The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 39

As the goats came close, they slowed and began milling about, some nibbling at newly sprouted grass along the sides of the road, others staring off in all directions while bleating opinions to one another. From the back of the herd called out a young boy of about ten, who eventually appeared from within their midst; who then made his way towards us, parting the animals skillfully as he came along. He waved joyfully when he saw me; and I recognized him and called out his name, “Yusef! Young man, it is so good to see you!”

As he came closer my captors quickly hid their guns, but the boy saw them do it, and he stopped suddenly, with an expression of fear falling across his face. Now is not a time for fear, not when the predator is ready to strike; so I quickly called out to him, hoping to reassure him, “Yusef, it is alright! These are my friends. They’ve joined me this morning and we are on our way to their house. They need my help!”

He looked warily at me, unsure, but wanting to trust me; and glancing cautiously at the two other men he quietly answered, “I don’t want trouble. I’m bringing the goats back down.”

“Yes! Wonderful!” I exclaimed. “We’d like to go with you, there’s a patrol just down the road, just around the corner, and another at the bridge. Could we walk with you—and your goats—until we get across the bridge? Please, Yusef?!”

“No guns! I don’t want trouble,” the boy insisted adamantly while shaking his head and looking warily at the brothers. I looked imploringly at them, and waited, while Yusef said the same to them in Arabic. The older brother turned to look down the road—appearing to be considering a new plan—and then said something to the youngest, who turned and ran back down the path from which we had just come, presumably to get their other brother to bring him up to us; and within a few minutes the two returned. Next, we prepared to leave; the brothers hid their firearms in a small fissure, under a pile of rocks. Yusef was now our guide, and our temporary leader—the youngest of our group, and the one calling the shots. He called to his goats and they began descending the dirt road once again, and we fell in line with the boy, mingling amidst the straggling goats at the back of the herd. We were a motley tribe: a Bedouin boy, three Palestinian men, an Orthodox monk, and one hundred goats, give or take a few.

As we rounded the bend in the road, and came into full view of the Israeli patrol, I felt apprehensive; but considering the previous plan was to attack with guns blazing, I liked our chances much better now. And the goats had a wonderful effect upon everyone. Have you ever walked in the midst of animals? Their genuine and simple spirit can rub off on you; helping one see life as they do, or at least as we imagine they might. This group of goats included a ridiculous and absurd collection of characters: some petulant, many eccentric, and most comedic. Take for example, one black and white goat with long hair, who attached itself to the middle brother’s trousers with great gusto; appalling the wearer, and instigating great bellows of complaint from him, to the enjoyment of everyone else, whereupon, eventually even that surly fellow gave up his surliness, allowing himself a faint smile, as he batted the persistent and hairy creature off his leg.

How fortunate we were to have met this travelling troupe of herbivores at such a time as this; for there is little that can so disarm mankind than laughter and a smile. The tension we had all been feeling, moments prior to Yusef and his hairy entourage’s arrival, had dissolved, without any of us appearing to have noticed how, or when exactly, it had left us. Our group was in light spirits as we met the Israeli patrol, and this in turn elicited a number of surreptitious smiles from the young men and women in uniform, as they began their perfunctory examination; questioning each of us briefly and with little concern, or suspicion.

However, our diverse and incongruous organization did arouse surprised expressions and inquisitive looks from the young Israelis. It was undoubtedly unusual to see a disparate group, such as ours, travelling together. There were questions about this, but our response seemed to be satisfying: that the three men were friends of mine, and I was on my way to help them with a problem they had back home, and we also all knew Yusef, and had met up with him along our way. Even so, I believe the goats provided our best cover, as they milled about us on the narrow, dirt road—getting in everyone’s way—raising a general commotion, and adding a tinge of preposterousness to the proceedings.

Finally, we were allowed to continue down the road to the bridge, and I was amazed at how easily and simply things had gone with the patrol, when I had anticipated something so much more difficult, or even deadly. As we walked down the dusty road, the landscape widened; the cliffs of the gorge gave way to more gradual slopes, and a widening valley—the Kidron valley—flanked by ancient hillsides, which were scarred by cuts of rough rock here and there, yet made softer now by the faint touch of green which covered them—newly aroused by the recent rains. The sun shone, glistening golden across the surrounding hills, with depths of shadow rolling across their surfaces. It was becoming a glorious morning; the perfect inspiration for a prayer, had I not already been inspired earlier, and begun praying hours ago. Still, it aroused in one the desire to pray even more fervently, and to express gratitude for life. The dirt road finally reached the river, and we followed its path, as it snaked around the slopes, meandering across the floor of the Judean wilderness.

Not far ahead we noticed a second, larger patrol waiting at the bridge. But it began disbanding as we approached, with men and women filing into several trucks, and then driving down the road and out of sight. Two men were mounting the remaining Jeep just as we began crossing the bridge, and I called to them asking what was going on.

One of the men answered, “We were looking for a missing person, from the Moshav near Avdat, supposedly kidnapped. But he came back late last night…it was a mistake, I guess. So, its okay. Time to go home!”

“Yes!” I thought to myself, “Time to go home, indeed.” I was glad to hear Avi had made it home again.

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 38

Later, that same evening I drove to Father Davidson’s orchard, hoping to hear him continue his story about the kidnapping in the cave near the Mar Saba monastery. I walked up to the fire circle a bit late, and sat down as the Father was speaking: “…these memories that we all have, and the process of time, as it continually turns the future into the past, through the operation of the present moment…our future, which often seems to us to be unfolding so slowly, with one event plodding after another, in a linear progression…but then suddenly our future meets us, it falls upon us right now—all at once—and then just as suddenly it vanishes into the past…this ought to make us all consider the great importance of every moment! The future appears to be endless, but then it becomes the past, and is suddenly compressed into a single instant. Our entire lifespan here, in a sense, then becoming condensed as it were, into one extremely brief moment. And what will that moment represent—our life—when we view it all of a sudden, now surprisingly, as our past? Will our moment here in this life be just a mere vanity?…a moment of temporary selfishness?…of course this is too simplistic, and any life is a complexity of variations…but were it to be distilled to a single essence…would we declare it to be a moment of selflessness lived for others? It is only a moment after all…surely we can give a moment of our time?”

What the Father said made me think about the phenomena described by those who’ve had a near death experience, in which they see their ‘life flash before their eyes’—as if their entire life had been compressed into a single ‘flash’; very much the way Father Davidson was just explaining.

He continued: “With Avi now gone, having been released to return to his home, I was very cognizant that things had changed for me inside the cave. When Avi was present it was as though the men had difficulty knowing what to do, but now that I was alone with them, the older two brothers found more clarity, and became more aggressive towards me. Admittedly, I was afraid when they tied my hands and pushed me violently to the ground, where I was to wait throughout the night for daybreak—when we planned to return to their home together. It was during that long night I confronted the thoughts I have just shared with you about time, the importance of our present moment, and the way our past is compressed into a singular unity; I wanted the unity of my existence to be given to these men as an expression of God’s love, and I fought my fear in the darkness, a struggle unknown to them, in hopes of gaining the courage to live as Christ had—not motivated by this world’s treasures, but rather those of the coming kingdom; and not motivated by attempts to save my own life, but rather to save theirs.”

“We left the cave very early the next morning, about an hour or so before sunrise; it was dark still, but the gathering light in the east made travel possible across this rocky terrain. And though the gaping black mouth of the gorge upon our left made each step a high-stakes gamble, I had already laid down the value of my life during the previous night, and I was now at peace with any losses I might incur. The path was narrow, and we clung to the cliff-face, as we groped our way forward. Thankfully the men had untied me before we set out, for there would be little chance of my survival otherwise; I was still more useful to them alive than dead. After nearly an hour, we finally arrived at a slight widening in the path—a terrace which afforded a sheltered view of the path’s end up ahead, where it meets up with a dirt road that descends to the river, and crosses via a narrow bridge. In the morning light we could see a small patrol set up at this point; several men or women were talking together in a group near the front of their truck. We were outnumbered two or three to one, and outgunned—assault rifles to handguns—but we had the element of surprise; I watched my captors with interest, wondering at their next move.”

“I could see they didn’t want to give up their guns; but they also couldn’t be discovered with them either—they’d certainly be arrested. Attacking the patrol seemed foolhardy—at least to me—but they appeared to be giving it serious consideration. Their hand gestures implied they were discussing attacking from two directions, one would attack from the footpath we were on, shooting from the cover of the boulders which screened us from the patrol’s view, while the other two would go up and around to our right and attack from higher up the cliff. This plan was only made possible because, from where we were hiding, the footpath forked and a separate path climbed up through the cliff-face, connecting to the same dirt road a little farther up the hill, to the east of the patrol. It wasn’t clear to me what my role was supposed to be; but the day was breaking, and whatever their plan was, it would have to start right away, or they would lose any advantage of surprise. I still held out hope that they would come to their senses and realize the ridiculous odds against success; yet I didn’t feel any compulsion to try to stop them now, I was mostly curious to see what would happen, as if I were watching and not a participant.”

“But the eldest brother grabbed me and pulled me along as he and the youngest brother followed the path leading up through the cliff, leaving the middle brother—the unstable one—alone to attack from our current location. Within a few minutes we came out onto the dirt road, several hundred feet up the hill from the patrol, and around a bend in the road—so we were hidden and safe, for the moment. The eldest and youngest brothers conversed for a moment, and I could easily see the anxiety and stress in their faces and bodies; I doubt they had ever attempted anything like this before, and it showed. I suddenly felt a renewed anxiety—for their lives and safety—whereas just a moment before I had no interest in getting in their way, now I felt compelled to stop them. Fortunately, at that very moment, a loud sound arose from behind us and we turned to see the astonishing vision of tens—or possibly hundreds—of goats coming over the hill, trotting down the road towards us.”

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 37

We reached the end of the row, and Father Seraphim motioned to a bench a short distance to our right, “Let’s sit for a while, I need a rest.”

“I also wondered about Josh’s friend Richard. You said that he also was baptized as well…can you tell me what happened to him?”

“Richard…now there’s a gentle soul. Despite the violence of that night which landed them in so much trouble. I got to know Richard very well and grew to love him over the years, although I have to admit I would never have met him—nor taken much notice of him—were it not for Josh. He was a very good friend to Richard. He looked out for him, almost like a father, though he was only a few years older…maybe more like an older brother…but without the competitive angst. Even from prison Josh cared for Richard, and he asked me to visit him in his new home. It wasn’t easy though, getting in to see him…it was out of my jurisdiction…and they weren’t too interested in having a priest visit.” Father Seraphim let out a sigh and shook his head in disgust, “I guess we’re bad influences now! What a shame!”

“Did his own family ever visit him?” I asked.

“No. And I think that’s why they eventually relented and allowed me to visit Richard…since he had no other visitors….no, I take that back, Amelia sometimes visited…but no other adults. He was miserable in that place,” he shook his head indignantly and continued with an edge of anger in his voice, “I wonder if they really understand that those kids are human beings…I mean, I’m not sure they ever saw Richard as anything more than just a case…they gave him a case manager, medical staff…prescribed drugs for him…fed him—I’ll give them that much…and a bed—praise the Lord…but gave no effort to know him as a person. At least I never saw it.”

“What about the portrait of Amelia, did you see that? The one Richard drew…I think while he was there…” I interjected excitedly. “It is quite remarkable, I think.”

Father Seraphim’s eyes grew wide and he smiled broadly, “Yes! I’m glad you mentioned that! In fact, that portrait was very important. It gave me my first real insight into Richard…his talent of course…but his depth more importantly.”

I added hastily, “Exactly! It is so expressive and captures so much about…well, Amelia specifically…but more than just her…so much about the human condition, don’t you think?!”

“There is great range in that portrait, I agree…not only depth but breadth as well; there’s passion, and strength…vitality, and sadness…and beauty. So much beauty…and that’s very important, do you know why? Because beauty is not just the icing on the cake after all! It is the principal thing!” Father Seraphim declared with conviction. “I’m not just talking simply about a pretty face…although that’s something…but beauty is the essence of love, the result of all love…love produces beauty, and beauty is its symbol…beauty is the marker that points us back to love!”

“I hadn’t thought of it that way,” I admitted.

“And it points us in the direction of God, if you’re willing to accept that. Beauty is the language of love…of God’s love. And Richard knew this truth intimately…intuitively…without any formal training, he already had become a master in the art of beauty, and in portraying the love of God…at least that’s my opinion,” Father Seraphim concluded.

“Did you know he kept a photo of Amelia, but he lost it when he moved into the group home; before he drew that portrait of her?”

“Josh told me all about that. Yes. Let me tell you…Richard spoke very little, not much at all…but we spoke about that portrait. I asked him to explain it to me, if he would. And he said one thing in particular that always stood out to me, and I never forgot it—that he didn’t know Amelia until he drew her portrait. At first, he drew it to remember her, and to feel close to her…and as a remedy for his loneliness…and his grief…but what he hadn’t expected, and what he didn’t know would happen…as he drew her portrait he actually discovered her, and came to know her in ways he never had before.” Father Seraphim spoke quietly, almost reverently as he said this, and then more loudly once again, “perhaps the skeptic, or a cynic might say he only discovered his own illusions about her!…but I think it is a mystery…maybe a little magical too, if you’ll forgive me that word…art revealing the truth that was hidden from view! Is it objective?…subjective?…maybe a little of both…but the act of creation, done in love, is an act of discovery, and of genuine, authentic revelation, in my humble opinion!” Father Seraphim concluded again, this time triumphantly. “Our art, whether it is painting, or music, or literature, perhaps poetry…whatever it may be…it is no mere trifle, nor is it a superfluous thing…but it reveals the essence of who we are…we need it, even…to discover who we are! Art, beauty…without these things…I believe that we are lost!”

“Did Richard have to stay in that group home for very long?” I asked, after I had sat for a while silently reflecting upon the importance of beauty, and of art.

“About two years…about two years too long. They finally released him into his parent’s custody, but he came to live with me. He worked with me…learning to serve at the altar…and he became an Orthodox Christian, before Josh did, in fact. You would think that Richard would be the one to follow Josh, given their…well, who they are…at least based on how we typically see things in this world…but it was often the other way around…with Josh following after Richard, learning from Richard. They had a unique friendship those two…Josh was humble enough to follow and learn from…someone like Richard…and he gained a lot that otherwise would have been lost…or simply never discovered.”

“Interesting!” I exclaimed suddenly, as an insight came to me that seemed possibly true, “Perhaps Josh actually lives an artful life…like you were just saying about the act of creation…and somehow because of that…he is able to discover things about himself and about Richard that would otherwise be left undiscovered. Someone recently told me they think Josh’s life is like a poem, lived out on multiple levels of meaning simultaneously…it is as if his life is his art…not literally through painting or by writing…but through the way he lives, so beautifully even…and this leads him…and others around him…it leads us to love!”

“And I might add…in the direction towards God! Which is the point of this life, and our death, I believe,” Father Seraphim added. “And I was going to say something else about Richard…oh, what was it? Ah, Richard began to write…paint icons…yes, I taught him the basics myself while he was with me. As you can imagine he took to it very well. In fact, let’s walk back to the church and I’ll show you some of his work.”

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 36

Several days later, after my breakfast with Amelia, I made an appointment to see Father Seraphim again. The first time we spoke, he had mentioned meeting Josh when he was in prison, and I hoped to learn more about that time in his life.

I pulled up to the old, beautiful church in the late afternoon. It was mid-week, and Father Seraphim had been hearing Confessions; the last one of the day was just wrapping up as I entered the building and stood waiting under the large dome of Christ. Near the front of the church, just in front of the iconostasis screen—which separates the sanctuary and the altar—two men stood before a small stand, upon which was an icon of Jesus. I watched as one man knelt and bowed his head; and it appeared then that Father Seraphim said a blessing over this man. After this was done the two stood talking for a few minutes before turning and walking towards me. Father Seraphim belted out a greeting as he approached, and I was startled to suddenly recognize Father Davidson as he passed me, on his way out of the church. It was strange that I hadn’t realized it was him who had been giving his confession, but the light was dim, and I hadn’t expected to see him here.

He smiled as he walked past; and I felt glad to see him but also sheepish, since I was here to talk about him. I felt as though I had been caught red-handed, and I began to reconsider my mission here, now that the object of my inquiry had just looked me square in the eyes, seeming to know my innermost thoughts and motives. I felt exposed, and I questioned myself: was it ethical to inquire about another person in this way, or in the end is it all simply gossip?

As Father Davidson left the church building, Father Seraphim assured me, seeming to have read my mind, “Your friend apparently anticipated your visit today; and he told me you’d have some questions about his past.”

“Oh?!” I responded, feeling embarrassed, and even more exposed now.

“Relax!” Father Seraphim laughed. “Be at peace. It’s fine…he wants you to know his past. It’s interesting actually…you may find this interesting, I did…he said, and I’m quoting, ‘that you need to know’…so, what is it that you need to know about him?”

This took me off guard, and I felt a little defensive. “I don’t think I need to know anything,” I replied peevishly, “It’s not a compulsion or anything. I can’t imagine what the need would be.”

“Ha!” Father Seraphim laughed heartily; and I became annoyed. “Maybe it isn’t you that need it, maybe he needs it…or maybe the universe needs it, as people like to say…or others need to know, those whom you will tell his story to in the future, maybe you need to know…for them.”

I felt my defenses lower as he said this, and my embarrassment subsided—replaced by a new sense of purpose and importance. I answered, “Well…I do think his story is worth telling.”

“There we have it then! Let’s talk! Shall we take a walk outside? I’ve been cooped up inside here and need some fresh air anyway…and I’d like to check in with the tenants!” Father Seraphim said jovially as he ushered me out a side door. We crossed the parking lot and entered the church cemetery as my eyes adjusted to the bright light.

As we made our way between two rows of headstones, Father Seraphim quipped, “They’re always late with the rent, but we let them stay…we don’t evict anyone! In fact, their rent’s already been paid…for eternity!…They’ve got a good deal!” After a short belly laugh, he turned more serious, and stated dryly, “…death was a big topic between Josh and I, when we first met…while he was in prison. He said he felt as though he had already died, in a sense…sitting in his cell alone, away from his family, and his friends. That was a big transition for him.”

“It must have been horrible.”

“Not sure. He has always had a way of rolling with the punches, Josh has. I don’t think he liked it…no, but he learned from it. And when he said he felt as though he had already died…he didn’t mean that necessarily in a bad way either. He was very insightful for his age…at first he felt sad, but then he felt liberated…that’s what he said…and isn’t that perfectly paradoxical?…that he found freedom, while locked away in a prison cell? When he told me that, I thought to myself…now, here is a young man made for the Orthodox Church, the Orthodox way…willing and able to recognize life’s paradoxes, and to live his life square in the midst of them…not over-simplifying in one direction or its opposite!”

“That’s not always easy to do,” I agreed.

“I believe that it takes humility! In an ultimate sense…great humility…to face the unexpected and the unknown…and to say with your entire being in that moment, as you realize…I didn’t know…I don’t know!…Yes, that’s when the real discoveries are made!” Father Seraphim declared triumphantly, before continuing, “Is there anything more shameful to the mind of man, than to admit that it doesn’t know?!…But Josh didn’t have to know, doesn’t have to know…and that has always been his glory…his perfection, I believe…he embraces this death in every moment…he allows himself to die, in a sense…he allows his pride, his vanity, his idea of himself to die in every moment…so that he can live!” Father Seraphim looked around himself, and gestured towards several of the tombs, and continued, “What secrets do they now know?! We don’t really know! But they gave themselves in death…they relinquished control and authority over themselves…we know that for certain…like Jesus Christ, they gave up their will to the will of God…when they died…and what a perfect death is the death to one’s own will, and the relinquishing of one’s life to the will of God! Some wait until the end of their life to do this…while others, like Josh, learn to do it along the way.”

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 35

Following Amelia’s amazing string of revelations about her brother, Richard, and herself, she sat silently for some time, sipping her coffee, and staring into the distance, looking at nothing in particular.

I ate my breakfast and contemplated what she had revealed; it was certainly noble of her brother to take the fall for Richard, but I wondered if it was wise, and was it the best decision? Josh was young, with a bright future; it was a lot to sacrifice, for a friendship. And from what I knew about Richard, it seemed possible, even likely, that he could have ended up being institutionalized anyway; so what practically was being gained by Josh’s sacrifice? Yet, from what I knew of Josh—of Father Davidson—he wouldn’t have considered it in this way at all; he wouldn’t have weighed the costs against the benefits as I was.

“His decision must have been very difficult for you, for your whole family,” I put forward cautiously, unsure whether or not Amelia wanted to continue talking about it.

She sighed deeply and replied, “…our parents never fully understood it, and Meg, she was in medical school and too busy, she only heard bits and pieces about it…that’s our older sister…but it was hard, yes…for everyone. You can’t do what’s right, not for everyone, can you? Somebody’s always going to be left out…but he did what he thought was best. In the end, maybe it was…who knows?…I think it probably was. Best, I mean…for him and for Richard too…and even for me, as well.”

“Why is that? If you don’t mind my asking?”

“I felt so ashamed, as you can imagine, for what I did to poor Richard. It was my fault…and it was so confusing. I didn’t know how to apologize to him…couldn’t…I was angry at him for doing something so stupid, and for watching me with Mark, for being there…I felt guilty about that…and I was angry at Josh as well for taking the blame, but grateful to him. As it was, I felt very depressed, but if Richard had gone to prison I don’t know how I would have survived that. I was responsible for that…and, at least with my brother…we could talk about it. We talked all about it…at least I talked, and he listened…and he made it okay, or…tolerable at least,” she laughed uneasily.

“Your brother made it tolerable?”

“He saved me!” Amelia answered with conviction. “I would have sunk without him. I’m sure of that. Shame and guilt would have crushed me…and anger. He understood though…Josh understood…me…and that’s what I needed….that saved me.”

“Josh fought the charges; saying the fire was accidental. But evidence pointed to it being deliberate…and some of his statements contradicted; he was afraid. He didn’t want to go to jail. But he never told anyone that…except me…and there was the death of the boy, Ryan was his name…that was an unexpected burden Josh hadn’t planned for, when he first confessed to having started the fire. Ryan’s mother was distraught, as you can imagine…and she made it very, very tough on my brother. He wanted to tell her the truth—that he wasn’t responsible for her son’s death, but he couldn’t; he couldn’t explain to her what really happened, he couldn’t tell anyone the truth, for Richard’s sake. So he kept silent.”

“Amazing,” I muttered. “I don’t think I could have done that. Everyone thought he was guilty then? Of arson…and for the death of her son…for burning down the café?”

“Not everyone…but most people did. He confessed, after all! Whether it was intentional or not, that was the only question…essentially…but it also turned out that someone saw Richard leave the café, out into the alley behind the café…I suppose after he had lit the fire…very early that morning; so in the end he also became a suspect.”

“No!” I exclaimed. “So it was a complete waste of time, what your brother tried to do? He wasn’t able to protect Richard, even after confessing for him? He ruined his own life for nothing?!”

“That’s what I was afraid of,” Amelia conceded. “That was the low point. Josh was miserable when they threatened to charge Richard; that might have been the lowest I’ve ever seen him. And they took advantage of that, the prosecutors did…somehow they found out that my brother would do whatever he could to protect Richard. So they offered him a deal: if he admitted to setting the fire intentionally, they wouldn’t charge Richard, and since Josh himself was only barely an adult—just nineteen with no prior record—they would recommend a lenient sentence…So, Josh took the deal, of course, in an instant…I doubt he even thought about it, or consulted his lawyer…and that was it.”

“What did he get?…how long?! And what about Richard, what happened to him after that?!” I asked impatiently and perhaps a little too enthusiastically, being thoroughly engrossed in these events, and hoping to learn more of the details. “I mean, I’m sorry about your brother, any amount of time would be unfair,” I said sincerely, in hopes of ameliorating my previous thoughtless exuberance at her family’s misfortune.

“Oh, Josh went to prison…for three years. Well, he was sentenced to five…but he got parole after three,” Amelia shook her head, and rolled her eyes, sighing, and then shrugged. “Well, it’s over now, thankfully…although I suppose it isn’t really…things like that are never really over, are they?! Everyone has an opinion, and then the hurt feelings…desires for vengeance…making life hell for one another…and no kind of forgiveness, just keeping the wounds open…”

“Yes, I know what you mean.” I answered, thinking back to my times at the coffee shop, and the attitude of Mark’s parents, Lilian and Apollo, and of Dian towards Father Davidson. Now, all that made more sense to me, knowing that he had confessed those many years ago, to burning down their café. They had clearly never forgiven him for that.

Amelia continued, “And Richard—believe it or not, this is finally the entire point of my telling you this whole thing—social services finally got involved with that mess of Richard and his biological family. They found out he hadn’t been living at home for several years, so they took and placed him in some kind of group home. They meant well…I think…but it was done horribly, they didn’t give him any warning and they just took him…against his will really…he had no chance to get anything from his home in the woods, couldn’t say goodbye to Josh…or me. No more school…they just took him away, right then and there, all of a sudden. He went berserk, it was horrible…they didn’t know what they were doing to him. I was so angry! I still want to wring their necks…well, it doesn’t matter now. He’s in a better place now.”

Amelia stopped for a moment, and offered to fill my cup again. The clouds were rolling in from across the water upon a slight breeze, bringing a sudden chill to the morning air that had been warming gradually throughout the telling of her story.

“So! The grand finale!” She exclaimed as she wrapped up her story, “you had asked about the portrait of me in the store, and you guessed correctly that Richard is the artist. After he was taken to the group home, he lost the photo of me that I had given him…he couldn’t go back and get it…I assume it was still in his home, in the woods…in any case, he didn’t have it anymore…so he drew that portrait to have with him in his new home. He did it entirely from memory, and he kept it for many years. Eventually, it was given to me…a true treasure…it seems vain to have a portrait of myself on the wall…but really, it is more about him, than about me…at least that’s how I see it.”

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 34

“Did you love him too?” I asked Amelia.

“That’s the question, isn’t it?!” she answered conspiratorially, then laughing a little, as her eyes began to fill with tears once again. “I did love him, I knew that I loved him…but did I love him like he loved me? Was it a romantic love…could it even be?!…I think I had sensed his feelings developing for me over that summer; I probably noticed them right from the start, when we first met at school. But I hoped to avoid this question, because it was too complicated. It’s still too complicated, even now!” Amelia let out a burst of laughter, as she tried to ease the tension that she felt within herself.

“Well, after Josh dropped that bomb on me, I had to deal with it somehow. And to my credit, I dealt with it pretty well, in some ways, for a while…but then after that, I dealt with it very poorly.” Amelia stopped talking and looked down at her lap shamefully, her hands fidgeting with a spoon that she twirled absentmindedly between her fingers.

She looked up at me again, and with resolve, continued, “Richard was sad because he didn’t have anything special to make his place a home. He slept in a kind of nest that he made under some trees, and Josh found out from Richard, that he was especially sad about the lack of a special thing to make his nest a home. I didn’t realize that it was so important to him…like I said, it seemed to me more like a nice sentiment, rather than a necessity. But as Josh explained it to me further, I understood the importance Richard placed on it, and how desperately he needed the feeling of a real home. I remember lying awake in bed one night thinking about this, and it suddenly dawned on me that Josh and I were Richard’s family. I thought about my own family, and the photographs of us that were displayed downstairs in our living room, and I came up with the idea to give Richard a photo of myself that he could keep as something special—to make his house a home. I was so excited about this idea, because I knew he would like it, and it would make him happy. My senior photos had just arrived, so I took a wallet-sized photo and gave it to him one afternoon after school.”

Amelia stopped briefly and sighed, “…it made my heart so joyful, his reaction. It was more than I could have expected. That little photo—it was as if he won the lottery or something! You couldn’t imagine how happy he was…it made me feel embarrassed actually, but it was worth it! Thankfully, he ran off after that, I don’t think my emotions could take much more right then…and I’ll never forget it, but he actually skipped once or twice, just like a little child. It was shocking…well, of course, you wouldn’t know…he had a bad foot, it pointed inward, and he usually shuffled around everywhere, rather than walking properly…so skipping was not in his repertoire…he could barely run without tripping…anyway, maybe he didn’t actually skip, but I’m certain that he did.”

“That was a good moment. Oh, everything was so good then. Don’t you wish sometimes that you could freeze time?”

“That would be nice,” I agreed.

“A few months later I made a big mistake,” Amelia continued after nodding her assent to my response. “I was uncomfortable with my feelings towards Richard, and confused about us…I don’t think I was attracted to him…but I loved him deeply…yes, I did…there was nobody like him…so fresh and unique…the world sometimes leaves me feeling hopeless, but Richard always gave me hope. So, it was awful what I did to him…but I was a child, foolish, though I didn’t do it on purpose to hurt him…although I knew it would. There was a guy at school; he was good-looking. We had a few classes together…and he made me laugh. We kind of started seeing each other, and he asked me to the prom. This devastated Richard. The night of the prom…oh, this gets so messed up…so much happened that night. I don’t know if I can tell it all…I’m certain I’ll leave out many details, but I’ll give you the basic idea.” Amelia stopped and began to tear up once again. “Oh, I wish I could go back and change everything…I’m really not sure what to tell you first.”

“That’s okay, you don’t have to tell me,” I offered with concern. “If you don’t want to talk about it.”

“No, I really do. It helps, in a way,” Amelia answered and then continued with her story, “So, Josh worked at the café, and the owners were the parents of Mark, the guy I went to prom with. Oh, you actually know Mark, you met him at my store…when he was complaining about my brother giving that homeless guy his shoes. Remember that? So that’s Mark, who I went to prom with, and we stayed out late that night, after prom…messing around…in his car…you know. So Richard came by, I don’t know why he was out so late, he’s never up or out of his home that late at night…it was early morning by then…and he saw us through the window. We looked at each other, I stared at him in shock for a moment, and uncertain what to do, and then I got angry that he was there…I got angry at him and wanted to hurt him…we looked at each other and I could see how hurt he was, and then I turned away and continued to kiss Mark, knowing that Richard was watching. I saw him run away but I didn’t know what he would do, and I tried to put him out of my mind.”

“It turned out he went and got my brother’s keys to the café somehow…and he went there in a rage. He knew that Mark’s parents owned the café…actually Mark’s parents had been cruel to Richard on more than one occasion as well…they humiliated him several times…and I don’t know, it was never like him to hold a grudge…far from it…but something snapped that night and he wasn’t himself…He went in through the back door, from the alley, using my brother’s keys, which he left in the lock, and he lit a fire…he lit the laundry on fire, and it caught the whole café…and it all burned to the ground within an hour or two.”

“I’m so sorry, that’s tragic!” I exclaimed while shaking my head in horror.

“It gets worse….another boy also worked in the café, and he sometimes spent the night there…apparently. Nobody realized this until later…but his home life was…difficult, and when he needed a place to get away, he would let himself into the café. He had made himself a little bedroom up in the attic, and he was able to pull the attic stairs up behind him, after he went up, so that nobody would know he was there. Unfortunately, he was there that night…and they discovered his remains the next morning…when they investigated the burnt building.”

“That is very sad! I’m so sorry,” I said comfortingly.

“Yes, well it gets even worse,” she replied bitterly. “Josh came to the café for his shift as the fire was being put out, and he realized immediately what Richard had done. They may have even spoken about it together earlier, I don’t remember exactly…in any case, he knew Richard had started the fire, but Josh confessed to having done it himself, in order to protect Richard. His set of keys, which were found later in the back door, provided material support to his confession….Josh was arrested and charged with arson that morning, and later that afternoon—after the boy’s body was discovered—the charge of involuntary manslaughter was added.”

“Oh, no! But he didn’t know the boy was in the attic!” I protested.

“Exactly, nobody did. But I’m not sure it would have made any difference to Josh. Frankly, I think he would have confessed anyway…even if he had known…in order to protect Richard. He told me later that there was no way Richard would survive in a jail, or a prison; so in his mind, there was no other option. Richard had made a big mistake, but Josh couldn’t stand to see Richard’s life being completely destroyed because of that; and Josh felt that he was better equipped to pay the price, in Richard’s place.”

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 33

Amelia began her story: “When I was a girl, it was my junior year in high school. Josh was a year ahead; he was about to graduate. We met a boy at our school…well, we already knew who he was, but we never talked to him. He was strange, he talked funny and everyone at school thought he had mental problems, maybe autism or…he didn’t have any friends, and people were afraid of him. And they made fun of him, they were horrible to him, throwing things at him, imitating him…it was heartbreaking. Looking back I’m so ashamed that it took me so long to notice, and that I didn’t do anything until…it got so bad, people were so cruel to him. Josh and I couldn’t take it anymore…Finally, we defended him and then we became his friends. We ate lunch with him, walked to school with him and found out that he was…” Amelia began to tear up again, so she stopped talking for a moment and wiped her eyes. She began again, noticeably forcing her tears back, “…he was really an amazing person. He was beautiful…and, and…nobody knew that. He was so forgiving, he forgave everyone almost immediately, he didn’t even have to try, he just did it effortlessly…I’m not even sure he thought about it, it was so natural. But he still was so afraid, afraid of people and mistrusting; and he had every right to be!”

“That summer, we spent the whole summer together, the three of us. Josh got a job, a new job at a café, but he mostly did baking in the early morning…so he got off early, and we had the rest of the day to do whatever we wanted. I have a sailboat, so we mostly sailed, the three of us. Richard had never been in a boat before…that’s his name, Richard…he was so scared at first. I shouldn’t laugh, but it was funny. He looked like a cat being put into a bathtub! Arms and legs all over the place and terror on his face…but he was fine. And it turned out that he loved it. We all did, gliding over the waves all day, nothing else that we had to do…I loved to watch him when we sailed, he was so…what’s the word?…enraptured? Yes, I think that’s it…just so overcome with happiness. It made me happy.”

Amelia stopped for a moment and refilled our coffee mugs. She sat pensively, searching her mind, smiling wistfully. “Josh used to say to me…oh, what was it exactly? He would bring my attention to Richard, he’d say something like: ‘watch him [Richard] and see how he lives so immediately…you and I are thinking everything through, but watch him…he’s just living …it’s so perfect and so honest. That’s the way to be.’ Josh wanted to be like Richard. I guess I did too, a little bit…but I don’t think I understood him in quite the same way that Josh did. Josh admired him…and he was inspired by Richard. It’s a funny thing really, I mean, here’s this young guy, Josh, who is tall and strong, good looking and smart…everyone likes him…and yet, he admires and is inspired by this other guy, that nobody in the world thinks about…but that’s my brother…while everyone in the world is looking to the left…he’s looking to the right…and finding what nobody else can see.”

“So, is Richard the artist who drew your portrait?” I asked, beginning to connect the dots.

“That’s right. He turned out to be an incredible artist on top of being an amazing human being. But we didn’t know he could draw until later. And he didn’t do that portrait until a year or so after that…after everything went to shit. Excuse my language…oh, where was I?” Amelia searched her memories for a moment and then exclaimed, “Oh, yes! Not only could he draw, he made these incredible bird nests too! So, that summer I saw where Richard lived…he didn’t live at home, not with his family. That was terrible, you’d think social services would have gotten involved…but I guess nobody cared…or nobody knew what was going on. Anyway, he lived in this amazing place that he made out in the woods, by the stream, in a ravine…you could only get there through this tunnel in the bushes, and the entrance was all hidden behind this door that he made out of living vines! It was incredible, I couldn’t believe it! We went there together, he took us but he was nervous, I think about showing it to us…he trusted us, I know…but he was afraid still…that was his only home and where he felt safe. So I understood why he was afraid, in case he lost it. But we would never tell anyone about it, not back then. I think he knew that.”

“So he had made all of these nests for the birds and put them in the trees and bushes all around where he lived, and there were tons of birds living there with him. They were like his family…it was so sweet. They all knew each other and he treated them like…well, like they were us, I guess like people. They weren’t afraid of him, they’d come to him for food or he’d pet them a little…the larger birds he even turned upside-down and rubbed their bellies… the crows he did that to, and they seemed to like it! It was so funny! Oh, it made me laugh…and it made me cry too, I don’t really know why. I wasn’t sad…I loved it, I thought it was so beautiful…but I guess maybe I was sad a little, realizing that this was possible, to be like that with birds, and them with us.”

“Richard, he did this thing with all of his nests, he wove something special and unique into each one…like a ribbon, or something shiny and pretty…and he said this made it a home. Every nest needed that, he said…without something beautiful and special, it wasn’t a home. I thought this was a nice sentiment but didn’t take it very seriously. Well, sometime towards the end of that summer, Richard became very sad. I assumed it was because school was about to start again, and because Josh wasn’t going to be with us that coming year, since he had already graduated; but Richard wouldn’t talk about it, so we didn’t really know what it was.”

“One evening after the new school year had started, Josh came into my bedroom and sat down while I was doing homework. He said to me, ‘I know why Richard is so sad, Amelia. I finally figured it out…you realize he loves you don’t you?’ I was stunned, and my mouth literally fell wide open…that really happens…and I couldn’t think. My brother continued, ‘…he is completely in love with you, and my guess is, he’ll never stop loving you now, for as long as you live. You know that’s how he is.’ And I did know that, instinctually I knew that this was something serious…and for good or bad, I had made a permanent impression upon Richard…and now I had a responsibility to him…for him…and I didn’t know what to do.”

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The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 32

I fell asleep thinking about the Father’s little cabin. And as I lay in the hammock staring up at the stars, it occurred to me that it wasn’t only his cabin that enjoyed a special place in his heart, but most things shone more brightly, and most people appeared more beautiful because of his caring for them. I wondered…was it his love that made them beautiful? and was it because of his love that I was able to see their beauty? Is it love that allows us to see what things, or people, really are? and without love are we unable to truly see them? Sleep overtook me while in the midst of these thoughts, and the starry sky welcomed me into a world of dreams, as I drifted off: and soon I was standing in that boat again—the same one which had weathered the storm, the last time I dreamt under this tree.

This time the waters were calm and there was a bright moon shining down through the masts and rigging. I stood on the deck alone, as the small ship sailed, somehow, without a breeze to carry it along. And then the ship became the Father’s cabin, and he stood in the middle of the room. And the three assailants stood around him, the youngest praying at his altar, and the older two arguing with the Father. And as he spoke to them they changed, becoming more like angels and less like men. And then, from the midst of the room, where the Father stood—grew a tree—parting the old floorboards and climbing through the roof. But the roof had vanished, and there was only the starry sky above, with the tree climbing high—its top vanishing from view. And as the tree grew, fruit of every kind began to grow from its limbs, and fantastical birds dwelt therein. And then the sun appeared in the night sky and settled over the tree, and the Father climbed the tree, and he reached down to help the other men up. And we all climbed, and climbed, continuing to climb but not growing weary, only stopping to eat the fruit as we needed, then climbing again. And as we climbed, the sky grew bright, with the sun finally overtaking the night. And it was then that I awoke to the morning; and it was a new day.

I was suddenly startled to see Amelia, Father Davidson’s sister, pass by me at a distance as I lay in the hammock under the cherry tree. She was coming from the Father’s cabin and walking up the hill behind me. She waved when she saw me, and called out: “Come up to the house, if you’d like some breakfast!” I was doubly surprised by this invitation, because I didn’t know there was a house further up the hill, and I didn’t know that Amelia resided there.

I hurriedly got up and folded the blanket and placed it, with the pillow, back where I had found them at the top of the cabin’s front steps; I splashed my face with some water from the hydrant, which fed a small trough not far from the fire-circle, and then hustled up the hill, through the overgrown grass and past the ancient fruit trees, to the white farm house that was situated just over the crest of the hill.

I climbed the steps leading up to a large, covered wrap-around porch where Amelia had set up a small table for our meal.

“Looks like it’s just you and I this morning, everyone else has other plans,” she said with a slight hint of irritation, but masked by a genuine cheerfulness. I sat happily as I gazed at the array of fresh fruit set out before me, fresh cream and coffee, steaming muffins, butter, preserves, eggs and bacon. At the center of the table, was a glass vase with one enormous pink peony.

“A most elegant arrangement, and delicious too!” I complimented her while adding butter to a muffin, then watching it melt and disappear into the bready pores. “I didn’t know you lived here on the property with your brother…in fact, I didn’t even know there was a house up here at all!” I admitted with surprise.

“We grew up in this house,” she answered.

“What a place to grow up, with the orchard, all this land, and the ocean down there too!”

“It was, we had such a childhood! We were very fortunate,” she said with a smile and a hint of sadness.

“I met Father Seraphim yesterday, after you told me to drive up to the church. He’s very welcoming. He sure loves your brother, he said something strange though…that they met because of a fire, or a fire brought them together, something like that…I don’t remember exactly.”

“Did he?” Amelia answered vaguely and a little uncomfortably. “Well, there’s a lot to that story…would you like some more coffee?” she asked, hoping to change the subject.

I held my cup out eagerly while I examined her face with interest, remembering the portrait of her, back at her store; how the artist had so masterfully expressed the strength and intensity of her soul, while simultaneously revealing her sadness and innocence. She truly was a beautiful woman—complicated—yet somehow simple at the same time. Is that possible? It seemed so, at least in her case. “So that portrait of you as a girl, the one on the wall at your store, you said that was drawn by a friend. I can’t forget it, it is so well done…He captured so much in that portrait…how did that come to be?” I asked her, “…if you don’t mind my asking?”

“Oh!” she exclaimed, while suddenly tears welled up in her eyes. “There’s a lot to that story, as well…” her voice trailed off and her body shook lightly, as she lowered her head momentarily. When she lifted her face, her cheeks were moist and her eyes a little bit red-rimmed; and she wiped them with her napkin and then smiled, first with a look of resignation and then determination. She leaned towards me, looking searchingly into my eyes, and then appeared to let her guard down. “Do you have some time to hear it?” she asked.

“I can make time. I have nowhere I need to be,” I answered.

“It would probably do me some good to tell it, I haven’t talked about that in a long time,” she leaned back in her chair and sighed.

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 31

Father Davidson finished his story near midnight, as the moon was bright and high in the northern sky—casting a cool white light upon the grassy orchard one moment, then hiding behind the rolling clouds the next. I accompanied him to his cabin, and we walked at a comfortable pace between rows of apple trees on our left: sweet smelling and ripe—some fruit past ripe, scattered and hidden among the tall grass—and a row of plum trees on our right, with new fruit ripening, and shiny in the moonlight. The air was warm and flowing, bringing life and movement to the world around us.

Father Davidson was in good spirits and invited me to have a cup of tea with him before I went to sleep. But first, he gathered a blanket and pillow for me, and set them at the top of the steps, outside his cabin door, if I chose to spend the night in the nearby hammock, as I had previously. He left the door open and called me in, pointing to a simple wooden chair near the small wood-burning stove in the corner of the room, as he sat down on the edge of his bed.

He smiled broadly, “I’m glad you’re here!…why are you here…?!” He cocked his head to the side and squinted, while smiling and then sipping from his cup.

I shifted in my chair, oh, how I despise open-ended questions like these, how should I answer? and what exactly is he asking me? Is he getting at something specific?…perhaps wanting me to reveal something that he already knows…or surmises about me? I smiled and looked around the small room, and replied feebly, “I don’t know…I suppose I have nowhere better to be…I mean, I don’t mean any offence, this is a perfectly good place to be, not that I’d rather be someplace else if I had the chance.”

Father Davidson laughed jovially and sipped some more tea, then replied happily: “Here, is always a good place to be. No matter where here is located.”

I wasn’t sure I agreed with that and commented, rather more aggressively than I intended, “Maybe not always! Certainly not in a cave with three armed men that are kidnapping you. I don’t suppose that’s so good.”

“It depends on why you are there,” he answered. “If you can be in the cave for those other men…well, it can be a good place, if your motives are good.”

This confused me and I asked, “But you were taken against your will! It wasn’t your choice what happened there…so how can your motive be good or bad…you had no motive!”

“Are you certain!?” Father Davidson asked, still smiling and sipping his tea, apparently very pleased by our conversation and enjoying it immensely.

“Yes, and they assaulted you too! How would your good motives make that moment, in that place…good?!” I asked incredulously, and almost violently.

“Are we so disenfranchised?!” Father Davidson asked cryptically. “Do we not have freedom…are we not free to choose how we will react… or our motives…in a circumstance or a situation like that?! We hear that there is a time and a place for everything…isn’t that so?! Well…if we spend the times and places we find ourselves…spend them for those people we find ourselves with…then it is good!”

“Voltaire might disagree…’the best of all possible worlds’ and all that!” I retorted.

“Ours is a world of many worlds, within the world. Each person is a world unto themselves. Certainly those whom we meet, they may bring us into contact with their bad world…a worse world…or an evil world; but our best world is not founded upon an empty optimism, nor is it limited by the world which others might thrust upon us. No, if you will have the courage, and the humility, and the innocence to trust and find your home in God, then you can have the power to bring forth your own good world out into the wider world.”

We sipped our tea quietly, and I considered the Father’s words, as I glanced about his small cabin. It was just a room really—a rectangle about ten by twelve—with a bed in the middle, a desk and chair in one corner just to the left of the door, a wood-stove in the corner between the desk and the bed, and in the opposite corner was a small altar, topped with an oil-lamp, a few candles and icons; and finally a wardrobe occupied the remaining corner behind and to the right of the door. Windows framed the corner where the desk was situated, and there were two additional small windows in the far wall, to either side of the bed, one beside the wood-stove and the other next to the prayer corner. The walls, floor and ceiling all were constructed of aged wood planks, they looked like they had been salvaged from an old barn; and there were slight gaps here and there between the boards, which allowed a bit of light through in the daytime, I would guess, and a slight breeze through at any time day and night.

It was an unremarkable little cabin except for a quality that I couldn’t at first put my finger on: a character which left me perplexed, as I sat drinking my tea, taking in my surroundings. Have you ever encountered an ordinary thing?—maybe it was a car, or an article of clothing—or even, pardon me for saying it, an ordinary human being. Yet in the presence of their admirer, in the presence of the one who loves that ordinary thing, or person, in such an extraordinary way, you begin to see them differently, and their beauty suddenly unfolds before your eyes, a beauty which had been previously concealed to you, but now becomes obvious and indisputable. And it is because of the love, the pure love that is given unreservedly towards that thing or person—which was supposedly ordinary—that they are now revealed as exceptional. This was the quality suffusing Father Davidson’s little cabin. His love imbued it with beauty.

*  *  *

The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 30

A fearful anticipation filled the cave; the helicopters could be heard returning our way, flying low, and coming up the gorge. The two men at the entrance jumped, and fled into the depths of the cavern, and we all crouched together in the gloom, holding our breath—waiting. Soon, we saw one of the choppers slowly passing by the cave, making its way along the far side of the gorge; it was in no hurry, plodding and probing, as it went. Not a moment later, the cave erupted with the sound of another chopper much closer now, hovering just above the mouth of the cave, casting a whirling shadow on the dirt just beyond the cave’s entrance. Instantly, the mood shifted from anticipation to action: I ran towards the entrance hoping to preempt a landing, or any further inquiry from those inside the chopper; the middle brother chased after me; and the eldest followed after him. The youngest froze, his eyes wide in surprise and confusion, while Avi grabbed a large rock in each hand, preparing to fight, if the brothers attacked him.

I had made it about half-way to the entrance before I was knocked to the ground; and as I kicked my assailant in the shins, he was simultaneously tackled, brutally, by his older brother. For a moment he stopped fighting, stunned, as he was surprisingly flattened from behind, unexpectedly; and as the two men began to struggle together, I jumped up and ran outside. The helicopter hadn’t landed—perhaps there wasn’t room—but was still hovering above; but now had pulled out away from the cliff-face, out into the gorge a short distance, for better viewing into the cave. I waved nonchalantly, and smiled up at the men and women in the aircraft. Seeing the pilots conferring through the windshield, I turned as if to enter the cave again—took a step or two—and then turned back towards them once again, waving a second time, smiling and nodding as if to assure them that all was well. I watched breathlessly until they waved back, having made their decision to continue up the gorge.

The two brothers were standing again and arguing intently—though whispering—when I returned; the younger was sullen and his face hardened bitterly, as the other spoke incredulously and wide-eyed to him, shaking his head and gesturing broadly—occasionally whacking him on the side of his head with an open palm. I sat next to Avi, who had dropped the two rocks, but was keeping them close, in case of another escalation. The youngster looked more at peace now, as he followed his older brother’s argument; something in his bored expression told me that he had seen them disagree before. I caught his eye, then looked briefly at the two bickering men, rolled my eyes and smiled; he understood my meaning and smiled back.

Avi crouched cautiously, and remained alert, as he watched the other’s movements; himself ready for whatever might come. Though night was drawing near, and the time for his release had nearly arrived, he was taking nothing for granted, believing in no prior agreements; although he allowed himself to indulge in some hope, and he couldn’t keep himself from enjoying a rush of adrenaline from anticipation of his freedom, as the light began to wane. We talked together, as we waited for the night, and he told me these things, along with thanking me, and confiding some other details worth mentioning: ‘I feel like maybe I have a new life now…another chance. You know what I mean? Yes?’ I nodded that I did. ‘If I get out of here…it’s strange, you know…maybe this will help me…I have that feeling. I don’t know, maybe I will be a better person. Does that sound crazy?’ I shook my head that it wasn’t. ‘I want to hurt these guys, before…maybe kill them, for what they are doing to me…but you give me another way to see them. I don’t know, I still want to hurt them, but I also…well, thank you…maybe I don’t need to do anything…I just let them be.’

‘Yes, Avi,’ I finally replied, ‘…just let them be. I believe that is good wisdom.’

‘I think that maybe I would lose everything,’ Avi continued pensively. ‘And never see my family again…thank you for saving me…my children thank you.’ He looked at the other men in the cave with a nascent compassion in his eyes, and continued haltingly, ‘…maybe I understand them…maybe I would do the same if I was in their shoes…I know, you get angry, very angry when you will lose what you love, and someone must pay…’ he shrugged and smiled half-heartedly before finishing, ‘…but it doesn’t help much.’

‘It is impossible to see straight, when all you are looking at is what you’ve lost,’ I enjoined.

‘Or only what somebody else has gained,’ he added.

Suddenly, it seemed, everyone in the cave noticed simultaneously that the light had gone—the day was spent. We turned to look outside the cave, and the ridge across the gorge was barely visible, the sky and the rock were fusing into one, and it was time for Avi to return home.

The brothers approached us in the gathering darkness, and it was clear their hopes had now shifted from Avi to me, as the younger two men held me tight against the cave wall, pressing firmly down on my shoulders to keep me seated, while the oldest brother grabbed Avi, and lifting him abruptly, said, ‘You, go. Now!’ as he shoved Avi towards the front of the cave. Briefly, his form stood momentarily in the cave entrance, as a silhouette against the night sky and then he was gone. I could hear his footsteps faintly as he vanished into the night; they fell fast and in quick succession—he was running—I imagine in a great hurry to return home to the life, and the people that he loved.

*  *  *