She walked in peace on her way to her favourite bench. It’s a good day for a walk, she told herself. In fact, it was a glorious day.
This was her favourite kind of weather, cool and crisp with a slight breeze to wake you up early in the morning. The wind picked up as she neared the lake. It was well named, The Lake of Many Winds. Pulling her collar higher on her neck, she walked on.
The bench sat in wait as if with open arms, saying come rest on me. She loved this bench, nestled between the trees to provide respite from the wind, carved in its simplicity and left for those who wanted to rest on its sturdy boards. This was how she felt about God at times. She often needed to rest her weary soul in His sturdy and loving arms.
The sun was just beginning to crest, and the once still lake was now filled with ripples from the wind that kissed her face. The light shimmered, a myriad of colours dancing on the waves. What a wonderful gift God gives us, she thought and settled into her morning prayers of thanksgiving and gratitude.
She loved this time of day, watching the sun rise and having time with God. It allowed her to visit her joyful memories and have intimate conversations between her and her maker.
Just as she was finishing her first prayer, a flurry of black came flying through the bushes and straight for her. She panicked momentarily. The creature moved so fast she couldn’t decipher what it was. Just as she realized it was an overgrown puppy, it hurled itself at her and landed in her lap. Leash dangling, legs splayed to either side, tail wagging, it began licking her face fervently.
“Charlie!” An older gentleman pushed through the bushes in search of his dog. He was in his mid 70s from the looks of him. She smiled and tried to settle the dog.
“I’m so sorry,” he said as he rushed over to grab the dog. “He is a beast, this dog. He pulled himself right out of my hand the minute we hit the walkway and took off.”
“He’s fine. It scared me for a few moments because all I saw was a bundle of fur hurling itself at me. I’m just glad he is a friendly beast. Come sit and rest for a minute.”
As if the dog understood, he hopped over and plunked himself between the girl and his owner. His tail continued its glorious wag through the opening between the seat and the bench’s backrest. Scratching his ears, she smiled. It had been a while since she had a dog sit next to her, so she said a quick prayer of thanksgiving for this gentle albeit rowdy animal.
“My name is Henry, and this beast here is Charlie. My kids thought I needed the company and some exercise. I’ll be lucky if he doesn’t pull me over and break my hip. That will serve them well.”
His actions betrayed his words as he sat absently patting the dog as he looked out across the water. “What another glorious day God has given us,” he said, smiling.
Henry began to tell me how he and his wife would walk the lake trail every morning and sit on this bench to watch the sun rise, just as I had been doing. In the last few years, she could not make the trip, so they watched it rise from the window of their little cottage just down the bend.
I sat quietly, listening as he talked of the woman he had loved since he was thirteen. Little did I know this would become our morning ritual. I would arrive and have just enough time for my morning prayers, and then Charlie would hurl himself at me as if he was a rocket being launched at a person he loved. His whole body would wiggle, in joy, as he flew through the air toward me. He would be followed by Henry, whose greeting was always the same, “What another glorious day God has given us.”
He told me about his family, and I told him of mine. I had none left, and I didn’t talk about it much. My family had died in a car accident when I was sixteen. It happened while I was away at a friend’s cottage. If I had not been invited, I would not have been alive either. I lived with that guilt for a long time and had been on my own ever since.
Charlie listened intently as I told him my story. He sat quietly for a time as if waiting for me to recover from the telling. “I’m so sorry that happened to you, but I’m glad you hung on to your faith.”
“It was my faith that carried me through it. Every morning I say a prayer of thanksgiving for my family and that my parents taught me how to carry God with me, no matter what.”
“They did a good thing in that.”
He went on to tell me how he had struggled with his faith when they had lost their first child.
“He was run over by a car that jumped the sidewalk near the park. He was just six years old. The driver had a heart attack, so I couldn’t even blame them because they, too, were gone and their family was hurting. I threw my anger in God’s direction. My Gloria, God rest her soul, was the one who kept faith alive until I could get my head straight. I thank God every day for her, and like you, I thank Him every day for bringing our Harry into our lives, even if just for a short while.”
We shared many things over the following months; months turning into years. The two of them became a welcome part of my morning routine. It never mattered what the weather was like, and their greeting was the same, a flying ball of fur and Henry’s standard greeting, ‘What another glorious day God has given us.’
I had taken to making homemade dog treats, so now, when Charlie jumped into my lap, he licked my face quickly before his snout dove for my pocket, sniffing and nudging until I gave him a treat. Henry would laugh at the sight. He was like the grandfather I never had.
One morning I sat in prayer waiting, but the two never came. We had taken to letting each other know if we couldn’t make it, so I began to worry. “God, take care of them for me until we can meet again.”
I stayed longer than usual but eventually left. After several days I was extremely worried. We had sat on this bench for more than two years, and they had become my family. To my utter horror, I realized that in all our talks, I didn’t even know Henry’s last name or where he lived, other than ‘down the road.’
I went home and searched the papers and tried calling the police station and hospital. The story was the same at both places, ‘we can’t give that information out.’ It didn’t matter that he was like family. He wasn’t. I knew in my heart that something terrible had happened.
I began walking the streets searching for something, anything that might give a clue that my friend and his companion lived there. He had talked about painting their cute little English cottage, but nothing looked like he had described.
A week went by when I was sitting down to dinner and happened to switch on the tv. There was Henry, or rather his picture. Local senior dies a hero, the headline said. I began to cry and paused the channel, staring at his picture. I grabbed my phone and took a picture of the stilled screen. I had several snaps on my phone of the two from our morning get-togethers, but this would be the last.
After saying a silent prayer of thanksgiving for sending Henry to me, I asked God to give me strength and understanding. I then turned back to the tv and unpaused the channel.
The reporter explained how Henry Williams had been walking home from the park and came upon a fire. He banged on the door, waking up the family in an effort to get them out. As the father and mother ran out of the house with kids and babies in their arms, the dog ran into the house. The father was passing off kids and trying to go back to rescue his last boy, who he couldn’t find, but the paramedics were holding him back.
“Mr. Williams didn’t hesitate. He ran into the house,” they said. A crowd had gathered and stood by watching as smoke billowed out the windows. Just when they had given up, Mr. Williams came through the door with the child in one arm and the dog in another. He had just enough time to hand him over before collapsing.”
A paramedic then came on and explained that he had asked Henry how he found the boy, and he just said, “dog,” trying to catch his breath. He eventually told them the boy had been hiding under the bed, and how it was the dog who found him. He went on to say that they couldn’t separate the dog from its owner, so they let it ride to the hospital, giving both oxygen on the way.
“Sadly,” the reporter said, pausing, “Mr. Williams took in too much smoke and died on his way to the hospital.”
I switched off the tv and let the tears fall, learning long ago that tears cleansed and healed. Quietly, I thanked God for the tears because they meant I had loved and had joy in my life.
After a few hours, I realized they didn’t say what had happened to Charlie. Calling the hospital, I inquired after the dog that came in with Mr. Williams. The nurse advised that he had been picked up by a relative and told me she was sorry for my loss.
Hanging up, I went and laid down. Sometimes in life, you just need to sleep and close out the world, and that’s okay. I stayed that way for several days, calling into work sick. My boss knew of my friendship with Henry and gave me the space I needed. It didn’t matter if someone was a blood relative; it only mattered that you loved them, and they were now gone. I was lucky to have such a great boss and friend.
Several months went by. She still went to the lake and sat on the bench every day, but somehow it wasn’t the same. She still gave prayers of thanksgiving, and Henry was now on that list, but she was still having difficulty reclaiming her joy.
Just as she was about to leave, a black ball of fur hurled itself at her. “Charlie! Where did you come from?” She had never been so happy to see a dog in all her life.
The voice yelled. It sounded so like Henry, but she knew that was impossible. She watched as he broke through the bushes and rushed towards them; a handsome, younger version of Henry.
“I’m so sorry. I don’t know what got into him. We got to the house, and he bolted as soon as I opened the door.” He watched as dog and girl hugged each other, tears rolling down her cheek.
“It’s fine. In fact, it’s wonderful. I’ve been missing them so much. I’m Amanda, by the way.”
“You’re her, the girl, I mean.”
She laughed for the first time in ages. “Well, I’m a girl, that’s for sure.”
“Sorry, you’re the girl my grandfather spoke so fondly of. The one he met in the park every morning with Charlie.”
“Yes, I am she.” She smiled. It gave her comfort that he had talked to his family about her. “I miss him greatly, and you too, you big ball of fluff.” Looking over at the man standing next to them, she patted the bench, “Please have a seat.”
“Thanks. I’m Max.”
She smiled, and the two sat, quietly looking out at the water. After a few moments, Max said, “What a glorious day God has given us.”
Amanda smiled to herself and replied, “Yes it is,” as she had a hundred times before.
It was the beginning of another lifelong friendship. The two eventually married and named their first boy Henry. They walked every morning and sat on their bench by the lake, thanking God, every time, for another glorious day.
If you liked this faith story you can find others on the Faith Stories link of Leslie’s website.