Near the end of the concert Amy Davidson paused and sat on a stool. Agnes noticed weariness in her face and posture. She realized her first observations of Miss Davidson were incorrect, at least with regard to her age. Perhaps her petite build and the lack of cynicism in her smile had fooled Agnes, but as fatigue set in, the truth surfaced. Amy Davidson was no twenty something ingénue; she was nearer the Tri-Dee’s age, late thirties or early forties. Her music, however, even from a sitting position continued with energy and passion as she chose three familiar hymns of the church to close her performance. As the bow glided across the instrument the majesty of “Immortal, Omnipotent, God Only Wise” filled the room followed by, “Lead on O King Eternal”—Agnes and the Reverend mouthed the words, marching in place to the cadence.
Thelma Louise poked Pauline, who awakened with a start. Flustered, she stood and began singing with gusto. After a few gaggling looks from the crowd, others stood with her, including her table mates. As the winsome violinist moved into the poignant “Fairest Lord Jesus” only those residents confined to wheelchairs remained seated. Murmured “Amen’s” could be heard across the great room with applause in their wake.
Amy Davidson, obviously exhausted, allowed Mavis Purcell to help her into a motorized wheel chair which seemed to appear from nowhere. With no final words, only a weak wave, Amy edged her chair through the door and down the hall. Agnes wondered how she could do that with limited vision, but heard no immediate crash from the hall.
Walking the ladies to their apartments helped the Reverend Henry Porter stretch out some of the kinks in his limbs and torso that an evening of sitting produced. At eighty-four years of age Henry Porter did not consider himself old; he rarely thought of his age at all. There certainly had been seasons of aging he remembered; the loss of his beloved Jeannette was the most recent of those seasons of deterioration. Her death after fighting cancer for more than three years threatened him emotionally, physically and spiritually. Just when he thought he’d hit rock bottom, something would happen like when he wrote the last check in their checkbook with both their names engraved and he’d go looking for a shovel to dig a little deeper. During that protracted season, every muscle, every thought and every attempted prayer screamed “old, worn out, useless.” Thankfully, his son Rodney, who only visited twice a year, noticed how rapidly his father had declined since his mother’s death.
The Reverend Henry Porter’s restoration became Rodney’s primary goal during his scheduled visit ten months previous and he managed to involve his two younger sisters who lived in complete denial of their father’s failing health although both were frequent visitors and both lived within five minutes of his house. They maintained their position until Rodney drove his point home. The end result included selling the Reverend’s property and moving him into Heritage Village. Initially, he bucked at the whole plan, but he had adapted well and as of yet they had not ask for his car keys.
He whistled as he walked toward his apartment. The music, especially the hymns, had lifted his spirits. Reaching his door he pulled the apartment key from his pocket. As he stepped forward to open the door, his foot squished on the carpet. Standing upright he tested the carpet area with the toe of his shoe observing not only the squish but an ooze of water each time he pressed his toe from spot to spot. Further inspection revealed a wet spot directly in front of his apartment door nearly as wide as the door. He looked toward the ceiling. Seeing no obvious leak, he shook his head and decided it would be best to wait till morning and have Mr. Wingate take a look at it. With all the wind and rain it could be seeping down the inside of the wall before leaking under the baseboard onto the carpet. With that plan in mind and his concentration diverted he noticed he must have absent mindedly unlocked his door for it stood ajar. Goodness, he thought looking between the key in his hand and the door, I must be having one of those “senior moments” he heard others talking about. The Reverend Henry Porter pocketed the key and pushed open his door. Inside he closed the door behind him and reached to turn on the light.
“I’d appreciate it if you didn’t do that, Padre” The source of the request came as a low voice from a shadowy figure near the sliding glass door that led onto a small balcony.
The Reverend Henry Porter gasped audibly and peered at the indistinguishable form not six feet from him. He remembered, though why he did not know, that his mother would have said that he’d just had ‘the fire scared out of him.” His heart throbbed; his breathing rate increased as his depth of breathing decreased, causing him to pant and rendering him voiceless.
“No need to panic, Reverend. I just needed to speak to you for a moment privately. I did borrow a towel from your bathroom. I hope you don’t mind. It seems I got a bit wet.”
“Colonel Wilcox!?” The Reverend squinted into the darkness. Could it be? Why on earth; and how for that matter was the Colonel waiting for him in the dark of HIS apartment. Henry Porter’s vital signs dropped to near normal levels but his annoyance prevented full recovery. The nerve of the man breaking and entering, Henry scoffed to himself.
“I would like to sit down, Colonel, and I am going to need some light to do that.” The Reverend Henry Porter moved toward the wall switch.
“Oh, very well,” the Colonel muttered, “but let me turn on the table lamp over here.”
Light revealed the soaked figure to be a haggard looking Colonel Henderson Wilcox, U.S. Army Retired. He flipped the towel taken from the Reverend Henry Porter’s bathroom onto the couch and dropped onto it, leaned forward placing his elbows on his knees and covering his face with his hands. In spite of the towel, moisture seeped through the towel becoming a rapidly expanding ring on the couch.
The Reverend Henry Porter stood fixed to the spot by the door watching the scene unfurl. He’d never seen the Colonel or even imagined him looking like a dejected puppy. Approaching with some pretext of caution—the man had broken in to his apartment—the Reverend took a seat in his lounge chair and waited. Years of pastoral ministry had taught him not to speak for other people just to end the silence—long suffering was what the King James Version of the Bible called it, which was more appropriate in Henry Porter’s opinion than the newer renderings calling the word patience.
Waiting for another to speak enduing the silence constituted long suffering to Henry Porter, but he’d learned if you really wanted to know what was on someone’s mind you’d better get mighty good at suffering long. He had once sat with one young woman waiting for better than an hour before she could articulate the abusiveness of her husband. Some things people had to chew on before they could speak.
Fortunately, the drenched Colonel did not wait so long to speak. He raised his face from his hands, but his gaze fell somewhere behind the Reverend’s frame. Henry Porter pivoted a degree to follow the Colonel’s eyes. They fell on a contemporary print depicting Jesus grasping a young man in t-shirt and jeans from behind, holding him up. In the young man’s hand is a hammer. Rivets of blood flow on the ground. The title of the print was “Forgiven”. Jeannette had given it to him nearly twelve years before. He loved the painting, because at the time she had given it to him, the message assuaged old guilt like balm for his soul.
Turning back to the Colonel he saw the man watching him now and though the moment faded like the fog of warm breath in the cold—now you see it, now you don’t—understanding passed between the two men. Their eyes met, then the Colonel’s drifted down toward the floor.
“Tell me, Padre, what is the unforgivable sin, according to your God?”
The question was as familiar to The Reverend Henry Porter as the other familiar question, if God is good, if God is all powerful, why do “bad things happen to good people?” The answer, though found in many texts in the Bible, either implied or overt, made sense to believers and little sense if any to unbelievers. He cleared his throat preparing for what appeared to be yet another round of theological debate with the Colonel. Odd, though that the Colonel would seek to initiate such a discussion under the circumstances. Before he could speak, the Colonel went on.
“What if someone had done something so evil, so despicable that he could not forgive himself, but he longed for forgiveness even knowing he didn’t deserve it; what if he knew exposure would ruin him, so he chose to walk away, to live with the guilt rather than do the right thing? Would that be unforgivable?”
The Reverend chided his slowing thought processes; absorbing the Colonel’s words, as well as the whole ambiance of the situation, took longer than when he was younger. The averted eyes, the thinly masked personal revelation, and the delivery of the questions in secrecy, in the middle of the night reminded Henry of Nicodemus and raised as many questions in the Reverend’s mind as the Colonel had asked. He cleared his throat to speak, when the Colonel stood, tossed the towel at Henry and squished toward the door.
“Never mind! I should have known you wouldn’t have any answers! You religious types are all alike, afraid to answer the real questions.” Opening the door, he turned started to say something then grimaced and slammed the door as he departed.
“Good night to you, too, Colonel,” Henry said, before he got up and tried to soak up some of the water on the couch. What a mess! And, how had he gotten into the apartment? I think I will see about having my locks changed.
Finally, the mess at least taken care of in part, Henry pulled back the covers of the bed, slipped off his clothes and lowered himself to his knees. Some prayed he knew lying on their backs in bed, he thought that was fine for them and frankly the good Lord probably thought so, too. Henry, however, had from childhood found the prayer posture best suited to his conversations with the Lord was the bent knee and bowed head. His stiffening knees protested going down and coming up, but still he continued the practice.
He modeled his bedtime prayers around how Jesus taught his disciples to pray, beginning with “Our Father”, but within that structure he brought the concerns of his heart to God. His words lingered on “thy will be done on earth” listing even the Early Birds’ Hatchery to heaven and with the Colonel’s visit still heavy on his mind he hung on to forgiveness and “deliver us from evil” and added a personal prayer for the Colonel’s soul. With a whispered “amen” he pulled himself up and lay back on his pillow, tucking the covers beneath his chin. As “Winkin’, Blinkin’ and Nod”* splattered him with dream dust, the Reverend Henry Porter set sail in their wooden shoe.
In his last conscious thought of the night he wondered if the Colonel might be exhibiting the early stages of dementia. “I’ll have to watch him closer” Henry murmured just as the night breeze caught the sail sweeping him away on the silver sea. Faintly he heard the plaintive sound of a violin.
[*19th Century Lullaby by Eugene Field]