I didn’t mean to overhear, I was just sitting there writing. It’s where I go to write, because when the heavy wooden doors close, all the world is shut out. The buzz of traffic, and the loud angry voices of the city, all the ominous busy feeling everyone gets, you know it, the one that gives you this heaviness in your chest, like you forgot something, or should be doing something, or should be going somewhere even when you shouldn’t.
Honest, I as just sitting there, trying to finish this writing101 assignment when I overheard him, this gray haired man, who must have come in after me and sat a few pews up. He must have not seen me, in my grey cardigan and matching knitted hat, all mousy and brown, camouflaged perfectly with the stone and the rich dark wood.
He slumped, sort of tired, let out a long sigh and stared up at the alter.
“After the war, when I came home I felt so out of place. Jenny was practically grown, she didn’t need a brother any more, and Ma was gone, and Judy had moved on, so I figured, this was the best cause. I thought I heard a call, and I was all fired up that I had found my calling and I could make a difference because nobody needed me here.
I heard your voice Lord and it told me to leave all I knew and go to desolate places and change all the things that needed changing. I headed out, I never looked back.
It just didn’t seem all that important to look back, to come back, they didn’t need me after all, right? A post card or a letter would suffice? Right?
I dedicated 50 years to bringing food and water and prayer where it was needed, and I saw a few climb out of the muck and misery by your grace, Lord. I thought I had done enough, I thought that the 50 years I had dedicated to the mission, never stepping on home soil would be enough.
Now I can come home, or now you have sent me home, less a man that I left, here I am. Jenny hanging on by a thread after Hank beat the kidney right out of her, her daughter Bonnie, somewhere out here, pumping all kinds of poison in her veins, and Mikey her son, fighting a war based on lies and hate, and money. I don’t even want to talk about Judy and what’s become of her, in that bordello.” From the way his shoulders shook and the way his voice was cracking he couldn’t be doing anything but crying. This was awkward in so many ways, I just wasn’t qualified to hear this man’s confession.
“Lord I’m asking you to light my way, and give me the strength in these old, tired bones, to undo all this. Lift if you can, this deep hurt in me Lord, because maybe if I was looking a little harder at those letters, or maybe if I had taken the leave the Mission had offered and come home that I could have done something…preventative. I feel so useless, Lord, trying to pick up pieces.
I know I was doing your work, but even that seemed to yield so little, so few. I’m running low by way of faith Lord, I’m running low by way of everything…”
I know the moment his throat began to close, because mine did too. I know how he must have felt hollow and helpless, I’d been through that too. I also know that he was shocked to feel my little hand on his shoulder, he jumped and then took me in with his watery blue eyes, skin all blotchy with sorrow, but he took my hand and we sat together , just sat for a bit.
Then he asked me to pray with him, and I did. Funny me, a sinner like me, praying for this man with his noble life lived and the rectangle of white peaking through his collar. But I prayed as hard I could, in that jerky fashion of people unaccustomed, and he prayed for me and thanked the Lord for my kindness.
By the time we walked out that church, we each had a comrade in arms though then we didn’t know it, I would help him find his lost ones, and he would help me find myself.