The Broken Bench
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Every week I would sit on that same dilapidated bench across from the church located near the local orphanage that I belonged to. I watched, as families would arrive in their cars anticipating their Sunday morning gathering. The children would spring out of the cars with enthusiastic laughter echoing through the parking lot. Mothers would be wearing their hats with their hair gently flowing down their back, as their husbands would greet other families with a nod and a smile.
Even though these moments would always bring me much sadness, I always knew after the parking lot cleared and the doors of the church closed it wouldn’t be long until my silent suffering turned into peaceful loneliness. When the music and voices of harmonious peace began to echo through that old church, I experienced my only true moments of serenity. I don’t recall ever being able to decipher the words that were being sung, yet the presence of peace would flood my soul. Even if it was only for a brief moment each week, that battered bench became my place of refuge where my inner most being held on to any glimpse of peace it could grasp.
After six years of making that weekly trip, I had officially branded that bench as the property of “Angi Middleton.” It was the only place where I felt I belonged. At the tender age of sixteen I didn’t have anyone in my life that I felt connected to. The only bond I had was with that broken down bench. I don’t know if it was because I felt broken, or if I just felt safe when I was alone. I didn’t have to worry about being hurt by anyone else when it was just me by myself. I didn’t have to worry about the bench wanting me there with it or not. It had always been there for me and I knew no matter what kind of mood I was in, I could always count on its stability. At times when I would be walking toward it I would say, “Hello Woody, how are you today? You have been expecting me haven’t you?” Some people may not understand why I named that bench, but when you have no one that cares about you by choice in your life you have a tendency to do things a little different from those who do.
As time began to drift by, I watched as each of those children began to bloom in their youth. I began to question God why I was never given the opportunity to look with young girls radiant eyes of admiration toward her father. I often wondered why God would allow me to come into this world knowing I would not share my youth with a mother or father. I began to live out my anger toward God by isolating myself in a numb state in fear of never being able to share myself with anyone.
There were times as the years progressed that “Woody” could have very well become my grave. I would watch as those young girls with rippling hair and charming dresses would be whisked up into the loving arms of their fathers and I would begin to weep. The mother would look with admiration into the eyes of her child and with great happiness those families would rejoice in the gratification of their love one for another. My soul pined for such a memory as this, as my journey for the meaning and the purpose of my life I sought to find.
I assumed I had been an orphan since birth, wondering if my parents could not afford to take care of me or if maybe I was born out of an adulterous affair. Curiosity led me at times pondering on what my parents looked like. If I had any of their personality traits or if we shared some of the same habits or favorite foods. I wondered if they had any desire to meet me or see their eyes staring back at them. I wondered if through all the pain and feelings of rejection and discontent, if I could ever brush the surface of the gratification I witnessed between the children and their parents every Sunday morning.
At the age of eighteen I was brought into a separate room where the social workers at the orphanage had gathered to see me off. They asked me to sit down, and solemnly they informed me that my parents had been killed in a car accident when I was two years old. They said, at that time I had no family willing to take me into their home. It was at this point any hope I had of gazing into my father’s eyes or feeling my mother’s hand brush against my brow crashed to the floor and a sharp pang radiated from the pit of my stomach.
They told me that when I joined the orphanage at age of two they had changed my name. I began to weep and the next question they asked triggered emotions in me that I did not even know existed. As their eyes filled with inquisitive gestures, the overseer Mr. Strunks asked, “Would you like to know your birth name so that you can try to locate your family?” My heart filled with anger as I lashed out at them yelling in interrogating formality, “My family?” I cried. “The family that would not take in a two-year old who just lost her parents? The family that didn’t have the time to nurture me to emotional well being and love me? The family that had no desire to wrap their arms around a hurting child?” I grabbed what belongings I treasured and before I left the room I turned and glared at them in disbelief and with tears streaming down my face I asked, “How can I call them my family and why would I want to find them?”
I wasn’t certain where exactly I was going to go when I left, but I knew I did not want to stay anywhere near West Cornwall, Connecticut. I wanted to run as far away as I could from the hopes and dreams I had sitting on that God-forsaken bench. Fantasizing about the day that I could look upon the face of my father and mother. All the tears I cried now turned into dust by the cold air of the day, blown away into the wind by the words spoken by those who would never walk in my shoes, by those who had someone they could call on for comfort and friendship. Those who knew deep in their heart that someone else truly loved them, those who my frustration and anger envied.
The couple who owned the supermarket where I worked for the last two years agreed to let me stay with them until I decided what I wanted to do. I waited until Sunday morning and decided to go one last time to sit with Woody. I didn’t stay to watch all the families arrive; I arrived early to ponder all the things that had come to surface over the last forty-eight hours. That night I went to the subway station and with what little money I had saved from the supermarket I decided to start my new life in Uniontown, Pennsylvania. I had gotten a grant from the state to enroll in college and had decided to major in music. I used to love the sound that would echo through that old church and found music to be a place of refuge and peace for me. So, I decided to make my life study about the one thing that brought me comfort.
When I arrived in Pennsylvania it didn’t take long for the other students to reach out to the new girl. This would have been a positive expression had they reached out to who I was rather than who they wanted to mold me into. At that time of my life I was desperate for friendships, so I began to take part in their affairs of drinking. At one point in time I started to believe that I was chemically dependent.
My music professor had grown fond of me and she would always encourage me to find different friends and focus on what my heart wanted to express from within instead of what my anger wanted to express from without. Though she spoke words of wisdom to me at the time, I didn’t realize that she was truly the only one that cared about me.
One day I didn’t show up for class, which was very unlike me. My music professor, Ms. Gregory, came to my dorm after class and began knocking on the door. She knocked for nearly two minutes before my roommate showed up in the hallway and agreed to let her in. It was that day that my life changed forever. “Call the paramedics! Somebody get an ambulance here now!”
I was in the hospital when I woke up and Ms. Gregory was holding my hand sitting at my bedside. I could tell she had been crying all night long. “What happened to me? “ I asked, wondering why I was in the hospital. “You missed class, so I came looking for you. When Tessa let me in your room you were unconscious and blood was coming through your nose. You overdosed on alcohol. If you would have been found any later, you probably would not have made it!”
I began to weep, “Why didn’t you just let me die?” I cried as I pained the very essence of my next breath.
“What is it child that has your heart so bound up in pain?” she asked, with tears flowing down her face.
“My heart aches for the love of my mother and father.” I said, trying to hold back the tears. I had not shared myself with anyone up to that point but as I lie there, the only woman who wept at the thought of losing me, was the one woman who I poured my heart out to. Through the tears I shared my life or lack there of with the one person who God placed in my path to help me truly find it for the first time.
When I was released from the hospital, I moved in with Ms. Gregory and she began to mentor me. I finally felt a sense of what it was like to have family. She convinced me to contact the orphanage to find out what my real name was and search for the family that I never knew. She explained to me that at times people are truly unable to care for a child due to certain circumstances.
Ms. Gregory was the choir director at her church and invited me to join her in service the Sunday after I was released from the hospital. At first I feared the thought of going with her, because I had never actually been inside a church. The memories I had surrounding church were always filled with an empty longing for love as I would sit on Woody and one day hope to be reunited with my parents.
I agreed to go with her and believe in my heart that God knew I would be there that day. The preacher that spoke that morning talked about the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel after all his family had gone up ahead of him and he stayed behind. He explained how the last time Jacob was asked his name, he lied to his earthly father and stole his brother’s blessing. Jacob wanted to receive something from God and God wanted Jacob to surrender to Him. The angel asked Jacob what his name was, and the preacher explained that the angel already knew what his name was but wanted Jacob to be honest with God about who he was. He said, “My name is Jacob”. God had gotten him alone, set apart from all his family and wrestled with him. God wanted him to surrender all over to Him so that He could change his name. He changed His name to Israel, which means “God reigning”. Because it was truly at that point of his surrender that God began to reign in his life.
When the Preacher gave the altar call he asked if anyone in the service wanted God to change his or her name, if anyone felt they had been isolated. If they felt they were wrestling with God in a situation and wanted to surrender all over to the one who knows all and walk away knowing their name was changed from that day forward. I had never been to a service before, but while he was talking I began to weep. I stood up and began to walk toward him. In my heart I desired to have the peace that he was talking about and if God could give that to me, it was worth my effort to try to reach out to receive it.
Later that month I had decided to return to Connecticut to visit the orphanage. They handed me a file with the information. “Rachel Gibson”, I said aloud, not certain if I would use it or not. I also discovered that Frank and Rosy were my parents’ names.
I had planned to stay until Monday, so I decided for the first time I would actually go inside that old church to hear the worship on the inside. As I was walking down the sidewalk toward my usual spot, suddenly I realized that Woody no longer sat there waiting for me to come see him. Instead there was a quaint little coffee shop sitting on that corner across from the sanctuary. I stood for a moment in reflection and thought to myself, “That’s right, I surrendered that bench when God changed my name.” That bench was no longer a part of me, it was a part of my past and where God had brought me from, but the memories no longer hurt as they did before. I paused for a moment and said aloud, “Thank you, Woody, for always being available for me. God must have moved you to somewhere else.”
I went into the coffeehouse since I still had a while before service started. A pleasant woman in her thirties owned it. I asked her what made her decide to build a coffeehouse on that corner. She said her father used to pastor the church across the street and she desired to get to know the people of the congregation better. I told her I used to sit on the bench that was here before and I loved listening to the music they would play. She smiled and said, “My father really loved the Lord, I miss him very much.”
I paid for my coffee and thanked her for her hospitality. As I began to cross the street I wondered if I would recognize anyone from the years prior. I entered the lobby of the sanctuary and I saw a dedication plaque on the wall. It was a beautiful plaque with the previous pastors’ picture and his wife with their times of service in ministry between them. It read, “In Recognition of Pastor Frank and Rosy Gibson”.
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Tina, This is such a beautifully written and heartfelt article that I almost got goosebumps on my body. This story matches my life to a certain extent and the way you have portrayed a picture of life is so very touching. Couple of lessons that you included in your writing are worth reading. Thanks for sharing. May God bless you to write for His glory even more. Only Joy