was smooth and flowed gracefully when she ran. I didn’t underestimate her abilities, but still I was confident in my own. It was a simple start to the race, one of the girls yelled ‘Go’ and we took off towards the old railroad ties. It was close for a while, we ran side-by side, but by about half-way she began to pull away from me. I was surprised to see her gain a step, then two and then three, and then finally, all I could really see was her long hair trailing behind her, as she left me in the dust.

When I reached the railroad ties she had already been there for a brief time, and she turned smiling at me as I arrived. But it wasn’t the smile of victory or of gloating; it was the smile of joy and freedom. I could see in her face right then that she also knew and understood the powerful joy of running. I’m sure she was also happy to beat me, but it appeared to me that she was even happier just to have ran, and to have competed with me.

A few moments later her two friends arrived, taunting me for having lost. But I didn’t really care about that; I was far too captivated by this amazing runner, her speed and the manner in which she ran. I reflected then, as I still do today, upon her running and it made me smile. It was almost as if she had been gliding or floating across the ground as she ran. Even though I has lost, I really enjoyed racing against her. And even though she had beaten me this time, I was sure that I could beat her the next. So I challenged her to a rematch; which she happily accepted, with her broad grin, perhaps knowing that she could beat me the next time too, but possibly just smiling at another opportunity to run free again.


Healing Our Divisions

So, for a long while I was thinking that I was alone in feeling sad about the divisions in our world, and in our church. I didn’t realize that it was also preoccupying other people’s minds and hearts as well, until I overheard a number of people make various comments about the protocols related to the virus, and about masks, and this sort of thing and that was when I realized that these things must be on everyone’s mind, or at least many people’s, more than I had thought, and this must be a major issue and something that we all could address together, to hopefully help solve together, and heal any divisions we have, to help heal our world.


So we all know we live in an age of divisiveness, in a world that is divided. And I think it is helpful to remember who is behind this division; it is the work of devils and demons, those in opposition to God. On the other hand God is one and undivided, and He calls us to be one in Him. Keeping this in mind, we can ask ourselves constantly, ‘who am I serving now?’ When we are about to send that angry text or email, or say that nasty thing about someone, we need to question ourselves constantly. “Which is more important now, to vent my anger, or to be an instrument for God’s will? Do I want my words and actions to add to the divisions here, or can I try to make them healing words, and actions that help bind up the wounds of others?”

There is so much that goes into being able to do this though, isn’t there? It means cultivating peace inside ourselves, praying for others, developing the discernment to know what may be helpful. In an age of division, such as the one we are currently living in, mistrust can rule the day. We hurt each other and then we lose trust in each other, and this leads to further divisiveness. And then our arguments give us no satisfaction; nobody changes their point of view, they just dig in deeper and fight for their position more vehemently. Can we set aside the argumentation, and focus instead on rebuilding trust? Can we lay ourselves down in the heat of the moment, and give ourselves to the other in some small way, so that they can begin to trust us again, and we can begin to trust them? It all can be very difficult. But I think some of the things I can share now from our Orthodox tradition, will be helpful in cultivating this ability in us.


First though, there are two psychological terms that are used to describe the manner in which we interact with one another, or the levels that are occurring as we communicate with each other. The terms to describe this are ‘content’ and ‘process’. The terms themselves don’t really matter, but what they expose about the way we communicate with one another is important. The content level is the level we mostly pay attention to; it is the level which includes the topic of conversation, the details, the facts, our assumptions and conclusions, and the data we use to reason etc. This is the level where we focus our disagreements, and where we fight it out with each other. But there are other levels occurring simultaneously, and these are just as important, or really more important, when it comes to learning how to achieve harmony, or unity between us. The ‘process’ level of communication is how we are feeling, and how we are experiencing life, and experiencing each other; this includes ours and other people’s emotional reactions to the content, our motives, our desires; and these things can be very powerful, especially around topics that are very important to us, that we are passionate about.

I believe that it is the ‘process’ level where we can make the most impact towards unity of mind, and I think this is where Christ intends us to focus in order to achieve oneness of mind and spirit. This level points to what is essential about who we are as human-beings, I believe, and that we aren’t simply what we think, or the opinions that we hold, but we are much more than that, and those we disagree with also are much more than their opinions or their thoughts about ‘content’. As Christ and the Church teach us, we are all made in the image and likeness of God, this is the reality that can help bind us together as one. We need to remember this truth at all times; though we are all uniquely different people, with different ideas and views about things, more importantly we are unified by Christ and through Him, and because of the fact that we are made in His image and likeness; we share that common bond.


So there are quite a few verses in the Bible about being of one mind and unified, but I’d like to just share this one from 1 Peter 3:8-9.

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another, love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”

I’d like to keep coming back to this verse again and again because there is so much in it that points to how we can work towards Unity within the Church. First of all, we are told to be of one mind here. The Greek word of interest is Homothumadon, or homo; unison, oneness + thumadon; temperament, emotion of mind. So we are told to have oneness of temperament, or unison of emotion towards one another.

There is a lot that could be said about this, but I would like to focus in on a couple points that Dr Jean-Claude Larchet discusses in his books, The Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses. He is a patristic scholar who has studied extensively the teachings of the ascetic tradition of the Orthodox Church and in these books his describes the healing of man’s fallen nature. In this fallen world of division, we have all learned to turn our emotions and temperaments against each other. But the Church teaches that one of the primary powers of the human soul is this aggressive power, or themos in Greek, the root of thumadon. So we use our aggression, our emotion, our anger against each other, but God calls on us to use it in a different way. He made themos for us, for our good and the good of others, and it was placed in us to fight against anything that would cause us to sin, and to fight against temptations. Rather than fighting against one another, we need to learn to use our aggressive power to fight together, against division and against divisiveness. In other words, we need to fight for the manifestation of love between us, and against the very things within us that make us angry at one another. Dr Larchet explains that the faculties which God gave us, such as themos, are all good, but we need to learn to use them for good again; we need to turn away from using these powers in a sinful way, and turn towards using them properly again, in a loving way. I think we need to take that more seriously as we interact with one another. The Church recommends acts of charity, and practicing humility, gentleness and compassion as ways to help us achieve this.


So, returning to the verse from 1 Peter 3:8-9:

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another…”

It is important for us, in the midst of disagreements to maintain a compassionate attitude for each other. This is difficult, but it’s the most important thing, more important than winning the debate, or being right, or being persuasive and convincing. All of these may have their place, but all should be done in the spirit of compassion, if we want to do it God’s way.

Compassion literally means ‘to suffer together’, com- meaning together, and –passion, to suffer. So we are asked to suffer together, to join in one another’s sufferings as we practice oneness of mind. What better place to suffer together, than at the time of an argument?! Because don’t we all suffer when we are arguing and fighting each other? Yes, of course, it can be very painful. Even if we win the argument, so to speak, it can still be painful and uncomfortable.

But too often we only feel our own pain at these times, and we don’t consider the pain of others, especially when we are focused on the content of our arguments. But this is the perfect time to step back and to reflect on the suffering of the other person. And I don’t mean that they are suffering physically, or in any conscious way necessarily, but they are suffering in what they care deeply about, they have passion in their opinions and their views. We need to consider this, so that we can come alongside them, even in our differences, especially in our differences, so that we can express compassion for them, and heal our divisions. We can do this by listening, and by being silent when the time calls for it, and putting ourselves ‘in their shoes’ for a time. This is a way we can practice humility and fight against our own nature, and not against the person with whom we have disagreement.


Returning to 1 Peter 3:8-9 once again:

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another, love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous…”

Both St. Silouan and St. Sophrony write extensively about discovering the unity of mankind. They don’t discuss this as an abstraction but as a genuine reality; that we all are created as one, in reality. I can’t explain this truth, but I believe it. They teach that by the process of emptying ourselves we discover this unity. The emptying that they mean is setting aside our own pride, our own self-focus, setting aside love for ourselves and of only looking out for ourselves, and as we do this, a new love fills the vacuum, love for others, in the manner of Christ.

As this occurs we begin to see our brothers and sisters in this world as we see ourselves, and we begin to love them as ourselves. And we begin to want to treat them as we would want to be treated; with respect and tenderness, courteously and with understanding. This is done towards those we agree with, as well as towards those we disagree with, based upon our common life in Christ, and the fact that we are all made in His image and likeness, This attitude of oneness, compassion and tenderness towards each other is not dependent upon the content of our interactions with each other; but simply upon the fact that we are one in Christ, that each of us is made as a wonderful part of this creation, and is worthy of respect simply as a human being.  

St. Silouan writes about discovering love for ‘the whole Adam’, meaning all of mankind past, present and future. We all know the golden rule, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. Well, sometimes in the midst of an argument or disagreement it is difficult to remember to apply this love for others, love for the whole Adam. This is where focusing less on the content of the disagreement and more on the process can be very helpful. For instance, let’s say you are in a heated disagreement and the other person says something that sounds crazy to you, and makes no sense. Instead of focusing on the content of their argument and trying to tell them why they are wrong, it can be more useful to imagine at that moment that you are this other person, with those views. Then you can ask yourself, “If I were this person, why would I think the way they are thinking, why would I do what they are doing and say what they are saying?” Spending our energy on this inquiry can lead us to greater understanding of the other point of view, and lead us away from judgement of the person.


Returning to 1 Peter 3:8-9 once again:

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another, love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling…”

Both Sts. Silouan and Sophrony consider love for our enemies as the defining factor for Christian living. But who is our enemy? In one sense we may not consider anyone a real enemy, but in another sense everyone might be considered a potential enemy; anyone who gets in our way, or opposes us in some way, or thinks differently than we do, or has opposing goals, etc.  Or anyone who hurts our feelings, they could be an enemy, and when someone offends us, it is very human to return evil for evil, reviling for reviling.

But both of these saints, I believe, would encourage us to hold our tongue at the very least and practice self-control. And as a great tool to further help us with this, they might encourage us to include in our daily prayers anyone who has hurt us or offended us; to make it a daily practice to pray for those who are on the other side of any issue, or anyone who presents content that we disagree with or dislike.


Finally, this verse from 1 Peter 3:8-9 describes blessings:

“Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another, love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous, not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.”

Oneness of mind and unity within the Church, is a blessing that all of us can enjoy. But it also is a responsibility that each of us needs to take on, out of love and respect for each other. We have the freedom to choose to seek unity and to enjoy the blessings that come from this.

The theologian John Zizioulas in his book, Being As Communion describes the freedom that all of us have, as the very thing which makes us like God, and he says that we can exercise our freedom in love or in negation. But only in freely choosing love do we discover the truth and meaning of our being. Furthermore, love is expressed only in relationship with one another, so essentially we need one another in order to express and share love.

If we choose to allow divisions and disagreements in the Church to negate our love for one another, then we are all diminished together. Using our freedom for negation tears at the fabric of our communion, and we lose ourselves because of that; and we lose the blessings that come of living with one mind, and in unity with each other.


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.


To Everyone I’ve Ever Known:

How magnificent you are; and the memory of you fills my heart with joy! Did you know that you were so very special?! You are a gift, to me, and to the world. There has never been anyone like you before, and there will never be another like you again! You fill my mind now with incredulity; I do reflect upon you and am amazed—so grateful that I have known you! It is true, and I hope you believe me; and though it isn’t often expressed in such general terms, I do love you all, most particularly and specifically. As my mind drifts to the memory of you—specifically you—I can only smile, for the place you hold in my heart. You are the tapestry of my life—each of you, a person most glorious and beautiful, a colorful thread woven into the fabric of my being, inseparable from my innermost soul. Would I be me, had I not known you? Who am I, apart from all of you? Close your eyes now and remember all whom you’ve ever known. They are a magnificent humanity, all of them! How glorious is our human family, each of us spun intricately together—intertwined!

I apologize now for disappointing you—when I have—and for ignoring you; and for hurting you. It is uncomfortable, but it’s true. Why did I do it; why have we done it one to another? We are frail and failed, a tragic race destined to tragedy, and frailty, and failure. And desperately in need of forgiveness. Let’s forgive each other now, forgiving even the unforgiveable—words, deeds, and people; for even they have loved, and been loved. Perhaps they are loveable too; I believe they are. Is there a creature undeserving? I search my mind and my memory, and as you do to, I suspect someone comes to mind, for each of us—one too horrible for love, one too far depraved to forgive—but, what if? What if we did…forgive?! Is it impossible, or could we do it just a little?

I tried, and it made me smile, and I laughed out loud, so freely! Forgiveness is such a liberating feeling—for the one who gives it. For the one who gives it—forgiveness! I hope we all will enjoy that feeling!

Which brings me back to you! You have brought me great joy, as I have said already, but it is worth repeating. Perhaps you haven’t heard that enough lately, so I am saying it again, because you are worth it, and you made a great impression upon me in this lifetime. So I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for this. Thank you! Because your existence, yours specifically, has given me great joy!!!


Where Have All The Comedians Gone?

I was recently walking through the public square, and I was suddenly struck by a profound absence of laughter. I turned to my friend and asked, “Is it just me? Or have we lost our humor lately?”

He looked at me with a blank stare and replied, “I think it’s just you, dummy!” And that made me smile. Thank goodness for good friends! But I wasn’t sure that he was right, so I decided to dig a little deeper; because from what I could see, nobody out here is laughing very much.

So I went to visit a renowned Humorologist, who asked to remain anonymous, and he pulled out numerous charts and graphs to help explain this phenomena. For decades, apparently, there has been a steady decline in the volume of jokes, jests, wisecracks and witticisms in the public arena; and comedy has been largely replaced by accusations, attacks and offense.

This erudite Comeditician went on to explain to me that in recent years there has been a dramatic reduction in the range of our natural comedic habitat. This has occurred throughout much of the world, but particularly within our own country’s borders. Sadly, the rapid expansion of invasive species, such as intolerance, narrow-mindedness, fear and pride, have been choking comedy out of our natural landscape. And it is this sudden and extreme loss of habitat which has led to a precipitous decline in the numbers of comedians in our land. Of those who remain, most are in hiding, and some even fear for their lives. Imagine that!

Shocked by this revelation of his, I replied I couldn’t quite believe that it has come to this. Surely, people wouldn’t resort to violence over a simple joke! To which, he replied with the following anecdote to illustrate his point:

“For instance,” he said. “Not long ago it was recorded in The Sadtown Gazette, that one resident, a young woman by the name of Samantha Badcandy of Joyless MN, that one day while taking a walk, she sighted a White-Breasted Jester, (among the last ever to be seen in that part of the country).  Apparently, it made several quips about the weather, which made her chuckle, but then when it accidentally made a spicy observation about her figure, she quickly took offence, pulled out a rifle, and shot it dead. It was believed to have been the last of its kind in Minnesota. When asked why she killed the creature, she replied, ‘Some things just aren’t funny!'”

“Comedians have it very tough nowadays, as their habitat dwindles, and their food supplies become scarcer,” the Historian of histrionics continued. “Comedy needs good-naturedness, openness, and humility in order to flourish. But these are in short supply nowadays. Today, true comedy is to be found only in private homes (where it is safe to practice it), Zoos (where the animals have maintained their good humor and simplicity), and in special Comedy-Reserves, lands set aside for the protection and preservation of comedians.”

He pulled out several more charts and graphs, and then pointed to a map showing the shrinking range where comedians can still safely roam without fear. “It used to be, in times past, that cities and college campuses were where you would most likely see a comedian, or even find flocks of them gathered together. But now, these locations are among the most dangerous for them; and few jokesters are actually seen any longer in the wild.”  

I left the Scholar of silliness, feeling a bit dejected, but still hopeful that all is not yet lost. I decided to visit one of the Comedy-Reserves that he had described, in hopes of learning more about how comedians are being rescued and protected from the ill-humored, and to find out what the future of laughter might be.

The Society for the Preservation of Really Funny People administers one such human-nature reserve on an undisclosed island off the coast of…I’d better not say; which I have been asked to keep secret (for the protection of their residents). At this preserve, they are cautiously optimistic. “We have a lot of work still ahead of us, obviously, but we are seeing our comedians thrive once again here, now that they are free from the environment of fear, and the climate of shame that they had been suffering within. Here, they can tell a good joke without looking over their shoulder. We are very hopeful that eventually we can reintroduce most of our comedians back into their native habitats once again.”

As I was preparing to leave the Island of Endangered Comics, one of the caretakers had a final parting comment, which filled me with hope and which I’ve never forgotten. She said to me, “One of our comedians shared with me something important about comedy that people often overlook. He said that, humor ultimately is about love. It’s love that allows us to laugh at ourselves, and to laugh at each other. And that’s a very good thing!” 

I hadn’t thought about that before, but decided it is true. Today, I’m hopeful and anticipating with amusement, for the time when our world is safe again to release the comedians into the wild; and for the time when we will see them roaming freely once again, and cracking jokes with impunity.  


The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 54

My memories turn back to the time when Father Davidson posed a question at the campfire, “Can we endure living our lives in the face of mystery?” If we are truly unable to uncover, or discover the answers to the most pressing questions of life, is that tolerable? Now, as I await the Father’s funeral, I consider, what to me seems to be, the most difficult of all mysteries: death.

Death has made me want to run, to run as fast as I possibly can; or to hide my face from death and pray that it would go away—ceasing to exist—and trouble me no longer. I have been angry in the face of death, and horrified by its mercilessness; and I have tried to negotiate with death, hoping that it might have a heart. But from the perspective of the living, death appears to be wholly cold and unfeeling.

Again and again I come back to: what is death? In a spiritual or metaphysical sense, what is its meaning, and purpose; what value does it have…and does it even have any value? If it is meaningless, then how much more horrible it must be, than even my worst nightmare has envisioned.

Yet, when my memories turn to the story of Christ’s resurrection, and the hope found in Jesus Christ—bringing back to life his dear friend Lazarus, and his own ultimate triumph over death—I do feel my heart quicken, and my hopes are raised. Perhaps this is the answer I am seeking, and the very thing which will allow me to stand firm in the face of death.

But even if this is the answer, it is still shrouded entirely within a mystery; what are we resurrected into, what really exists on the other side of the grave? Can I tolerate not knowing anything tangible about this; and if I can’t tolerate it, then am I resigned to ignore the problem, and driven to running or hiding from it for the duration of this lifetime? Or will the mystery rather, thrust me into the arms of faith?

I attended Father Davidson’s funeral hoping to discover something useful in regards to the mystery of death; and possibly to discover the faith that might open a door, or shed further light on the world beyond the grave. It was a beautiful Orthodox funeral, and as the Beatitudes were sung, so many of them caused me to reflect upon the life of Father Davidson and how he embodied these blessed virtues. He had certainly lived a beautiful life, no doubt—at least in my mind there was no doubt—but what about his death? Why now? And was there anything beautiful about that?

The service ended with a familiar hymn, appealing to God to remember the departed forever—memory eternal—for the Lord to keep Father Davidson eternally in remembrance. And I thought back to the scene in which I found Father Davidson communing with his icons, and with the cross of Christ before him. It had felt to me then—as throughout most of his life—that Father Davidson was already remembered by God even in this life, and was already living in communion with the Lord.

Father Davidson once said that love allows us to see the truth, and love reveals things previously hidden from view. It is only love which allows us to see beauty in this world; and perhaps only love, also allows us to see through death. Might love give us the eyes to pierce death’s veil; and might love reveal something of what is hidden beyond the grave? Father Davidson loved the Lord with all his heart; so I can believe that his devotion to God allowed him to see where he was going that final night—perhaps the heavens parted as he sat praying, and he saw paradise.

Following the service, I wandered through the cemetery, reading the gravestones while thinking further about life and death. Father Seraphim approached me, at the conclusion of Father Davidson’s graveside service, on his way back to the church. After exchanging a few pleasantries and heartfelt comments about our departed friend, I posed a question: “Do you remember, the last time we were here, we talked about death…you commented that Josh knew how to die in every moment…do you recall that?”

“Yes I do.”

“You know, it’s kind of funny…I mean, maybe cliché…but I always thought he’d die as a martyr. He seemed the type that would die that way,” I said.

“But he did, didn’t he?! Didn’t he die every day in that way?…he didn’t care if he looked the fool, he never cared if he didn’t know the correct answer…he lost everything willingly, he destroyed ambition and striving…and his life was a prayer for others, and continual action for God. He quieted himself, and he heard the Lord,” Father Seraphim concluded, “I think he did die as a martyr, in complete service to others.”

“Yes, I see your point. Of course, that’s true. He lived a beautiful life, I agree; and the death that you are describing is also beautiful. But still…it bothers me…it disturbs me, his death and the loss caused by it…I think about Amelia’s sorrow…his death may be beautiful, but it still feels wrong. I can’t make peace with death—the pain of it, the horror and suffering surrounding it.”

“I think it is difficult to see death clearly, until it is time for us to see; or perhaps until we’re ready to see it. I believe that Josh prepared himself to see this, earlier than most of us; and I think his life was mainly about trying to help the rest of us to see—not only about death, but about a true life as well. The person who lives their life for God…I believe…can see death differently, than those of us who don’t.”

“A beautiful life, that I’ve seen and can understand; but a perfect death, I think, must be a matter of faith,” I concluded.

“Although they are interconnected, I believe, and aspects of the same life—a beautiful life is one lived for others, and a perfect death is a life lived for God,” Father Seraphim concluded.

I ended the day in Father Davidson’s orchard; which for me had always possessed an element of the Garden of Eden, with its multitudinous variety of fruits, and abundance of life. Of all places to pay tribute to the Father, here seemed to me the best and most appropriate.

I stood on the grassy slope, looking down towards the Father’s cabin, and out across the hillside to the ocean in the distance. The setting sun cast its fiery glow upon the cloudy sky and the shimmering waves; his cabin was transformed into a dark silhouette though with its stovepipe chimney flashing brilliantly like a flaming sword. And as the waning light softened, I heard an owl call out from a nearby perch, and I felt a breeze touch my face before rustling into the trees behind me.

I was grateful that Father Davidson had invited me here, and he had wanted to share his life with me; that he allowed me to know him in such detail, never hiding the intimate details of his life, but revealing them unabashedly. When we first met, Father Davidson had posed a question to me, asking if I were friend or foe. I answered that I hoped to be his friend, and he replied: “We shall see.”

At the time, it seemed a very odd thing to ask, but now I feel that he was asking me something much broader than merely whether I would be his particular friend or not; it was really an invitation to be like him. And his question, was would I be a friend to all creation?

Then, I didn’t know. But now I can say: “Yes, Father Davidson, I will be your friend!”

*  *  *

The End

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*  *  *

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.

*  *  *

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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