The difference between salvation and damnation hangs on a cliff.
| The Righteous Path
As I recalled, reverend Preston’s funeral was a small and gloomy ceremony. The sky darkened and it began to drizzle, as the hearse brought the coffin to the burial site. The parishioners, family and friends were gathered around the open grave, listening to bishop Edmond’s eulogy amiss the muffled cries of sorrow. I remembered how nervous I was, knowing that as soon as the bishop’s speech was over, it would be my turn to speak. It was my first funeral, and all I could think of was how I hated talking to a crowd.
"How THE COMMON American conception of a funeral marks a moment of great sadness. Yes, it is true, for Reverend Alan Preston was more than a priest to the people of Cornerbrooke, he was a friend, a member of our family.”
The bishop wasn’t a handsome man. He was tall, thin with a receding, silver hairline. His nose was shaped like a bird’s beak, from which the rain trickled onto the podium. Yet, I could see passion swirling in his gray eyes, like a fiery vortex. As I listened to the bishop’s words, how eloquently they flowed from his mouth, I noticed how the crowd was mesmerized. His words were the carrot tied to the end of a stick, and the crowd was the goat following it.
“No, my dear friends, I do not see this as a funeral, but as a calling from God. For the proper place for an angel is not on Earth, but in the heavens, where God watches over us.”
At that moment, an old woman from somewhere behind the crowd broke into tears. It was true, Alan was like an angel to us. He did help build the chapel overlooking the lake. He also lent a hand to whoever needed it without asking for anything in return. He was a simple old man, always with a smile; he loved his fellow man with all of his heart.
I missed him dearly.
From my pocket, I pulled a folded piece of paper that I had so neatly typed a eulogy for my dear, lost friend. I tried reading it, memorizing each word, but the more I listened to the bishop’s speech, the more I felt like hiding under a rock. Somehow, the text lacked the magical effect the bishop so easily commanded. As I glanced at the podium, the bishop was thanking the crowd and was being escorted by a young priest, holding an umbrella. It was then that a little girl reached for my hand and gently tugged it. I knelt and brought my ear to her mouth.
“Are you Reverend Dale?” the little one gently whispered.
“Yes”, I replied, smiling as I peered into her crystal blue eyes, her innocence staring back at me.
“My mom wanted you to have this”; she pulled a book, bound in black leather, with the word “bible” engraved in golden, gothic script. I cocked my head to the side and saw a smiling young lady, dressed in black, with long blonde hair that flowed down to her shoulders.
“She told me that it was from Reverend Preston.”
I took the book from her tiny hands. The girl smiled and slid in between the mourners. My eyes followed her until she reached her mother before they returned to the book. Inside, there was a letter with a small note written on the envelope.
If this letter finds its way to you, then it means that I am no longer in this world. It is my wish that you read this letter at my funeral, as my eulogy, since I know that you hate public speaking and that you would probably make a fool of yourself had I let you compose one of your own.
I smiled, disguising my muffled laugh as a cough, for fear of being seen as a monster. Alan was always the joker and he knew me too well. After wrestling with my urge to laugh, I continued to read the note.
There was an event in my life that shook the foundation of my belief. I would like to share this experience with everyone that was dear to my life. I certainly hope that this will lead to a profound change in their lives as it did to mine.
The young priest that had escorted the bishop to his seat was now standing at the podium. He gently brought the mike to his lips and introduced me to the crowd. I felt a chill run up my spine.
As I walked to the podium, the crowd parted like water to a moving ship’s hull. They watched me climb onto the podium and I could feel my heart racing. Beads of sweat were forming on my forehead, but the rain was masking them. The young priest stepped aside, grabbed an umbrella and held it over my head. I took a deep breath and proceeded with my speech.
“Fellow parishioners,“ the eyes of crowd were locked onto me, and I felt my stomach tying another knot, “I have here, in my hand, a letter that our dear friend and reverend had written before he passed away. It was his wish that I read this letter to you!”
As my fingers tore the envelope, my eyes furtively panned the crowd and I saw the serious look on their face, unchanged. I couldn’t help but repeat in my mind how I hated public speaking. I pulled the letter from the envelope and slowly unfolded it. In an attempt to further hide my nervousness, I readjusted my glasses and cleared my throat.
“I thought myself to be a righteous man. The born-again Christian is to live and walk by faith was what I was led to believe. As a person’s faith grows, their understanding and reliance on Jesus should grow. The new Christian should live and walk by faith. But I ask you, what is faith? Is faith a total, unconditional trust in God, even when there appears to be no hope, but only darkness or death? If that is faith, then I have a story for you!”
Someone in the crowd coughed, throwing my concentration out the window. My eyes frantically searched for the last sentence of the paragraph I just read. More beads of sweat were forming on my head. Stupid guy had to cough in the middle of my reading! Lucky for me, I found where I left off and resumed reading.
“Twenty years ago, there was a great blizzard that struck this small community overnight. Oh I remember that storm well, it was the 24th of December, and the town was holding their midnight mass. In the storm’s fury, the winds were howling, screeching like a banshee straight from hell. Ice and snow were battering the besieged landscape with nature’s entire wrath. The cold was biting into my skin like a swarm of needles in a hurricane, but it was my duty to attend the ceremony. Despite words of caution and common sense, I left my residence and entered my car. The snow had already piled up to my knees, but it didn’t stop me from going to the church. After all, I knew that God was with me and he wouldn’t allow any harm to come my way. As I drove, I hardly saw a thing past the hood as the wind quickly replaced the snow my windshield wipers had swept away. Somewhere, in the mountain pass, as my wipers were sweeping the snow, I thought I saw the silhouette of a deer standing on the road. I slammed the brakes to the floor and swerved the steering wheel to the right. I heard and felt the terrible crash as my car struck the guardrail. Then a few more bumps followed and I felt the car was airborne. Somehow, by the grace of God, the last bump was brutal enough to eject me out of my car and onto a ledge. As the wind howled and the snow swirled right before my eyes, I caught a glimpse of my falling car, as it melted into the blizzard. Then a few seconds followed before I faintly heard it smash onto the jagged rocks far below. “
The same old woman that cried let out a loud gasp, which threw me off the paragraph I was reading. I could see that my dear friend’s letter certainly had an effect upon the crowd, for they all hung upon my every word! I loved it! I eagerly searched for the paragraph I had lost, wanting to satisfy their lust for action.
“The savage wind kept on pounding my body relentlessly and I found little refuge among the rocks of the precipice I had fallen into. The loud, incessant shrill, as the wind punched its way through the cracks of the jagged rocks, was deafening. I felt my body stiffening as the glacial winds penetrated through my protective clothing as if I were nude. At this moment of peril, my only thought was of God and that no matter the danger; he was the shepherd that will lead me away from the maws of the storm. “
My glasses had momentarily slipped down my nose, and I readjusted them. I was enthralled by the reaction of the crowd. My pause, although purely unintentional, added a dramatic effect that left them gasping for air. Even the bishop was under the spell, for both of his hands were gripped solidly upon the armrest of his chair. With a smile, I resumed my reading.
“Snow had already blanketed my pinned body. As strangely as it may sound, I felt sleepy and I yearned for a nap. There was a part of me that ordered me not to sleep, but the urge was too great. My eyes were as heavy as lead and it was near impossible to keep them open. I started to close my eyes, hoping, praying that my salvation would arrive before it was too late. It is at that moment when a rope dangled above my head. It was very difficult for me to distinguish the shadow of rocks and cliff as the snow swirled into the blizzard air, but I saw a handful of rescuers perched above the cliff. Just as my near frozen fingers inched towards the rope, a warm, comforting, orange haze surrounded me. I turned my head and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Was it a hallucination induced by the intense cold? In front of me hovered the archangel Gabriel, in all of her glory. She was of exquisite beauty, a living masterpiece of art, like a living marble statue. His orange hair flowed into the air and trailed off into golden, ethereal tendrils. Her emerald green eyes denoted compassion as her smile was of pure benevolence. The storm knew that she held the power to dissipate it with no trouble, and that it yield to her almighty presence.
‘Gabrielle’, I mumbled, my jaw nearly frozen, ‘have you come to save me?’ Gabrielle smiled, revealing a perfect set of ivory teeth. ‘No, Alan, your faith will. Do you trust in God?’ I couldn’t believe her question. ‘With all of my heart Gabrielle, with all of my heart.’
I’m telling you my friends, although my body was already victim to severe frostbite, I felt my faith was warming my soul. I felt it, I know Gabrielle felt it and I was absolutely certain that God felt it too. Yet Gabrielle hovered near my frozen body, her warmth comforting my pain and her scent delighting my soul in ways I’ve never imagined. As she looked up at the rope, she smiled her divine smile and said,
I stopped reading, wiping the rain off my forehead and face. The young priest beside me, hypnotized by the tale Reverend Preston wrote, had left the umbrella drift to the side, giving the rain ample opportunity to wet my head. I stole a peak at the crowd, and I was thrilled to see them holding each other by the arm. The elderly, the young adults and children were squeezing each other’s hands. You could even see the white of their knuckles, so hard they squeezed. As my eyes panned the congregation, I saw the little girl that gave me the bible; she was clutching her mother’s skirt. I felt powerful, so powerful! I felt like a master orator in a huge oratory with a huge crowd listening to my every word. I felt the joy this reading brought exhilarated me beyond words.
“What in the name of Jesus did she say????”, yelled a man, the size and build of a mountain. His blasphemy shook me quite deeply that I nearly fell off the podium. Fortunately, I gained my composure before that happened. Quite sheepishly, I adjusted my glasses and pressed on.
“ As she looked up at the rope, she smiled her divine smile and said, ‘If you believe in God saving, you, then jump’. I looked down and saw the fury of the storm raging below, the occasional glimpse and silhouette of jagged rocks far below. I looked up, and saw the rescuers feverishly attempting to rescue me. I could even hear their cries, beckoning me to answer their call. My instincts for self-preservation pulled me to one side, begging me to hold onto the rope for dear safety. On the other hand, everything I was led to believe about my faith as a Christian, as a clergyman implored me to make the leap of faith. It was like a tug-o-war within my soul, my eternal salvation or damnation, all that depending on my choice. I looked at Gabrielle and I understood my choice. I quite painfully rolled over towards the void and melted into the maelstrom. I awoke a few weeks later in the town hospital emergency ward. My doctor told me that it was a miracle that I had survived a 120m plunge. What was more incredible was my landing far from the jagged rocks and onto a huge snow bank. They attributed it to the shear strength of the wind that tossed me out of harm’s way. They can believe what they’d like to believe, but I knew what had saved me. It was my faith and my conviction that God never left me alone.“
No one uttered a word. The rain continued to drizzle, gently rapping mourners’ umbrellas. I inserted the letter back into its envelope, placed my glasses inside my pocket and stepped off the podium. The young priest remained at the podium paralyzed, just like everyone else. I continued my way, entered my car and drove off. As I watched the crowd become smaller and smaller in my rear-view mirror, a single thought came to mind.
Thank you, my dear friend, for my fear of public speaking is gone.