Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: The Church (12/06/07)
TITLE: Home Again
By Kenneth Bridge
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He shook the snow from his coat in the dim foyer and was comforted by the scene that greeted him. The honey brown pews and wooden floor were well worn with memories. Here, as a child, he had roamed through the maze of seating following each service, his chestnut hair just visible as it dipped and rose with each stride, marking his progress for the watchful eyes of his mother.
There, at the altar rail before the pulpit, he had knelt and confessed his sins, receiving Christ as his Lord. And there he had stood a few years later, joining his life with Marie’s, in a time full of hope and desire and promise. It had been springtime in his life, and like all young life bursting into full flower and warmed by cheerful blue skies, he had been blissfully unaware of the storms already brewing, full of menace and fury soon to break on him with full force, blowing huge holes in his life, leaving the torn detritus of shattered dreams and the aching emptiness of abandonment.
Storms like Viet Nam. He remembered its oppressive heat and humidity, and a suffocating and deceptive silence punctuated by random moments of panicked confusion. He also remembered a strange buzzing in his ears, although he knew he heard it just that once. It always came back with the acid taste of fear and the acrid smell of blood, and everything washed in the strange dark red of pain.
And after that he remembered the smell of isopropyl alcohol and hazy fever dreams of distant voices sibilant as the hissing oxygen tanks and beeping machinery that surrounded him.
Marie was strong, during those months of rehabilitation, and he had hated her for it. Coming home weary from work, she was yet willing to help him walk again with his abomination of a metal leg. He learned to mask his anger by diving into a bottle and hiding there. He found work of a sort, selling pharmaceuticals and driving long distances in his specially fitted car. Somehow he held it together long enough for two sons and a daughter, but the long weeks away started to include weekends, and he finally stopped coming home at all.
He wandered a lot of years in those shadow lands, sometimes pulling it together for a while, but always tumbling back into the abyss. For some reason he couldn’t understand, his new neighbor Mark and wife Lisa took an interest in him and would have him over for dinner. One night, as Mark led his family in praying over the dinner, he began to sob. He hadn’t thought about his own family in years; they’d become mere faded photographs crammed in a forgotten wallet, but now their faces swam before his tear filled eyes.
He was bitterly ashamed, partly for crying like a lost child, mostly for the mess he had made of his family. For the first time in a long while, his thoughts turned to the God he had promised once to serve and he trembled, first with fear, then with joy.
Now he had made his way home, into the small white painted church of his youth. He took in the familiar scenes of that pleasant time, he drank in the sounds and sights, the wheezy organ, the out of tune piano, the gray haired woman staring at him in wonder, his Mom. Near her sat two young men. In the choir he heard the young woman’s strong voice suddenly falter and he turned to see copper hair and green eyes that matched his own. A curious light shone in her eyes as her voice strengthened into her solo, “O Come All Ye Faithful!”
He was home again, among these people, in this building, and he knew he would also be home from now on, here with family, at a stranger’s table, in a living room, in small chapels and large brick edifices or open fields, where ever God’s people met with God, in the Church.
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