by Thomas OBrien
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With legs dangling over the sofa’s edge, a reclined Phillip watches morning light slip through the living room blinds. The early hour offers its sounds, the soft hum of the kitchen refrigerator, the tick of the hall clock, and distant chirps from stirring birds. Indiscriminate much of the day, these sounds resonate above the stillness of the hour. “Hush!” Phillip yells, as he impetuously tosses on the sofa’s sunken cushions. Scooting up he lays his legs flat and closes his eyes. In moments they open again, and Phillip stares at the living room ceiling. He tries sitting erect and pulling up the blinds to gaze out at the horizon. "Sky red in the morning, sailor take warning," he mutters and again reclines, this time turning his body to face the back of the sofa. Slowly he bends his knees towards his chest and grabs the throw pillow by his feet, pressing his face into it. With eyes shut he remains there, darkness penetrating space behind closed lids. Within the darkness an image of his brother Joseph, at age sixteen lying in a hospital bed, appears. Phillip too is present, standing in the far corner of the hospital room staring at Joseph sleeping. The image is familiar. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” he recites, combating accusations the image evokes. The words, “You didn’t help Joseph when he needed it,” swirl inside his head. “You knew it, the signs were there, him cutting his hair, the long times he hung out in his bedroom and wouldn’t leave it…Do not be conformed to…… You knew something was up. How about when he quit school you should have done something then. Instead you gave him your eighteen year old toughen up speech…To this world, but …By the time you finally did do something he ends up in a psych ward. If you had cared, if you had been a good brother, he wouldn’t be schizophrenic now… Be transformed by the renewing of your mind….
Phillip now recalls a different image, it too of Joseph in his bedroom, lying there in bed, Phillip standing over him. “Get up,” he commands Joseph, “You just can’t keep lying around, that’s not gonna help anything.” Joseph gives no response. Phillip storms out of the room shouting, “Well if you’re not going to help yourself there’s nothing I can do.” Two days later Joseph is taken to the hospital.
The image dissipates and Phillip longs to spew from his now trembling body the self disgust once again ingested. “Oh Jesus,” he moans, as the words shame and guilt form within that closed lid darkness. They float about in his head intertwined as a single dark cord, making it difficult to differentiate one from the other. Words are spoken as if an audible presence was in the room talking directly to him. In a gentle, assuring tone Phillip hears, “You were young, you did not understand… Your brother needed more than you could offer. You did also. It wasn’t there. This was not your burden to carry. Release it to me. Let go of the shame, the guilt, you have been harboring.” Phillip watches these words flit about in his head, as he tries to settle his shaking body. He senses the first to be dealt with is shame. At first he resists its release, thinking he is not deserving of this grace. “I let go of you shame,” he whispers reluctantly, mostly as an act of obedience. He watches it shrivel away, dissipating into the darkness. The trembling slows; a single strand remains. Next he hears, “Now guilt.” Again he hesitates then responds, his voice slightly stronger, more forceful. “Out of here guilt.” His body subsides as the shriveled strand fades into the darkness. An image of a cross replaces it. He stares at the light emanating from it. His body now still, seems weightless.
Phillip opens his eyes to morning light breathing warmth upon his face. He welcomes it, allows it penetrate his creased brow like a healing balm. A wave of comfort rides in this light. Gently it sifts through the rays settling into the silence. It envelops his thoughts, slows them, steadies them, assures him all is well. He remains on the sofa not wanting to move, enjoying the brevity of the moment. “Thank you Jesus,” he whispers, wondering, “What will tomorrow’s morning light bring?”
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