It was Tuesday. It should have been just a day -- a day like any other. But it wasn't.
For one thing, the coffee was decaf. Tamara was trying slowly to wean herself off her six-cups-a-day habit rather than going cold turkey.
For another thing, normally she wasn't having her first cup of coffee at 5:05 in the morning. Since she was between jobs (again!), there was no good reason for her to be out of bed at such an ungodly hour. (Though some people, like her grandmother, thought these early hours were the godly hours. Tamara disagreed.)
And for one final thing, the tears splashing into the cup of coffee were also slightly unusual. Though the knotted-up feeling in the gut that prompted them wasn't unusual at all. She couldn't pinpoint the exact day or time the knotted-up feeling had become habitual, but it always seemed to be there now.
5:16 a.m. She still had at least an hour and a half to herself before she had to face Ryan. Maybe two hours, depending on how many times he hit the snooze button.
After another night of waking at four in the morning, prevented from sleep by the wheels of unwelcome thought that revolved endlessly in her head, she'd given up on sleep, dressed quietly, and crept out to the kitchen. Ryan's breathing had been deep and steady. His profile on the pillow and the gold-flecked curls that spilled over his tanned face were as handsome as they had been the day she'd met him on the beach. That day was just over a year ago now. But his good looks no longer had the same effect they once had.
He looks like a typical California boy, she said to herself bitterly. I thought that was who he was when I met him. But he's nothing like a California boy, really. There's a huge difference in mindset between the west coast and the east coast. No one here gets me at all.
A familiar wave of self-pity washed over her. She missed her friends. She missed Coco, her golden retriever. She missed the balmy winters. She missed palm trees. She was even willing to miss smog. She tried to tell herself that she missed her mom and her brother, Daniel, but she couldn't lie to herself. With Daniel being five years older, she and her brother had always led separate lives. It surprised her how little she missed him. And Mom, well, her mother was one of the reasons she was here in the first place. She'd needed to get away.
Tamara knew her mother loved her in her way. In a suffocating way. Mom would never be able to see it that way, however. From her point of view, she always wanted Tamara to have what would make her the happiest. "You follow your dreams, Babe, and never mind the rest of the world," she would tell her. But Mom never knew Tamara's dreams. What she imagined were Tamara's dreams were the projection of her dreams for Tamara. Tamara remembered the shock and hurt on her mother's face when Tamara had broken the news to her that she was going to move to the east coast with Ryan. But her mom had always told her to follow her dreams and make her own choices, so there wasn't much she could say about it, other than, "Oh honey! Are you sure? You've known him such a short time! You know nothing about him, really!"
But Tamara had been sure. Then.
No wonder she usually ended up following her mom's dreams for her. She never really knew what hers were. Or they came and went with the trends. Somewhere, Tamara supposed she still had a bass guitar and a saxophone she would never learn to play -- the dusty results of "following her dreams."
"Ryan was just another saxophone," she muttered into her coffee.
"I made a big mistake!" she said out loud before she could catch herself, and the act of vocalizing the thought she'd been thinking subconsciously for months cemented it into reality.
Who does that? she berated herself. Who quits college to move across the country with a guy just down on a surfing holiday she's only known for three weeks? For once, I should have listened to my mom. Not my heart, whatever that is.
When she'd hinted at her unhappiness yesterday over the phone to her mom, her mom had said what Tamara knew she would. "Babe, I want you to be happy. You know more than anything in the world, I just want your happiness. If you're not happy with Ryan anymore, there's nothing tying you to him. You're a free agent. You know you can come home anytime. You could enroll in some courses and make up the year you lost in college."
The college thing was a write-off. Tamara wouldn't know what she'd want to take, anyway. She was in college in the first place because her mother assumed it must be Tamara's dream.
The other problem was, Tamara wasn't sure where home was. Her mom was moving again. Yesterday, Tamara learned that her mom was moving in with Tim, the new man in her life.
"Might as well," her mother told her, laughing as though it was a great joke. "Without you and Daniel here, Coco isn't quite enough company for me." Her mom's "love must be free" philosophy had helped her in and out of three marriages until she'd sworn off marriage altogether. But certainly not off men.
The thought that she was in the process of turning into her mother nearly panicked Tamara into staying put. Three marriages later and still no sign of settling down was not how Tamara wanted to envision her life at fifty. But a deeper sense of panic at the thought of staying pushed the comparisons between herself and her mother out of her head.
The decaf wasn't doing the trick. This was not a good day to give up real coffee. She'd need all the energy, natural or chemical, she could muster to face the day. She got up from the kitchen table, opened the fridge to take out the regular coffee, dumped the decaf and its grounds, and scooped the rich, aromatic grounds of the regular coffee into a new filter. She inhaled the scent without noticing it.
I don't love him, she admitted to herself as she watched the steady, slow dripping of the nearly-black liquid into the pot. I never have. I don't know what it was at first, but I know now it wasn't love.
That was what it came down to. The thought came like a flash of inspired revelation with a sense of new-found freedom (or maybe it was the caffeine kicking in from the fresh cup of coffee she'd poured for herself). She just didn't love him! If she did, maybe all the fighting would be worth it. Maybe there would be something worth holding onto, something to salvage from the wreckage. But there wasn't. There was just a dead feeling inside when she thought about Ryan.
Perhaps the steady stream of nit-picking and petty squabbling had killed her feelings for him. How stupid all the fights were! Mostly over housework, of all ridiculous things! They'd agreed to split the chores fifty-fifty. But Ryan hadn't lived up to his end of the bargain, as far as Tamara was concerned.
He's just like his dad. Thinking the woman's role is just to cook his meals and clean his messes. He doesn't need me. He needs a housekeeper.
Although the fights were petty, the remembrances of them were still capable of raising Tamara's hackles.
And then he complains that I don't do my share! I admit, I'm not domestic. But why should I do more than Ryan? He thinks I'm not pulling my weight because he has this archaic notion in his head, whether he admits it or not, that the woman's place is in the kitchen. And the man's place is on the couch, watching sports.
Somehow, she had managed to steer just clear of open fighting about the endless procession of football games, basketball games, baseball games, hockey games, soccer games, even golf, if there was nothing else on, that paraded across the T.V. screen. Tamara felt she would scream if she had to watch one more sports match of any kind and pretend she enjoyed it. Did it ever occur to Ryan that she might like to watch her own shows sometimes?
He's selfish, selfish, selfish! The old refrain chanted in her head.
The caffeine on an empty stomach and too little sleep was starting to make her nauseous. She needed some food in her stomach. Tamara pulled open the fridge to investigate.
Gwen kept reminding herself that it was just a day like any other day.
Forty's just a number. I'm only one day older than I was yesterday. What difference does one day make? It's just one lousy day. But it is one lousy day!
She tried to halt the train of thought she was on. Self-pity did not become her. Neither did red eyes or a red nose. She'd better shape up! What would the cabbie think about her sniffling away in his backseat? And she had no tissue. She certainly didn't need her nose to drip all over the taxi, and she was too old for wiping her nose on the back of her hand. She focused on looking out the window and tried to think about anything other than what she was trying not to think about.
When the cab pulled up to the curb, the urge to cry vanished. The need for action aborted a few embryonic tears abruptly. She hopped out while the driver got her things out of the trunk and then paid and tipped him too much. She knew she had, but it was easier than doing the math, and it was better to go over than under. What difference did it make, anyway? It was just money. And this was just a day.
A relatively short time later, she settled into a temporary seat and checked her watch. She was far earlier than she needed to be, but she didn't enjoy running unnecessary risks. There was always the unforeseen to reckon with. Better to be early. Even if she was much too early. She was very nearly the only one in the
seats at this point.
At least now she had some breathing and thinking time. Though thinking was what she'd like to avoid just now.
There was one thing she could do to channel her thoughts where she wanted them to go. Her day hadn't begun as it usually did. The early departure from her mother's apartment meant she hadn't had time to "start her day off right," as she always phrased it to herself. She rooted through her handbag till she found the little
Bible she always carried there and opened it to her bookmark in John 11.
She read steadily for three chapters without knowing what she read. The words were too familiar to take her mind off all the multitude of criss-crossing thoughts she would rather not think.
She left the Bible open but distractedly picked up yesterday's newspaper someone had discarded on the seat beside her, hoping for a crossword. Instead every story her eyes fell on deepened the feeling of general malaise and apprehension stealing over her. She knew the feeling. It was dread.
She didn't want to go back. It felt good to admit it, even to herself.
The first twelve years had been good years. But the last year she'd spent there, the year with the new director, things had begun to sour. It wasn't just her own personality that clashed with his. There seemed to be in-fighting and political maneuvering that had never existed before in their working environment and that, as far as Gwen was concerned, had no place amongst Christians. But she felt herself taking sides against her will. Usually against the new director. How had things come to this?
Then there was the old cause for depression in her line of work – watching people, most of the people, in spite of all anyone could do to help them, cycle in and out of the seemingly endless vortices of the same old bad choices. Her job would turn any natural optimist pessimistic. Only the knowledge of who was ultimately in control of the world would have carried her through thirteen years of it. That and the odd ray of hope of those whose lives changed dramatically. But she had seen the truth of it first hand -- the narrow way really was a narrow way. The way of destruction was broad and well-travelled.
The six months away had helped restore her perspective. But those six months were over. The thought of going back weighed her down with an intolerable weight.
It would have to be my fortieth birthday, today of all days.
In spite of herself, her mind drifted back to her twenty-fifth birthday. The memories were bittersweet. But today, the bitter taste of them was overpowering the sweet.
Miranda, on the other hand, was jubilant. The early September morning was blue and bright but brisk. There was a crispness in the early morning that foretold a changing of colours in the trees along the freeway in the not-too-distant future. Miranda loved fall. It always made her feel alive, adrenalized. It reminded her of new school clothes and new school supplies and the excitement of new challenges ahead and new avenues unexplored. In her school days, at first it was, "What new friends will I make this year?" Then later it was, "What new boys will fall for me this year?" (There were always plenty of both friends and boys to choose from.) Miranda (or Mira as she was usually called) had never lacked confidence. The good grades were a part of it. They came so naturally there was no challenge to attaining them.
Mira rolled down the window not because she was warm but because she wanted to feel the sting of the cool air on her face as she drove. It added to the feeling of aliveness. She sang along (slightly out of tune -- musical ability was one of the few abilities she didn't possess) with the song that was playing. The CD was one of her guilty pleasures that she hid from Brad and only played in her car. He didn't even know she owned it. He would have mocked her if he knew. It was a CD of sappiest love songs from the sixties and seventies. (That wasn't the name on the CD case but it might as well have been.)
Mira loved the Carpenters. She crooned along with Karen, "I'm on the top of the world, lookin' down on creation ..." It was how she felt today.
She leaned her head out the window and checked out her reflection in the driver's side mirror. A bad habit she had when she should be keeping her eyes on the road. But that was her driving style -- carpe diem. After all, you only live once. Might as well enjoy it. She took pleasure in the sight of her dark brown hair whipping back from her face, revealing a pair of exceptional cheek bones and hazel eyes under perfectly groomed eyebrows. The wind gave a warm colour to her skin that heightened her already high cheek bones. She grinned at herself, showing a flash of her toothpaste-model smile, then laughed out loud at the sight of her own good looks. She never registered surprise when people commented on her beauty. She would simply say, laughingly, "Thanks. I always love to hear it!" There was no point faking false modesty, she'd learned long ago.
She took her eyes off the mirror when she spied the billboard she hated coming up on her left. Where are you going? Heaven or Hell? it asked boldly (and nosily, not to mention unnecessarily, Mira thought). Then there was a phone number for gullible people to call and the Bible reference, John 3:36. Mira didn't recognize the John 3:36 reference, but she could still remember John 3:16 from her Sunday School and youth group years. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life, jumped into her brain, uninvited. She tried to chase it out by singing along to, "You're just too good to be true, Can't take my eyes off of you, You'd be like heaven to touch ..." There was that talk about heaven again! Was there no escape from it today?
In an uncharacteristic fit of temper, Mira reached out the car window and made an obscene gesture at the billboard as she passed it. She laughed at her childishness, feeling just a bit ashamed. She didn't want to sink to their level.
It was just leftover teenage rancour that had never completely healed over. She had to admit that her Achilles' heel was the sore spot her strict, conservative, fundamentalist Christian upbringing had left her with. During her college years, her parents had made it quite clear that she wasn't welcome in their home due to some of her lifestyle choices, and she'd made it quite clear that she was not about to change her lifestyle choices just to suit them. Even as a child, she had never wanted any part of their narrow-minded, bigoted beliefs, and she never would!
Since "settling down" and marrying Brad (who her parents approved of more than they approved of their daughter) an uneasy peace had been struck. Brad had been the one who insisted that Mira get back in touch with her parents after Kylie was born. He didn't want his kids growing up without knowing both sets of their grandparents, he said. Mira would regret it someday when she was old and grey if she didn't mend bridges while her parents were still around to mend bridges with, he said. He was right as usual. Mira knew it. It had been the adult thing to do.
Her parents both cried the first time she'd called them after Kylie's birth. The shower of sentiment poured on her made her just as uncomfortable as the earlier ostracism had, but she bore with it as well as she could for Brad and Kylie's sakes. Since then, she'd seen far more of her parents than she really wanted to. And since Anneke's arrival and her dad's retirement, her parents had too much time to spend driving across the state to visit. Two granddaughters had proved too much for their willpower even if their relationship with Mira was still shaky. She'd valiantly resisted their efforts to take her girls to Sunday School and church with them, however. She had no intention of letting her parents subject her girls to the same treatment she had been subjected to. And she needed to let her parents know where she still stood. Some things may have changed in her life, but some things weren't about to!
The waves of nausea refused to ebb. Quickly, Tamara made a survey of the fridge. Something at the back of it was unrecognizable and looked as though it might sprout legs and walk out of the fridge at any moment. Tamara felt waves of annoyance stronger than the waves of nausea. Whatever it had been, she knew it was something Ryan had stuck in the fridge and forgot about. She wasn't going to clean out his disgusting leftovers for him. It could stay there till he took the hint and threw it out himself.
The only foods that sounded bearable to Tamara in her present state were dry toast and grapefruit. She threw a piece of bread in the toaster, and pulled a knife out of the drawer for the grapefruit. On the first cut, she missed the grapefruit and got her finger. There was no reaction from her as she watched blood drip onto the grapefruit. She seemed to be observing everything from a distance. It was a strange feeling. Maybe it was a combination of the lack of sleep and the caffeine buzz. Before she knew what hit her, she barely had time to make it to the sink . She retched until her stomach was empty.
That told her everything she needed to know. She'd been afraid it was true, but now it was confirmed. The intermittent nausea she'd felt for a couple of days couldn't be written off as nerves anymore. She didn't need a doctor's say-so or a home test to tell her. She knew the truth. She wasn't just late. She was pregnant. That was the anxiety that had disturbed her sleep the past few nights. But how could it have happened? She'd taken all the usual precautions.
She threw away the grapefruit and forced down the dry, cold toast. She thought it might help to settle her stomach.
The nausea she felt now had nothing to do with what was going on in her body. It was going on in her mind. The trapped feeling and the panic grew so strong she thought she might vomit again. She couldn't let Ryan know. She knew, just as surely as she knew the truth about the little life inside of her, she knew how Ryan would react. He'd want it. He'd want to raise it with her. The way she was feeling, that looked to her like a life sentence. And she was going to get out while she still had a chance.
The new, certain knowledge she possessed gave her the impetus to act. She was breaking loose today. And she had to do it quickly before Ryan got up or she might not be able to do it all. She knew herself well enough to know that
It was still early. She'd catch a taxi to the airport and try to get on the earliest flight back to California she could get. It didn't matter what she had to pay for it. This was an emergency as far as she was concerned. What were credit cards for, anyway? Mom would probably happily eat the cost of the flight to have her baby back where she belonged. Tamara's mind almost choked on the word, "baby." She'd have to think about that problem back home.
She nearly decided not to leave Ryan a note, not having anything worth saying, but she realized that wouldn't be wise. He might call the police and report her as a missing person. She sat for several valuable minutes over a blank sheet of notepaper, trying to think of something to say. Finally, she realized it probably wouldn't matter what she said. She knew instinctively no words could lessen the sting for Ryan.
Finally, she wrote, Ryan, I'm so sorry we couldn't make it work. We tried, but we just couldn't make it happen. I think you probably know that as well as I do. (That was a lie. She was afraid he didn't know it at all.) I'm going back to L.A. Please don't bother to come after me or call me. We both know it's over, and we should just make a clean break. Tamara
She debated, "Love Tamara," but decided against it. She didn't love him. Why lie to him or herself anymore?
She had only the clothes on her back and her purse. She wasn't going to risk waking him up by going in the bedroom to pack. She had nothing of value here, anyway. She'd brought very little when she moved. Nearly everything in the apartment was Ryan's. She could always get more clothes when she got back to L.A. She was tired of the ones she had.
What wasn't she tired of? She was past crying now. There was a deadness, a numbness, inside that tears couldn't help. She was just ... so tired.
As she quickly brushed her teeth, packed some toiletries in her purse, and pulled her blonde hair into an untidy ponytail, from out of her past life – probably her truncated college education – a phrase slipped into her mind unawares. "Most people lead lives of quiet desperation ..." " … lives of quiet desperation ..." She couldn't remember who said it. She couldn't remember the exact quote. Just the one phrase that played over and over in her head like a broken record.
She didn't want it to be true. If it was true, running back home to California wouldn't help. If everyone everywhere walked around leading lives of quiet desperation, what hope was there for her?
Ah, yes. Gwen's twenty-fifth birthday. That was the day she'd made her decision. She had no regrets. No real ones, that is. But sometimes she had some wistful wonderings. A few, "What ifs?"
Unconsciously, her fingers played on the shape of the cross around her neck that he'd given her on that twenty-fifth birthday. The chain had been replaced several times, but it was still the same cross, and she always wore it. It reminded her that she must take up her cross daily, die to the self that came from only herself. Die to whatever took her away from where she needed to be. Die to purely selfish wishes and her own ambitions.
Tom was part of the cross she wore. She had loved Tom. Part of her still did, though he was happily married now with three kids. She still bumped into him occasionally when she was back in her hometown. She didn't love him in that way anymore. Or at least she tried not to. Part of her never would get over him, though. He was the only one she'd ever met that could have been right for her ... if circumstances had been different. If their paths had been leading in the same direction. But circumstances weren't different and their paths hadn't been leading in the same direction. The two of them simply weren't meant to be. So what was the use in thinking about it?
Tom had taken it hard, though, when she'd told him her decision. That had been a few days after she'd turned twenty-five. A hard age to give up on her dreams of marriage with the man she loved. Though back then, she'd expected that maybe someone else would come along eventually. Someone whose life was following the same path hers was.
There was some comfort in the memory that Tom hadn't taken her decision easily. He'd loved her, too. However, typical man-fashion, he had recovered quickly enough to be already married by Gwen's twenty-sixth birthday when she realized that it wouldn't be Africa or South America for her. Her life had followed a slightly different path than she had expected. Or the same path, but it didn't look quite like she'd expected.
She glanced back at the unsavoury newspaper to pull her mind out of the downward slide of pointless reminisces. After reading a few pages, she was distracted but nearly defeated by what she read. Everything crowded in on her at once -- the birthday, the reminisces, the loneliness, the sinking feeling it gave her to leave her mother alone in her little apartment, the emptiness of leaving her family and loved ones again, the dread of the future, the dread of going back to personalities and politics. The venom in the column she'd just been reading added to the weight, suddenly overwhelming her with a drowning sensation.
Oh God, it's too hard! her mind cried. It was a yelp of pain that sprang from her thoughts, unbidden and unplanned. But, once having mentally uttered it, she couldn't take it back. At least not right away.
After a moment or two, she was reminded of something Jesus had said once, and she grinned wryly to herself.
You're right, she thought as though she'd heard an audible answer from the other party she was carrying on her mental conversation with. You did warn us. You told us what to expect and that it wouldn't be easy. You told us, if the world hated You, why should we expect any different treatment? Guess we should take it as a positive sign. It must mean we're doing something right. Of course, some of the anger against us is justified though, too. God, forgive us! Show us! Show Your people where we cause needless offense by acting in ways that Your Son wouldn't act in. Then, when we cause offense because we're following Him, help us endure it joyfully and keep on loving. Help me!.
She decisively set aside the newspaper and brought her eyes back to the Bible in front of her. It was open to John 14, and she read, " 'Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.' Thomas said to Him, 'Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?' Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.' "
Thank you, Father. It was exactly what I needed to hear today. "Let not my heart be troubled." I have no idea what to expect when I get back. I don't know where you're leading me. But it's all okay. I know the Way because You are the Way. But, oh Father, sometimes I can hardly wait! On days like this, it seems like it would be so much easier just to go home to Your house. To check out that mansion You've reminded me about today. But I know I'm here as long as You have something for me to do, and I'm okay with that. Just so you know, though. I'm ready to go anytime You're ready to call.
Gwen chuckled to herself as though sharing a joke with the Person to whom she was addressing her remarks.
As Mira pulled off onto her exit ramp heading for Boston, her thoughts were on Kylie and Anneke. Between the billboard and her parents, her euphoric mood had deflated. Now she couldn't help thinking about Anneke's sobs when Mira told her last night that Mommy had to go away for work again. Mira's leaving was an event that happened often. She loved her work in Public Relations, and she loved the travel it involved, but it was hard leaving the girls so often. Brad was amazing, though. He managed with the girls just as well as she did, and he never seemed to mind that she had to travel for her job. He wanted her to do what fulfilled her, and her job did help to fulfill her.
Mira couldn't imagine what got into Anneke last night. Anneke usually handled their partings with relative equanimity. Kylie was at the age where she took them harder. But last night it was Annkeke who'd cried like her heart was breaking.
"Don't go, Mommy. Don't go, Mommy," she'd sobbed over and over.
"Anneke! Shh, shh! It's okay, baby girl! It's okay! Mommy will be back in just a few days, just like she always is. Mommy's gone away before. She always comes back, doesn't she?" Mira had soothed her, holding her, not even aware she was speaking about herself in the third person, a habit she detested in parents.
Anneke only wailed harder, "Don't go, Mommy. Don't go."
Distraught, Mira resorted to scolding her. Nothing worked. Finally, not knowing what else to do and at her wits' end, she tucked the sweaty, writhing bundle that was her youngest daughter into bed as best she could, kissed her, and left her to sob herself to sleep.
That was the hardest parting she'd had from her girls. She was glad they were still sleeping this morning when she'd kissed Brad good-bye and hopped into her car.
She shook off any gloomy thoughts and smiled her dazzling smile at Boston as she took the exit for the airport and crossed Tobin bridge. She loved Boston. She loved being able to raise the girls in the small Massachusetts town Brad had grown up in, but she also loved the fact that their small town was close to the action and busyness of Boston.
She inhaled life with satisfaction as her eyes drank in the sun-sparkling water of the harbor. The ocean was extraordinarily beautiful today. Life was good! If she had any firm beliefs in a God of any kind, she would have thanked him (or her or it) for the beauty of the day. As it was, there was no one to thank. She'd have to keep the gratitude for someone real and let it all spill out on the first person who deserved it.
A casual observer would have known that the three women sitting in the row of seats were perfect strangers. Their body language, their silence, and the empty seat in between each of them all announced it. Any casual observer would have noticed the ponytailed blonde in her late teens or early twenties at the end. Anyone would have called her pretty. At least cute. Some may have called her beautiful, but all would have agreed on cute, at least. An astute observer may have noticed a little firmness in the set of the mouth that may indicate the habit of always having things one's own way. The astute observer may have thought of her as spoiled. Cute but spoiled.
An extremely astute observer may have noticed something else in her eyes, however – a vacancy that spoke of despair. But, no matter how astute the observer, who can know a person's inner state simply by observing them from the outside? The extremely astute observer may still be mistaken. Perhaps the look in the blonde's eyes was only the imagination of the observer.
The woman in the middle seat was an interesting type to observe. In her forties, there was something of the look of a martyr or a medieval saint in her long, narrow, sensitive face. Maybe the resemblance to a medieval saint was suggested by the cut of the dark hair (mostly grey now), the plain clothing, and the silver cross at her neck. Some astute observers would doubtless have said in looking at the woman that she was utterly impractical and out-of-touch with reality. There was an air of otherworldliness about her as though she had lived all her life in a cloistered community and knew only gardens and meditation and vespers.
In the appearance of the brunette at the other end of the row of seats, no astute observer could have discovered any feature to give away secrets. In her tailored business suit, the brunette appeared to be a happy, healthy, intelligent, confident, well-off, and well-adjusted woman in her thirties which is probably what she was. All observers could have called her nothing short of beautiful. Most observers would have felt a twinge of envy in observing her.
The “saint” in the middle broke the silence first, addressing the blonde girl.
“Is L.A. your home?” she asked her hesitantly, almost shyly.
The blonde looked up from her magazine, surprised to be spoken to.
“Nearby,” she answered shortly.
“Oh, I see,” said the saint, shrinking back into herself.
“Do you live in L.A.?” the blonde asked. Perhaps she was making amends for her brusqueness.
“I do now. I'm originally from this part of the country, though. Close to Boston.”
“What do you do in L.A.?” the blonde asked without much interest showing in her voice.
“I'm a missionary.”
“A missionary? In L.A.? I thought all missionaries went to Africa or places like that?”
The missionary smiled. “I nearly did end up in Africa once, but I was led instead to work in a rescue mission in L.A. I've been there thirteen years now. I'm
just going back after a six-month furlough.”
The blonde appeared curious now.
“You work in Skid Row? At a soup kitchen?”
“More than a soup kitchen, really. It's a homeless shelter, but it's also a place where the gospel is presented to everyone who comes through our doors. Gospel just means, 'good news,' by the way.”
The brunette shifted in her seat to turn her body slightly away from the other two women. A look that tried to politely mask annoyance (and failed) spread over the rich colour of her face. She took a small cloth-bound book and a pen out of her carry-on luggage and began writing.
“I noticed you have a Bible,” the blonde said to the missionary. “My granny used to take me to Sunday School once in awhile when I was little, but I haven't been to church since I got older. The stuff I heard in Sunday School seemed pretty hard to believe, even way back then. Do you believe the whole Bible?”
“I do,” the saint said simply. “There's no point my picking and choosing bits to believe or not to believe. Why should I trust my judgment over the Bible's? If it really is God's Word, as I believe, then I don't want to be in that position, judging God's Word. But there are lots of good reasons for believing it is God's Word. There are all the fulfilled prophecies, for one thing. Another reason I've been convinced that the Bible is true is because I've seen lives changed through its message. There's a power there. And then, I believe it because I know Jesus. The Jesus of the Bible is not a fictional character. He's too real. No one could make Him up. But He's absolutely the most beautiful person who ever lived. The good news is, the Bible says that Jesus is not just a man, but He's really God, and we can know God. Jesus came so that we could.”
“I've heard all that about asking Jesus to forgive your sins. Does the Bible really say that? It sounds too easy.”
The missionary laughed a little. “Do you really want to know what it says? Or are you just humouring me? I know I interrupted your magazine-reading, and I don't want to inflict this conversation on you if you're not really interested. But I could show you a little of what the Bible says, if you want.”
The blonde hesitated for a moment, “Okay,” she said softly.
“Where to start? Well, this was what I was reading this morning. My bookmark's in John 11, so let's look there. Umm, let's see. This is something Jesus said, 'I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?' “
“Are you asking me?” the blonde said startled.
“I wasn't. I was just reading what Jesus said, but maybe He was asking you. Do you believe this?”
There was a short pause in the conversation.
“I don't know. I've done stupider things,” the blonde said laughing slightly. “Part of me would like to believe it. I've tried everything else.”
“It's your choice. He'll never force it on you. But if you believe what I just read, you know the promise it makes. Why don't you just tell Him about it. Tell Him you want to believe in Him. Start there.”
“Right now? Out loud? Like talking to myself?”
“Only if you want to. He can hear your thoughts, too, you know. You can just talk to Him inside your mind at any time.”
The blonde was silent, staring into space for some time.
“Well, I did it! I don't know exactly what I did, but I told Him, if the whole thing is true, that I wanted Him to forgive my sins. I want a new life. I want to believe in Him.”
“You remember the promise He made that I just read to you?”
“That whoever believes in Jesus will never die?”
“You mean that's all there is to it?”
The older woman leaned over to clasp the hands of the younger woman. Her eyes shone.
“That's all there is to it. That's what the Bible says. I just knew somehow that I had to talk to you today. I knew God was telling me to start a conversation with you. Now I know why! Maybe you're the reason God has me here today. Nothing happens by accident.”
The brunette down at the other end of the row let out an audible noise that sounded like a snort. The other two women turned to look at her.
The brunette cleared her throat hastily. “What's the date today?” she asked, flushing a little .
“It's Tuesday, the eleventh,” the woman in the middle volunteered.
“Thanks,” the brunette said, flashing a short smile without warmth.
“Getting close to eight. We should be boarding by now,” the middle woman said to no one in particular, checking her watch.
She had barely finished speaking when the voice over the intercom intoned, “Good afternoon passengers. This is the pre-boarding announcement for flight 175 to Los Angeles. ...”
Any casual observer who happened to peer over the brunette's shoulder would have seen that the cloth-bound book was a journal and that she had written a journal entry which began, Today, it looks like a conspiracy by the religious right to ruin my day and take down my mood. First the billboard on the drive to the airport which started me thinking about my parents. And just now, waiting to board my flight, I can't get out of earshot of a missionary (of all people) “witnessing” to some helpless victim in the seat beside her …
At the top her journal entry, she added the date in firm, neat numbers, “9/11/01.”
It should have been just a day – a day like any other. But it wasn't.