[a short story, by Sha’Tara]
Oh, he knew her so well. He remembered how she came and hovered over his crib when he was a tiny baby; how she fretted over him, and kept his rattle or soother at hand. She was his “other” mom, and the older sister he never had.
Over the years she had come to him at different junctures of his life. He remembered the glow of her presence at his first communion and later, his confirmation. She encouraged him, and gently taught him to notice how other people, especially his elders, teachers and parents, lived their lives. Don’t judge them too harshly, she’d whisper, but notice the hypocrisy, always notice that. Don’t confront them, just note and remember. Especially remember.
Then he grew up and he didn’t see her during his time of rebellion, anger, chaos and confusion. He saw girls instead and he lusted after them. He did stupid things, boastful, ignorant, hurtful; things that endangered the lives of others. It was as if he was possessed to do evil. The girl he dated became pregnant. He still had a sense of the old chivalry he’d learned from his childhood fairy tales and fantasies. He asked her to marry him and she accepted. Not the best start, but on their wedding day, she was there again. He saw the glow and suddenly his heart opened and guilt filled his mind to overflowing.
The moment passed. Life was tough enough. Wife, kids, a mortgage, car payments, responsibilities he was trained to handle, but nevertheless, stress. There were other things to impede the good life: a growing awareness that the world was not a great place to be. There was “the war” that needed protesting – he’d become a conscientious objector and tried to live by some personal code of non-violence. There were draft dodgers from across the border to help find shelter and jobs. Then environmental issues took priority and his life grew very complex and a darkness grew in his heart.
The marriage failed. He found himself, thanks to his losses, freed of a commitment he felt was complete. But the darkness held him down. He re-discovered religion and attended church. It provided little. He saw more of the old hypocrisy. He saw how the claims failed to match the lifestyle. Disappointed and discouraged he struck out alone looking for something, not finding.
Lost in mid-life, he was walking along the river shore one cloudy day and sat on a fallen log on the bank. Staring at the shining waters flowing past him, he formulated a prayer, or rather a request. He addressed her and said, “You know, I’ve made a complete mess of things. I wanted to do right, and did wrong. I wanted to change the world and couldn’t even change myself. The things I’ve done are horrible to me. I’m sorry for my ignorance and stupidity, but most of all, I’m sorry for my pride.
I need you to help me now, though I don’t deserve it. I’m going to ask your for the greatest gift of all, knowing full well that it cannot be bestowed on anyone, that it can only be earned through experience. I am asking you to grant me the gift of humility. Only with that can I re-learn to live with myself. I don’t expect to suddenly become humble, but I need you to guide my heart into this new and alien territory I intend to walk across until I reach the other side. I’m going to proceed knowing that you are here, guiding me, and reminding me. Thank you.
And so it was that he gradually changed. He did not feel any more humble, rather the opposite, but others noticed. Always he’d be shocked when they said something, or praised him for his kindness or gentleness. That can’t be me, he thought. Then he’d know she was there, calming his heart, softening his hands, making him choose his words with care, showing him how to proceed in all situations. Over time he understood what it meant to be blessed. He thought, I find it so amazing that the less I possess and the more I give away, the more I have; the more filled I feel. And he learned to laugh.
He lived long past his chosen time. Those who knew him believed he’d discovered the secret of immortality but that was only their hope he’d always be around. One day he left. He walked away with only a small overnight pack on his back. She walk silently beside him, then she touched him. He was never seen again.
A friend of his, having understood, said, we held on to him much too long. We made him feel guilty about leaving but finally he allowed himself to hurt us a bit so he could claim his own freedom. He’ll never be completely gone for he lives in each of us. What he showed us, the wisdom he taught and the changes he wrought: those are the pieces of his heart we hold within ourselves. He’s still here, giving us of himself when we emulate his burning joy.
Quote: “Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to was never there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place… Nothing outside you can give you any place… In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got.” ― Flannery O’Connor