by ♫~ Kenword~♫
"Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light." H Keller
YOU'LL NOT WALK THROUGH ALONE
Cathy was in the kitchen pouring buttery cornbread batter into a skillet. The uninvited lunch guest Jack sat in front of Pastor Terrance at the dining room table. Jack's fingers pet the table ware and Terrance let his mind envision the lunch being prepared by his young wife in the kitchen. She would be putting the skillet in the oven in a moment. The aroma of freshly baked bread would fill the whole house. The pastor closed his eyes. Cathy was an amazing mother, an author and teacher. She was a fabulous cook, a loving wife and beautifully, almost inconceivably, the woman of his dreams. He was glad he could work from home, at least on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
As the Pastor's reverent thoughts of his lovely bride took him away he could not help but be annoyed by what he felt as the cold icy stare of Jack’s eyes on him. He was comfortable with the silence. How long had there been silence? But slowly guilt managed to awaken a realization that his guest was not.
“Your wife’s nice,” Jack finally said. “You been lucky. How long you married for?”
Terrance smiled. Jack had come with a problem and problems were Pastor Terrance's meat and potatoes, but he wasn't sure he wanted to wade into the details of Jack’s problem before enjoying a delicious lunch. But then waiting to "get-into-it" would require that he bare several minutes more of looking straight into the face of the troubled man sitting before him. The deep bronzed wrinkles around Jack’s dark eyes seemed moistened. Maybe some of the hardness of the man was softening. “Talking with me has helped,” thought Terrance, though he couldn't remember saying anything to his guest.
“I’m sorry Jack. I’m a bit off today. You asked how long I’ve been married? Well Cathy and I have been married for six years.” The facts of Jack’s marriage had been revealed earlier. Fifteen or twenty minutes of dialog had enlightened the pastor of Jack’s dark history, but Terrance had lost the details in the light of his own pleasant, uncomplicated history. Not knowing what part of his story to have Jack repeat he decided to turn the discussion away from Jack’s immediate problems.
“I saw two of your trucks out at the Greer farm on Saturday. Your business seems to be doing okay.”
Jack nodded. “Yeah funny about that. Every time Lizzy and I have problems, seems the business does good. She gets to where she can’t stand me around. Soos I get out and get enough work to get another truck, hire another crew. Greer’s good for getting my mind off things.”
Cathy pushed open the kitchen door and smiled. “I'm glad you're staying for lunch Jack. It's not much. But I'm glad you're here.
“That’s kind of you misses. I hope I'm not intrudin' too much”
"Nonsense. We're pleased to have your company."
Pastor Terrance said a silent prayer of thanks for Cathy’s hospitable ways. He offered her his “I couldn’t adore you more if I tried,” smile hoping to send his deepest love to his wife, as she took charge of her homey domain.
“Lizzied never do that for me Reverend. She didn’t like my friends. Didn’t much care for strangers I brought home neither. She couldn’t understand that you do business with all kinds of people. And is it my fault I had to say so? I had to call her on it. I let her know that If it were left up to her and her snooty crowd we’d starve to death!”
Terrance nodded. His face tightened. Something in his soul stirred as Jack’s tone and words settled over his consciousness. He didn’t like counseling marrieds. He especially abhorred counseling a husband without the wife being present. It was always a waste of time. Getting one side of the story. Besides, most of the time, when it came to the troubles of marriage, he had no empathy. He and Cathy had their issues from time to time, but he had never experienced some of the tragic marital problems many men endure.
He despised feeling empty of wise counsel with emotionally troubled men. He wouldn’t say it, but he always felt: “Well you just should have married a more compatible woman.” But deep down he was fairly certain this was not appropriate counsel for a man married fifteen years.
“I’ve been sleepin’ in my office the last two weeks rev. Can you imagine such a thing? We talked on the phone the other day and she seemed happier than…well I don’t know what, but she kept mentioning she had been talking with a friend.”
Pastor Terrance let the corners of his mouth droop as he involuntarily closed his eyes. He wanted to sigh but held it back. There were always variations on what Jack had just communicated, but the outcome was always the same.
“Two weeks Jack? You’ve been away from your wife since…?”
“Actually two weeks ago Sunday. It’s when I first come to your church service. Seemed like some nice folk. My foreman goes. Thought I’d see what its about. Y’all ain’t no Lutherans though are you?”
Terrance nodded. What could be said? They weren’t Lutherans whatever that meant. Cathy opened the kitchen door wide. “You boys go wash up and I’ll set everything out.”
When the “boys” returned, the pot of chili steamed next to a tall crystal vase filled with freshly cut daisies. Large squares of hot cornbread formed a huge pyramid on a Norman Rockwell platter. The butter dish held an extra cube of softened butter and a gravy boat nearly overflowed with honey. The laced table cloth was the perfect backdrop for Cathy’s heirloom silver, china, crystal stemware.
As the three settled into their seats Terrance kept his eyes steadily on his wife. “Will you pray for the food dear?” he asked.
His wife closed her eyes to begin and then stopped. She looked at Jack, smiling eyes wide open. “Perhaps you would do us the honor Mr. Claybourg?”
“Of course Misses.”
“Dear God,” Jack murmured, “I do thank you for Reverend Olson and his wife here. Thank you for this food. You know it’s my favorite.” Jack’s voice became an even softer murmur. “Please help my ma’ to get over her headaches and help me to find a new home. Amen.”
Jack had bowed his head and it remained bowed. His hand shook, as a corner of his napkin wiped his eyes. Cathy looked sharply at her husband, whose response was a defiant shaking of the head that meant in no uncertain terms, “no!”
Terrance managed to smile at their guest, “How long has your mother been suffering with headaches, Jack?”
Cathy’s look was inquisitive as she studied the still bowed head of Mr. Claybourg. He seemed to be struggling with the delicate handling of both his emotions and his napkin.
Jack cleared his throat and finally looked around at his hosts. “She’s had ‘em for years. Says they’re migraines. It’s just been worse the last couple of days is all. She can’t get out into the garden. Too much glare. She loves that ole garden.”
“And why do you need a new home, Mr. Claybourg?” Cathy asked, almost raising her hand to block her husband’s negative energy. The soul stirring that was about to be settled with a hunk of lavishly buttered corn bread was turning into a good sized blaze as his wife perched at the edge of her chair waiting for Jack’s response.
Jack took a moment to study Terrance, who was studying the beans he was spooning into his bowl.
“I’m hopin’ misses to not need a new home, okay? I really am. But I’m tired of living in my office and this is the first home cooked’ anythin’ I’ve had in over a week. My wife seems okay talkin’ to me on the phone, but it’s like she’s okay about a lot of stuff that don’t include me anymore. Do you know what I mean?” Jack bowed his head once more as the last words out of his mouth were punctuated by a sob.
“Do we know what he means Terrance?” Cathy asked, her voice soft, just above a whisper.
Terrance stirred his chili then looked at his wife. He shook his head no. “I think Jack and I will have some time to talk about all that before he has to go back to work this afternoon.”
Jack sighed, handed his bowl to Cathy, and turned a tear stained face towards Terrance.
“I won’t be going to work today Rev. Haven’t worked since you saw my truck out at the Greer place.” Jack’s shoulders shook and the muscles around his mouth quivered. He did his best to cover his face with his napkin when Cathy’s hand reached across the table and clutched the hand that was waiting for the return of the chili bowl.
“I think we do know what you mean Jack, and Terrance and I insist you stay with us until you and Lizzie work it all out.” Cathy returned her husband’s irksome look with one of her own. “We do insist. Don’t we dear?”
“Of course, that is a possibility Cathy, but perhaps Jack would be bothered by the boys. They can be pretty rowdy.”
“Nonsense. Mr. Claybourg might enjoy being around a lively family. Just the thing to help one’s spirits. When do you think you can get your stuff over Mr. Claybourg? We have a lovely guest room above the garage that might suit you just fine. Maybe this afternoon?”
Over the next few days Terrance wrestled with his disappointment in his wife. But he forgave her. She had a good heart and she knew what was right. He had no choice but to embrace her act of charity. It was his own guilt and lack of charity that was eating away at him. Why couldn't he make himself act out the principles on love and compassion that he had learned? In fact the very attributes of Jesus that he, as a Pastor and Bible scholar, taught in church nearly every Sunday.
He had to come to terms with the truth. In this aspect of his Christianity he had always avoided being tested on his actual heart condition. Now he was cornered. He would be tested. In fact it was clear that he would actually need to pass this test or get a job driving truck or selling cars.
It wasn't a vow, exactly, but in prayer, the man of God, had to at last surrender to his human failings and ask for help to be the one who would lead others, not just with talk, but with action. Again he blessed his wife for her example of compassion. The first few days of this new ambition felt fake and rehearsed. None the less he went to jobsites with Jack, rode motorcycles with Jack, and played endless hands of cribbage with Jack.
After a week, something new and generous budded in Terrance's heart, as he entered into the darkest nights of another man’s soul. Jack had been a biker, in fact a member of a rough gang in south San Francisco while he was studying as an apprentice plumber. He detailed a life consumed with selfish lusts for every depravity known to man. Some of the sexual exploits had even occurred while Jack was engaged to Elizabeth Knight, a nursing student at San Francisco University. They married after Elizabeth, “Lizzy”, finished school and had received an appointment as an intern in a hospital in Medford, Oregon.
Jack’s gang history made him nearly unemployable so he started his own business. The Rogue Valley farming community was desperate for someone to repair their irrigation systems, and they liked Jack’s brutish energy that always came with a lurid story or two. Lizzie became pregnant when her internship was complete. She was ready to have a family. The miscarriage led to some tests. Lizzie could not have children of her own. Not long after that, Lizzie became a devout Lutheran somberly accepting her duty to stay with her heathen husband.
“Did you ever love your wife Jack?” It was a question that had been near the surface for days.
“I don’t know Rev. I'm not sure I ever knew what lovin another is. But I can’t live without her now!” Jack’s eyes rimmed with red, searched for his new friend's eyes. "I've got to get her back. You know it now don't you?"
Terrance grabbed one of Jack's calloused hands with both of his.
"Yeah. I think I know that, but can I tell you the truth Jack?" Terrance sucked in air and held on to the breath letting all of his counseling knowledge come forward to produce some courage for what he knew he had to say.
"I don't know," Jack said, "Can you?"
Terrance knelt at the feet of his new friend. Tears streamed from his own swollen eyes unashamed and unrestrained for the first time in his life. His arm hung tight around Jack’s neck. “Maybe man. But you’re not alone. Not for one moment are you going through this alone.”