It was early, well, at least for me. I resented having to wake up so early and go walking. My doctor told me I needed to get more activity, so here I was, stomping hostilely along a familiar path. Very hostilely, I might add. Little did I know what was in store and that there was one last lesson for me in this day.
I carried an insulated cup filled to the brim with hot tea. A brew strong enough to leave fur on your tongue and jolt the dead. It was required if I was to lift the fog from last night’s outing with the boys. What should be a fun weekly night out was really just a chance for me to drown my sorrows and take my anger out on the dartboard. I never acquired a taste for coffee, so tea became my morning ritual.
I passed several ‘cheerful’ walkers, each wishing me a good morning, to which I responded with a gruff ‘morning.’ If they had really looked at me, they would know I was not in a good mood. Shoulders hunched, one hand in my pocket, head down so as not to have to address anyone, yet there they were, happily trodding along, practically singing their ‘good morning’ greetings.
The sun was beginning to rise over the horizon. I could see its’ reflection in the water out of the corner of my eye. The mist rose off the water like tepid steam to match my mood. The day was damp, not too cold to require a heavy coat, just cool and humid enough to need a light jacket.
I spied an old familiar bench and decided I had walked enough for now and sat to drink my tea. The cry of a lone loon matched with the mist creating an eerie ambience, perfect for the mood I was in. Some saw beauty. I saw my feelings rise and fall with the fog on the lake, a heartbeat of pain on a landscape of hurt.
Forgetting how well my insulated mug worked, I cursed as the tea burned the roof of my mouth, melting away several layers of skin. I was so busy being angry and wallowing in a pool of self-pity sprinkled with a heaping spoonful of self-loathing that I became oblivious to my surroundings.
‘Guess you’re having a rough day.’
I looked up to see the person that matched the raspy voice. He was old and cheerful, his face wrinkled and worn. He had a tweed jacket to dispel the damp morning dew and a cap, perhaps to control the wisps of hair he had left.
Just what I needed, a chipper old fart sitting beside me chattering away. Couldn’t anybody understand that I wanted to be left alone in my misery? Without asking permission, he sat beside me on the bench and leaned his cane against a crippled leg.
“Gunna be a beautiful day.’
I should have been more polite in my response. My mother had raised me better than the ‘If you say so,’ response that flew from my lips and the corresponding shoulder shrug. She didn’t get to teach me everything she should have, but manners were top of her list from the time one could speak.
His eyes crinkled, and his mouth turned up into a childlike grin. One could say his eyes twinkled with laughter. It was annoying that a person could be so happy. Hell, he had a bad limp, was out of breath and struggled to walk, yet, here he sat looking like a kid on Christmas morning.
How could a guy with a mangled leg be so happy, I asked myself?
“Because I’m grateful for another day,” he responded to my unspoken question. It made me wonder if I accidentally said it aloud.
“I beg your pardon?”
My visitor laughed, saying, “no begging required. You’re pardoned.”
I shook my head in dazed confusion. Carefully taking another sip of my tea, I watched him from the corner of my eye. He stared out at the lake and sat there smiling.
I, too, decided I would ignore him and just stare straight ahead. That lasted all of fifteen seconds before he spoke again. This time though, it was a question.
“Why so unhappy today? You look like you carry the world’s weight on your shoulders and are very angry about having to do it.”
He must have seen my temper flare. My eyes were always a dead giveaway, at least that is what my ex always said. I contemplated getting up and walking back to where I had come from. I wanted nothing more than to crawl back into bed and sleep until noon, but that wasn’t to be. He reached over and gently rested his hand on my arm.
“No judgement, son, just an observation. I’ve been there myself.”
He looked back out at the water, a bit sadder now. I could hear him mumbling something to himself but could not make out the words. He continued his internal chant before looking back at me, his hand still resting on my arm. The hairs on the back of my arms stood erect, and chills ran down my spine. I shivered and shook my shoulders as if to free myself of an invisible touch.
“Tough one Edie, but a good one still, I’m sure of it.”
Now I knew he was crazy. He had just called me Edie. His drawl drew out the E, so it sounded like Eeedie.
“I’m Josh,” I blurted out.
He smiled and offered me his hand, saying, “Nice to see you, Josh. I’m Steve. Guessing you think I’ve lost my marbles and was calling you Edie.”
Rubbing my hand over the back of my neck, I looked at him skeptically and nodded. “Kind of.”
Steve laughed. His laughter was infectious, and I found myself smiling despite my best efforts to remain sour. I looked back out over the water. It really was a beautiful sunrise. The water shimmered with joy as the sun began to dance on its surface and the mist dissipated.
“Wanna know what I was saying?” He eyed me daringly.
“Sure, but only if you want to. It’s totally up to you, but I am curious about who Edie is now.”
“Ah, you can speak more than a few words. I knew it.” He laughed again and patted my arm.
“Just teasing,” he wheezed and coughed as he began to chuckle again.
He took a breath and became serious. Looking out at the water as he organized his thoughts. I thought he must have changed his mind because he continued to stare at the water.
“I was praying for you.”
“Excuse me? What makes you think I need praying for, or over, or whatever you were doing.”
There they were again, the bumps and the chills. I wanted to get up and walk, no, run away from him, but my body refused to obey and cemented itself to the bench. The world seemed to stop in its tracks, every creature waiting with bated breath until he would speak once more.
“I know it’s hard to hear someone say that, especially to someone like you. That’s why I said to my Edie that you would be a difficult one.”
“Difficult one for what.” My response was gruffer than I intended, but I couldn’t help myself.
“A difficult one to … re-light, so to speak. See, we all have a spark given to us upon the creation of our lives. My Edie calls it a Spirit spark. A spark that, when fanned, turns into a bright flame and then becomes a beacon and source of light for others.”
Great. Just my luck that a religious lunatic decided to sit beside me.
He smiled knowingly. “She was right. You are a tough one, but here’s the thing, so was I when she met me. I didn’t believe in God at all. In fact, I figured if there was a God, He was to be blamed for all the things wrong in my life.”
“Exactly.” The words flew out before I could stop them.
“Exactly – my words too at the time. Here’s the thing, though, He is real, and all He wants is to love you and for you to love yourself and others as He does. I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”
I listened, but the door to my heart had been closed to Him for a long time now. My entire family had been taken from me in a useless accident. My wife, who I thought would love me forever, decided she didn’t and left after my only child died of a rare genetic disease. A disease that I didn’t know I carried. Naturally, she blamed me for his death, and since I did as well, there was nothing I could say that would change her heart.
You must understand this one thing as we move forward in this telling of my story. I am not a crier. The last time I cried was when my family died. I was 12 years old and should have been with them, but I had gone for my first overnight trip with my uncle. While we were gone, there was an explosion, and everyone in the house died immediately. They said it as if that would give me comfort. At twelve years old, all I knew was that my family was gone and I was alone.
“Not your fault, you know.”
“I should have been there. Wait, what isn’t my fault.”
Steve looked at me with sad eyes, “Whatever you’re beating yourself up for and blaming God for. It’s okay that you’re angry. He understands that you’re hurting, and He loves you anyhow. It’s okay to let it all go and give that pain to Him. He will carry it for you.”
Tears began to slide down my face. I can’t say I was even aware of them at first, but eventually, I realized it and tried to compose myself.
“Tears are good. That’s what Edie told me all the time. The only one I know, besides God, of course, that can pull tears from a rock as hard as I. I sure miss her.”
I asked him what had happened, and he said it was a long story, but the short of it was she died in a house fire. Not her fault. Some guy we didn’t even know started it. Poor fella was too scared to come forward and admit his mistake, but the fire marshall said it was a careless accident with a high price.
“Not yer fault, not God’s fault either. Just bad luck is all, and a fella not paying attention to what he was doing and not thinking of the consequences of his actions. Don’t get me wrong, I was mad for a while, but her words are always with me. She said, ‘If God can forgive an old codger like you, you can forgive that fella and stop blaming God for what wasn’t His fault.’
I didn’t know what to say. His story was similar to my own. One would think I’d have had a dozen arguments as to why he should be mad and not forgive, but the words settled on me like a weighted blanket. ‘Forgive Him.’ How was I supposed to do that?
“Forgive yourself too while you’re at it.”
“I don’t know how,” was all I could say as an invisible wall came crashing down. My head founds its way into my hands, and the tears began again.
“It’s hard, but also, it’s easy. You just have to let go. Let go of the hurt and pain and ask God for help. Ask Him to forgive you for being mad at Him and not turning to Him in your time of need. The rest will fall into place after that. It’s not magic, and it won’t happen all at once, but it will happen.”
He made it sound simple. ‘Let go.’ He was right. I had been holding in my anger and my sorrow all these years and using them to propel me further into a perpetual state of discontent.
“It’s ok.” It was almost a whisper. “It’s okay,” he said again.
I don’t know how it happened, but that was how I came to be sitting on a bench with an older man named Steve holding me in his arms while I cried like a little child.
I can’t say how long we sat there like that or if anyone passed by to observe the strange scene. All I know is that somewhere in the middle, I asked God to help me and to take my pain and forgive me for my anger and absence. I finally let go of all the pain and hurt I was feeling and laid it at God’s feet.
As I straightened myself up and began to pull away, I found myself being pulled into a giant bear hug by Steve.
“I’m proud of you, son. I know how hard that was. You are on your way now. Find yourself a good prayer circle to help you continue your journey back to yourself. Promise me you won’t try to pull all that anger and sorrow back from God. Let him keep it.”
“I’ll do my best, Steve.”
“All I can ask for. It will take time, but never forget God is there, and He listens. Talk to Him anytime you need.”
He gave me one last pat on my arm and then rose to leave.
“Thank you,” was all I managed to say.
“It was my great honour, son.”
I sat for a long time on that bench, looking out over the water. I saw it with new eyes. It really was quite beautiful. It was one of the reasons we had moved back here to my childhood neighbourhood.
Eventually, I rose to head home, taking one last look at the bench. An early childhood memory floated across my thoughts. I was only two or three, and I had sat on this bench with my…..dad. It hit me then. My dad’s name was Steve, and my others name was Edith. He used to call her ‘Edie.” How could I not remember that? I was so lost in my grief that I didn’t even realize the gift I had been given. I searched frantically for any sign of him, but he was gone as silently as he had come. He had vanished like the most, silently and invisibly.
What a gift I had been given. I would cherish it for the rest of my days, and it was a day I would never forget. One last conversation, one last lesson, and one last hug with my dad.
“Thank you, God. Please thank my dad too.” It was a whisper and a prayer, all wrapped in one. I went on a walk begrudgingly that morning, and I have never been so grateful to have done so in my entire life.
The end, or perhaps the beginning.
If you liked this faith story, you can find others on the Faith Stories link of Leslie’s website.
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