It is strange, seeing your shadow ahead of you. It seems the natural order of things that one’s shadow always be behind you; not in front as if it were laying a dark path where you’ve yet to set your feet.
On a particular Morning in October, Molly, my golden lab, and I are making our way down a quiet country road that runs just beyond our front gate.
Bathed in the red glow of the rising sun, our shadows are elongated before us. Their darkened forms leading us playfully in a bobbing pantomime of ourselves; soon fading in the darker canvas of the shaded road.
“Maybe today,” I say to Molly to break the quiet. She looks up at me, her pace perfect to mine. I clutch a Bible close to my vest. “Yes, maybe today.”
The road is of morning dampened dirt, colored red by the richness of the iron in the soil. Small, weathered stones occasionally break its surface, impediments easily tossed aside into the week-chocked gully on either side. A hedgerow of towering oak trees line the road, their broad branches creating a baroque-gilded canopy for a hundred yards or more.
The first frost has come and gone and the oak corridor is breathtaking in its beauty – a slanted red sun filtering through the golden leaves. The walkway becomes a cathedral hushed in an apricot light that stills the soul. I’ve heard it said that a man begins to understand the meaning of life when he first plants a tree under which he knows he will never sit. Walking down this road, I somehow know this must be true.
At the end of the corridor, the road diverges around a meadow of orchard grass. The road to the right meanders down to follow a stream that empties into a mill pond. The Trinity Baptist Church is holding a tent revival there today.
As we reach the juncture of the road, we stand upon our shadows. I can just make out a preacher’s voice down at the mill. Muffled passages of scripture whisper up the road. Molly looks at me, waiting, wagging her tail. My heart beats frantically. “Maybe not yet,” I tell her.
The left road rises and falls with the swell of the land and circles back around as it follows the ridge of a small hill. On the west slope of the hill is a graveyard that lies silently undisturbed – no clouds hindering the discourse between heaven and earth in its abundant stillness. The hundred or so headstones dotting its field stand as proud-white morning glories in the rising sun.
I take the path, to the left, leaving the whispering voice behind me. Molly, ever loyal, follows.
Our shadows return ahead of us once again. They guide us to stand before the gravestone of my wife, Emma. Molly lies across the foot of the grave, head resting on her paws, much as she did on our bed when Emma was alive one year past.
I sit on the dewy grass. “I brought the Bible you gave me, Emma.” I open it to the inscription she’d written on our wedding day: Beloved, Our love – for time and eternity. I look at it, remembering - Emma always believing our love shared in life was waiting us again in death.
“I’ve been reading it, like you asked.” I glance away. “They’re having a revival meeting; down by the old mill.” I clear my throat. “I’m thinking of going.”
There is no movement; no sudden quiet except what was present before. I cannot force sincerity, confess a lie of such profound magnitude. Tears blur my eyes. “I want so hard to believe, Emma” I cry. “But I can’t. I just can’t. God!” I shout, clinching my fist, “You let her die!”
Molly muzzles my hand. I try smiling “You got a messed up master, you know that, girl? Talking both to a dead person and a God I can’t believe in.”
The silence presses my thoughts and I reflect our walk up here: the man who planted the corridor of trees, our fading shadows hidden in its bosom, the muffled whispering of scripture at the juncture of the road
Suddenly my heart leaps with anticipation and an incredible sense of lightness fills me – all maybes assuredly vanquished. Molly licks my face and I rise to run back down the road. The sun is now before us and our shadows follow, always as I sensed it should be.
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