Luke sat in the pew, staring at Jesus. Towering 20 feet above the alter, Jesus hung. The plaster representation of the Messiah, with painted blood encircling nails piercing through his hands and feet, was fastened to the wooden symbol of Luke’s faith. There was a peaceful silence in the room occasionally broken by a muffled outburst of sobs taken in stride by the priest, as he continued his emotionless drone of prayer for and remembrance of a man he never knew. Luke clasped his gold cross, almost identical to the one adorned across the chest of the man in the closed, cherry casket. From merely looking at the body earlier, one could hardly tell the nature of the accident but its abruptness was obvious from looking at the crowd. Luke sat frozen, in tearless disbelief, wondering how, wondering why, God would take away his grandfather, a faithful, kind-hearted man, with all the sinners and the wrong-doers in the world, and why his grandfather deserved this unceremonious and premature death. He pictured the magnet on his grandfather’s fridge that he walked by on so many afternoons, but never truly understood, “When fear knocks at the door, send faith to answer and you’ll find nobody there.” He died alone and afraid on the freeway, victim of a late night hit and run, the shock of which induced a heart attack with no one there to help him and no door for his faith to answer. His body was found the next morning cold and pale, in his green, 1996 Chevrolet Impala.
There was little said on the drive home from the burial. Luke’s mother sat motionless, her head cocked to the side. Mascara stained crescents complimented her glossy, bloodshot eyes stuck in an unfocussed stare out the window, watching as the world passed her by. His father delicately tried to free his wife from her paralysis, commenting on the beauty of the sermon and how at peace her father looked, but was met with no response. At only 12 years old, Luke was inexperienced with death; his mind was racing. In an emotional barrage of anger, grief, and confusion he interrupted his father’s determined monologue to ask the question burdening him, “why?” After a brief moment to formulate his thoughts, a deep breath, and a hard swallow, Luke’s father replied,
“Didn’t you hear the priest? God has a plan for all of us. Everything happens for a reason.”
“But why him? He went to church every Sunday his whole life, he was always kind and generous.”
“God just decided it was his time to go, son.”
“Well then I hate God!”
“Don’t say that! Don’t ever say that!”
“God doesn’t care about you or me or Grandpa, so why should I care about Him?”
Luke’s father was not ready for this argument nor did he think it was appropriate to have it in front of his grieving wife, so he resorted to silence, only allowing Luke’s newfound animosity towards God to fester and grow in his mind. Luke released his grasp, opening his hand and allowing the gold cross and chain he had been clutching since the service, to slide down, across his palm and onto the car floor.
In the following days as his parents crawled through the legal proceedings, Luke often found himself in his grandfather’s house. Each doorway was protected by a crucifix above it. Luke reminisced of a time when he loved to admire all their differences, one a pearl white porcelain cross embellished with a sleeping baby Jesus across the center, others akin to the church’s lifelike variants. But as Luke sauntered through the home, the crucifixes only served as a solemn reminder of the good man God ripped from him. Luke loved the house but what he enjoyed most was feeling, if just for a moment, that his grandfather was there with him. He loved the smell, the same one always exuding from his grandfather’s chest, which he found the source of in a little ornate glass bottle, half filled with amber colored liquid. Carefully exploring, Luke made sure to put every item he picked up back in the exact place he found it, as if his grandfather would notice. He liked looking through the drawers, generally finding old papers, but occasionally stumbling across a gem of a photograph he had never seen before. He could no longer sit and listen to his grandfather’s stories of the war, or of his mother when she was a little girl, or the grandmother he never met.
Luke slowly twisted the knob and nudged the door open, peering inside, almost waiting to be caught as he entered where he was never allowed: his grandfather’s bedroom. Luke rummaged through the dressers quickly, finding nothing to hold his attention until he reached his grandfather’s night table. Topped with a modest brass lamp, the table had a lone drawer. Luke pulled it open to find a slew of orange, CVS, transparent pill bottles, strewn across a leather-bound journal. He flipped through the yellowing pages, of this diary no one knew he kept, to the last entry.
Oct 3, 2013
Today marks six months of radiation and it’s not even shrinking. The doctors say the next step is to operate aggressively. I can barely handle the agony as it is. The painkillers are doing nothing. How could I handle these operations? I don’t think I can take it any longer. I pray God will just take me away.
Luke dropped the journal, falling to his knees in tears, as he dragged his hand down from his forehead, to his heart, then left to right, across his chest and whispered “Amen”.