March 2016 What a Character! contest entry
|My uncle was dying.
I’ll never forget my last visit with him. I had been blessed enough to not have to spend much time in hospitals. After a couple of visits with my parents, I decided to visit him alone. In the impatience of my youth, there was a question I felt I need answered from him.
I came to the hospital directly from school, my loafers clicking on the pristine tile hallway. I opened the door to find my uncle, a withered shell of the man that he once was with the cancer having ravaged his body. He forced a weak smile at my presence despite the pain he was in. I took his frail hand into mine and sat at the side of his hospital bed.
I was always close to my aunt and uncle. My aunt, his wife, has passed away three years prior in a horrible car accident. It seemed like too much burden put on one man to lose his wife and be at Death’s door riddled by this horrible disease. After we visited him the first time and saw no hope for his recovery, my prayers shifted from that to a painless release from his suffering, that God would release him from his burden.
We participated in small talk, mostly focused on my school, but the question I was burning to ask him danced through my mind to the point I couldn’t tell you what we actually talked about before I asked him. With my off hand, I played with my gold cross necklace, a nervous tic as I tried to work up my courage.
I just blurted out, “All the things that happened to you, Uncle Eddie, is that why you are an atheist?”
He looked at me in wide-eyed shock. I wanted to drop his hand and run out of the room. But, I had to have his answer because it was eating me inside. Even though my Uncle had more than his fair share of hardships, how could he not believe in God?
“Abby, you think I am an atheist?”
I nodded, not trusting my voice.
“Let me tell you a story. I was in college when I met your aunt. I had been sick for an entire week, a nasty bug that had me missing classes and only getting out of bed to go visit the toilet. Then, that Friday, the sickness just lifted. The bug had finally ran its course, and there was a dance that night. The last place a finally well person should be, right? Well, my roommate seeing that I was finally my old self again, he became like a dog with a bone. And, this dog wasn’t going to let go of this bone until I agreed to go with him to the dance. And, if I had still been sick, I wouldn’t have even entertained that idea. But, I was better, and he wouldn’t let it go. So, I agreed. But, do you know what, Abby?”
I shook my head. “No, Uncle Eddie, what?”
“I was going to do laundry that week, but I was under the weather. Three weeks of clothes pilled up, and I was out of time. So, I wore this white dress shirt, brown slacks, and a stupid bowtie. I felt like such a dork. My roommate gave me a very good ribbing on our way there. We get to the dance, and I just fade to the side watching the scene. That’s when I saw her.”
My uncle paused and closed his eyes. A true smile crossed his face, lost in the memory of that night.
“A million poets could write for a million years, and not describe how beautiful I thought your aunt looked that night. Cheesy, I know, but I don’t have the words. Anyway, she sees me, smiles, and makes a direct line to where I am standing. If I could’ve took my eyes off her, maybe I’d have realized she was actually heading to me and bolted. She stopped in front of me and says to me of all things in the world, ‘Nice bowtie.’ What do you think of that, kiddo?”
“It’s a beautiful story, Uncle Eddie.”
“It was a magical night that will never be taken from me. But, what I mean is this: do you see all the things that perfectly lined up for that night to happen? I got well and over being sick. My roommate hounded me to go to the dance. I was wearing a bowtie, which I never would’ve worn if I hadn’t been sick and behind in laundry. Then, that bowtie is what catches your aunt’s eye. An atheist would say that all of it could be chalked up to coincidence. Rubbish, I say. On the big things, there is something grander at work than just coincidence.”
“Oh!” I exclaimed. “So you do believe in God? That’s wonderful, Uncle Eddie! But why have you not joined us at church? I just assumed that you had different beliefs than we did.”
“You believe in the Judeo-Christian God, Abby. I just believe in God.”
“I’m a deist, someone who believes in a God who created the world but has since remained indifferent to it."
“Indifferent? But God loves you so much, Uncle Eddie.”
He laughed, not cruelly but truly amused. “Kiddo, that’s a hard sell to a man on his death bed.”
“What’s happened has led you to these beliefs, with my aunt and your cancer?”
“Not at all, Abby, I’ve always had them. God is all-Loving, right?”
“Of course He is.”
“Well, never mind, the people who are the very short end of the stick who may disagree with that. Let’s just use a simple example. Two guys are up for a promotion. These are two devout Christian guys, and these promotions are going to make their lives ten times better. So, they go home, and they pray. They both ask God to get this one single promotion. The first guy gets it over the second. Does that mean God favors the first person and he is more pious? The first guy is a better Christian?”
I frowned. “No, not at all. We can’t understand how God works. God could have a plan for the second guy that we, as humans, can’t understand.”
“Ah, yes, God’s plan. Anything that we don’t understand is a part of God’s plan for us. Do you know how many times I heard that when your aunt died? What’s more reasonable in that situation, Abby? God was trying to teach me a lesson that I can’t fully comprehend because I am not God or that he is simply indifferent?”
I let go off my uncle’s hand and walked over to the window. I scrambled in my mind trying to find an answer to my uncle. I looked out at the glory of God’s creation: the beautiful blue sky full of clouds and birds and the majestic trees towering over us. There had to be some way I could convince my uncle that God indeed loved him and was not indifferent.
“I wish I had the words to say you, Uncle,” I said, turning back to him. “All I can tell you is what I know. And, I know God loves you, and He is there for you always. It was awful what happened to your wife and what has happened to you. I know…”
I swallowed hard, fighting back the tears, and continued, “I know that you’re about to join Him in Heaven, and that’s hard for me because of how much I’ll miss you here. But, He does have a plan, and I couldn’t comprehend it if I lived a thousand years. All we have is what He gave us because He loves us. We have the Earth and all its wonders. But, more importantly we have each other. God put us here together, and my life is better for it.”
I was unable to stop the tears at that point. My uncle stretched his arms out, and I gave him a gentle hug carefully not to inflict any more pain upon him. I kissed him lightly on the forehead as we broke the tender embrace.
I took off my gold cross necklace and pressed it into his hand.
“You don’t need to….”
I stopped him, “I want you to have it, Uncle Eddie. If you won’t believe that God loves you, you will at least know that I do.”
“I will cherish it because it is from you.”
“I will pray for you, Uncle.”
He looked down and took a deep breath. “Thanks, kiddo, but it’s going to take more than your prayers and God’s love. I’m afraid I don’t mean that much to him right now.”
I went to leave the room. I turned around for what I knew deep down would be my last look at my uncle. He smiled the same weak smile he had when I entered, but it couldn’t mask the pain he was feeling underneath. I repeated my prayer for my uncle as I left his hospital room: a painless release from his burden.