Tuesday, April 2, 2019

April's Voice

         The snow covered campus, in the dusk's low light, looked like a soulful painting.  Margie sipped her coffee as she drank in the details through the second floor window of the student lounge complex.  The campus was all but deserted as this midwinter finals week neared completion.  And now, the day's gray light was giving way to the glow of the path way lighting along the sidewalks -  which lay like dark ribbons on the snowy landscape. 

            Other than those cleared walkways, there were no sharp features on the ground, anywhere.  There was only softly rounded whiteness.  And, standing above it all, giant old oaks stood leafless and silent like pouting sentinels, waiting for spring.

             Margie peered through the window waiting for her daughter, April, to grace this scene.  The joy of her life was the opportunity to be with her daughter.   But, as usual where April was concerned, other deeper emotions were always attempting to contradict the joy. 

            "There she is!" Margie whispered in her mind as she watched her daughter bouncing along the sidewalk clutching the envelope in her gloved hand. 

            In a short time, April was through the serving line and at the top of the stairs.  She had a hot chocolate in one hand as she excitedly waved the envelope at her mother with the other. 

            "Hi momma,” she said with a broad smile as she sat the cup down and gave her mom a long hug.   " I'm so excited," she squealed quietly through her broad smile.  Then, as she scooted in  close beside her mother on the same side of the booth, they hugged again. 
            "I know you are Sweetheart.  And I'm so excited for you."

            "For us, mom."

            "Absolutely,  for us,"  Margie corrected.  "OK, so - are you ready to open the envelope, sweetheart?"

            "Now that you're here, I think I can, yes."

            "It will be fine, April.  Johns Hopkins is not going to let you get away."

            "Well, we’ll see.  April handed her mother the envelope.  “You do it, mom."

            Margie took the envelope.  She stared at it for a moment.  In the corner it read, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.  She tried to control them, but her hands were shaking.  Tears began to slide down Margie’s cheeks and dropped to the table as she was, indeed, now freshly realizing just how far she and April had come together.
             April was taken back by the depth of her mother's emotion.  " Are you OK Mom?" she asked with audible concern. 

            "Yes Sweetheart.  I'm OK.  Now, lets do the deed, here." she said, with a quick smile.
            April gripped her mother's arm tightly, and they snuggled in closer, like two best friends sharing the most intimate secret.  April put her hands, on stilled gloved and one bare, over her eyes as her mom read silently.

            "IT'S A YES!" came the mouse like verbal spurt from Margie.

            Instantly, both women embraced, yet again, in a desperate moment of profound wordless celebration.  Then,  as if cued, both leaned back a little to accommodate an exuberant high five and a loud "Yes !" from April.  Laughter erupted, amidst the tears of joy.  

            But, as April was beginning to gain some composure, she realized that her mother was not.  She continued to sob.  After a moment, April felt once again prompted to ask her mother if she was all right. 

            Margie was unable to answer.  She continued to weep a quiet but irresistible torrent of tears that had been waiting years to be released.  Even without explanation, April realized that these tears were somehow disconnected from the present moment.  She just quietly embraced her mother until this flood tide of emotion began to subside. 

            "Mom, what's wrong?  You're not sick?"

            "No, April, its nothing like that," she said, still half choking with emotion."  Move around to the other side of the booth so I can look at you.  I have something that I have to share with you.  This is probably the worst possible time, but I just have to get this out, now."

            "It's fine mom.  Just say what you need to. You know we have to share everything.  So, just tell me," April said with a slight smile, trying to lighten her mother's emotional load.

            "That has been our way hasn’t it, Honey.  The Two Musketeers, sharing almost everything since you were old enough to talk.  But there is one thing that I have never shared with you.  But, I need to do that now."  Margie began to tear again.

            April took her mother's hands in her own, on the table top.  "Anything mom, you know that."

            After a moment, with her head lowered, Margie began.  "Last night I had a dream, April.  I was walking in a cemetery, and it was snowing.  The wind was blowing, and it was bitterly cold; and, I was struggling against the wind. 

After a while, I found myself peering down at a small granite headstone.  It had no inscription on it, no words at all."  April started to interrupt, but Margie insisted, with a raised hand, on finishing.

            "As I stared at the headstone, the grave that it marked, became like glass, and I could see a baby in the grave.  And, the baby was talking.  In the most pleading voice, the baby said, 'Mommy please.'  That was all, just 'Mommy please.'  Over and over again the baby kept begging me in that tiny desperate voice, 'Mommy please.'"

            As April began to understand her mother's emotional agony, her heart broke for her mother.  "Mom, I understand how a dream like that would make you feel, but I am right here. I'm not a baby.  And, I'm perfectly OK."

            Margie touched April's cheek with her fingertips, and looked at her as if peering into her child's very soul.  "I know, Sweetheart, but there’s more.  You see, I had exactly that same dream, in every detail, one other time, 22 years ago, just before you were born."

            "Oh mom," April sympathized.

            "April, we have never talked much about your dad.  The little that I have told you is true.  We were never married.  And, he did choose to be out of our lives before you were born. But, I haven't really told you the whole story.

            “I wish I could say we were in love, but we really weren't.  I guess we called it love at the time.  But I've learned since, that true love has a view beyond itself, and we really didn't. 

            “We were in high school.  We were part of the fast crowd. And we did what the fast crowd was doing.  We made love; but we were not in love, not the kind of love that is made for a lifetime and for a family. 

            “So, long story short, I became pregnant with you.  I was eighteen years old with most of my last year of high school still in front of me. And now, I am going to have a baby.

             “I was so scared, April.  And Josh was so very immature.  We both were.  And, we certainly knew nothing of God's values at the time.  So, almost immediately Josh began to pressure me to get an abortion.  I resisted his pleadings and threats for two or three weeks.  And, I spent every private moments crying.   But, eventually, I just became so very desperate.”

            Both women fell silent momentarily, Margie from grief, and April from shock.  After a long moment Margie continued with some difficulty. "And, I was beginning to slightly show; so I," Margie choked on her emotions, but eventually managed to finish, "I, ah, I decided to go through with it."

            Tears now streamed down April's face.  Margie was forced to look away from her daughter, out the window, to be able to continue.  "Josh and I had enough money between us, so I went to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Newton.  John didn't think it was a good idea for us to be seen together there, so he was going to come back and pick me up."

            "Well, wasn't that big of him," came April's sarcastic and tearful interjection.

            "This visit was supposed to be just a counseling session.  As I sat in the waiting area, I was able to faintly hear the counselor's conversation with the young lady who went in ahead of me.  The counselor echoed the line of the day about a woman's right to have control over her body.  No mention was made of the baby.

            “Most of the session was just talking about the costs and how the young lady would pay.  As I listened from outside the door, the manipulation just became so clear.  This insanity wasn't about rights or personal freedom.  That was all just a line.  This was simply about money for the doctors and convenience for the girls - for me. 

            “All I could think of was,” Margie dropped her head into her hands, obviously reliving the moment fully, "I've come here to kill my baby." 

            “Then I became suddenly enraged at their intentional dismissal of that horrible fact.  That idea, in that moment, became the absolute focal point of all of my fear, and anguish of the previous weeks.   And, just at that moment, you kicked me."  An sudden involuntary and awkward smile flash across the face of both women. 

            "I guess you must have been wearing spurs, because when you did that, I bolted out of that waiting room, without even a thought of what I would do next.  The receptionist came running after me, and pleaded with me to come back to the clinic.  But I had not one thought of stopping my flight. 

            “Right then, all I wanted to do was go.  I just wanted to be somewhere, any where else. So, I just started running down that snowy sidewalk until she stopped calling after me.
            “I didn't know anyone in Newton.  And, it  was, indeed, a day about like today, bitterly cold, and snowy, and blustery with dark, low hanging clouds.  Eventually, I found myself just walking and crying. 

            "I came to a cemetery with a broken down iron gate.  I remember it was anchored in what looked like an ancient red brick column that was beginning to lean badly.  I don't know what made me even go in there.  Maybe because I knew it was deserted, and I wouldn't have to face anyone.

            “As I entered the cemetery, it was as if I were enveloped in a dream.  Nothing seemed quite real, and yet the headstones impacted on my mind with unusual importance.   I was in that cemetery wandering around for a long time in the deepest emotional agony that I have ever known. 

            “Eventually, somehow, Josh spotted me there as he was driving around looking for me.  He took me home.  I really don't remember much about the rest of that day and evening.  It just seemed to wash away in large waves of fear, and depression, and desperation. 

            “It was that night that I had the dream for the first time.  I saw you in that glassy grave," Margie paused briefly, as another torrent of tears streamed down and covered her lips and chin.  Then, she continued, "But, even as I listened to you pleading with me in the dream, 'Mommy please', I remember being so painfully aware that you would not even have the dignity of a grave.  The whole time, I knew that you would be ..."   Margie put her face in her hands and broke into quiet, but otherwise, unbridled sobbing.  She simply could not continue with those thoughts.  They were just too horrible.
            After a long moment, she continued, "When I awoke the next morning, I knew God had helped me hear the pleading of the child within me - my child.  I told Josh to forget it.  I was keeping the baby. 

            He was angry and upset, but, at that point, I simply no longer cared what he thought.  I knew I was right.  No way was I going to ignore the pleading voice of my precious child anymore.  I already loved you, and my dream allowed me to come to grips with that reality.  And, with grandma and grandpa's help, you and I made it through just fine.  And, the rest, you pretty much know.

            “But what you have never known is that all these years, the thought of what I almost did, how close I came, has tortured me.  But, it was so horrifying,  I've just tried to mentally bury it.  The problem was, the more my love for you on so many different levels, the more trouble I had doing that.

            “Then yesterday, when you told me about the answer to your application, somehow the whole issue was reawakened.  It was like I just could no longer bear it.  Then, last night, when the dream came again,  I knew I had to get this out of me, and out from between us.
             “I  know my timing is lousy.  But, this just had to be done, and now.  I don't know what more to say to you except that I am so ashamed, and so very sorry."   Margie looked away, out the window again, unable to confront what she might find in April's eyes.

            After a moment April spoke softly, "Momma."  Margie steeled herself, and turned to look into the eyes of her daughter.  "All of my life, I have sensed that there was something there that you so desperately needed.  But, I could never understand what it was.  Now, I do."  April paused for a second, and then continued softly,  "Momma, I forgive you."

            Margie looked stunned for a moment.  She just sat there under the shock wave of those words.  Then she burst into laughter and tears all at the same time.  It was as if the bright rays of  a brand new morning had just flooded into her soul. 

            Both women rose from the booth and embraced.  As they hugged each other tightly, in the deep love of mother and daughter, Margie whispered to April, "Thank you so much, Sweetheart.  Thank you.  Thank you.  You have set me free."

            “Without releasing her embrace, April whispered, "No Mom, thank you for courageously loving me through your fear and desperation." 

            Margie buried her face into April's coat.  April could only faintly hear her mother's prayer, "Thank you Lord for loving us both."

The End

Where Sleep Our Children

A lament of the infamous decisions of the Supreme Court
of the United States to devalue the life of the unborn.

Where sleep our children in these troubled days
            when their laughter we long to hear?
Where are those flashing, excited eyes
            and their tiny contented sighs?

Where are those moments when we're first aware,
            somehow through the peek a boos,
And the rhythm and rhyme of our giggling time,
            that our love is returned in kind.

Where are the memories of growing up,
            those times of joy and pain,
All cherished alike, because they're shared,
            all counted by love as gain.

Where sleep our children? Oh no! Oh God!
            They're victims of our own moral sleep.
For our children sleep in the grave of convenience
            unmourned in the graveyard of greed.

And still we sleep while our children die,
            the victims of darkened minds
That speak in a way that - "It seems OK,"
            So on we sleep as they cry.      

Where sleep our children in these troubled days
            They sleep in the grave of convenience,
                unmourned in the graveyard of greed,

Because we have not awakened ourselves,
            To protect as true Love would decree.


Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Appointment

 This isn’t what I expected,” John Arnott thought to himself as he looked around the rather ordinary waiting room in which he was seated.  “I didn’t think things would be quite so real.  I can touch everything.  I just didn’t expect this.  Although, I guess I really never gave it that much thought.”

            After a few moments of observing the room, itself, Arnott began to concentrate more on the other people in the room with him.  They all sat silently, their eyes darting from one detail of their surroundings to another.  This was mostly a tactic to avoid eye contact with each other. 

            No one in the room knew exactly how they got there.  It was like awakening without remembering when you went to sleep.  So, they were all a bit disconcerted, which only added to the already high degree of social awkwardness.

            Arnott grabbed a sly glympse at the man seated across the aisle from him and slightly to his right.  “Looks like this guy’s goin’ next,” he thought.  “He’s the closest to the door.

            “I wonder what his name is.  I would say that he is either a doctor or a minister.  Judging from the style of his glasses, I’d say he is definitely a minister.”

            At that moment, the door opened to the inner office; and Travis Thomas was summoned by a voice, but no person was visible.  He exited the waiting room through the door to Arnott’s right.

            “Thomas, huh.  I’d say minister, definitely a minister.  He even carries himself like a minister” Arnott concluded.

            As Thomas left the room, another woman seated herself across from Arnott, a little to his left.  But, he thought it strange that he did not actually see her come into the room.  She was suddenly just there, taking her seat. 

            Arnott did, however, noticed that she was very attractive.  He began to study her in detail, but only in stolen glimpses, and only when he was sure no one else would catch what he was doing.

            After a minute or two of these stealth looks, he caught himself.  “This is obviously not the time.” he thought.  But, she was very attractive.  And every minute or two, his eyes would involuntarily dart back to her. 

            Eventually, Arnott shifted in his chair to assume what he thought would be a more attractive sitting position.  Unconsciously, he began to hold some tension on his stomach muscles to make his bulge appear a little less so. 

            Arnott looked again at the door to the inner office.  “The next time it opens, it will be for me,” he thought.  He had noted that the summons was always for the person closest to the door.  With that thought, he felt a deep emotional surge in the pit of his stomach.  “I feel so alone,” he thought.  “I can’t believe that I have come to this point, and have so little knowledge about what lies ahead. I’ve been so stupid. 

            “And I knew this was coming.  Why in the world didn’t I make it my business to know more about all of this.  Now, here I sit, almost completely uninformed,” Arnott lamented in his mind.  “And I can only blame myself.”

            At that precise moment, the door opened.  “John Arnott, come in please,” came the voice from that still unseen woman. 

            As John Arnott rose from his seat, his heart began to pound and his head was swimming, which, in turn, affected his balance a bit.  He was not sure whether it was the weight of the moment, or he had simply gotten up too quickly.  He suspected the former; but he hoped it was the latter. 

            It now suddenly seemed important to go through that door with confidence.  “Steady now,” Arnott thought.  “You are going to be all right.  You know you are OK; and that’s what really counts.”

            Arnott was still groping for his composure as he passed through the door.  “Come in, Mr. Arnott,” a somehow familiar voice said from the other side of the somewhat dimly lit room. 

            “I know that voice,” Arnott thought, feeling unexplainably reassured by it.  But then, without warning or invitation, another thought suddenly inflamed his mind as he noticed that the high back chair behind the desk was facing away from him.  “How rude!” he thought.  “Who does this guy think he is?  I don’t ...”

            Before he could finish his thought, the chair spun quickly around; and Arnott could not quite comprehend what he was seeing.  His mouth dropped open and his eyebrows raised involuntarily. 

            “Surprised, Mr. Arnott?” asked the man before him with a broad grin.

            “But you’re, you’re...” Arnott sputtered.

            “That’s right, I’m you.  At least, I’m part of you,” the man said, still smiling.

            John Arnott found himself looking squarely into his own pudgy face.  “Say, what is this?” Arnott demanded.  Who are you?”

            “Well, I would think it is obvious, sir.  I am, indeed, you.  Can’t you tell by looking.”

            “What do you mean, you’re me?  Arnott snapped with a distinct note of agitation.

            The second Arnott threw his head back and laughed way too loud.  “I love this.  This is wonderful,” the second Arnott quipped.

            Arnott stood stone faced and silent, awaiting a serious explanation.  His counterpart, suddenly realizing that John Arnott was not amused in the least, quickly cleared his throat and composed himself.  “Sorry sir,” he said very seriously now.  “The precise explanation is really simple.  I am your ego.”

            “My ego!” Arnott almost yelled.  “What the...”  Arnott caught himself, thinking better of what he was about to say and remembering where he was.  He paused for a moment; and took a deep breath.  “What exactly do you mean, you’re my ego?” he continued more calmly. 

            “Just that, sir,” his counterpart answered.  “I am the guardian of your self-image.  I am the part of you that is absolutely devoted to protecting your self-esteem.  I am the part of you which is singularly responsible for giving you a very positive view of yourself.

            “We both know how important that is, sir.  And it is my job to see that it happens every single day, no matter what.  My whole purpose is to stop any negative that might try to assault your positive self- image.”

            “OK, I get that - kinda’.  But how can you be here like this, separate from me, I mean?” Arnott queried.  

            “I really cannot explain that, sir.  “Somehow, I have simply been - extracted.  My sense is that it has happened especially for this meeting.  But, I don’t really know how I would actually know that.”

            “So, in effect, I am talking to myself,” Arnott restated, still trying to grasp it all.

            “Yes, sir, you are.  But, is that really so strange?  After all, I have advised you, and given you perspective, and impacted your thoughts and your world view over your entire life.”

            “I suppose so,” Arnott said in a resigning tone.  “But, somehow you never seemed quite so tangible before.  And, I guess I just wasn’t expecting this.”

            “I understand, sir.  I think this is all just part of the process.  But, I can't really say that I understand it either.  But, I suppose we must expect some unusual occurrences given the uniqueness of this circumstance.  Wouldn’t you agree?”

            Preoccupied with his own thoughts, Arnott didn’t actually respond to his counterpart.  But, in a few seconds he came back to himself.  “Well, what now,” he asked.  “Where do we go from here?”

            “I’m really not quite sure about that either, sir.  But, I do feel this overwhelming need to give you my perspective on how it will go for you today.”

            That idea grabbed Arnott.  He seized on it in his mind.  “OK,” he said, “that is something I would be very much interested to hear.  Shoot.”

            “Well, I would say you are in great shape, sir.”

            “Really,” Arnott said in a questioning tone.  “How so?”

            “Actually, I guess it’s just mostly a feeling.  But, why wouldn’t you fare well today?  I think you are a better man than most, sir.”

            “Well, maybe, ‘as good as the next guy,’ would be a better way to say it,” Arnott returned.

            “You’re better than a lot of them, sir.  I mean, we both know what goes on.  You know you have never stooped to the lows that some guys have.”

            Arnott, taking some comfort from those words, nodded just a bit.  “I guess if you stacked me up against the average, I’d look pretty good.”

            “OK?  OK?   Sir, you would be a lot better than - OK.” Arnott’s ego corrected with some passion.

            “You really think so?”

            “I do, sir.  I do, indeed,” his ego returned.

            “Well, thanks,” Arnott said smiling, beginning to succumb to the charms of his “Other.”

            “You’re welcome, sir.” Then the other Arnott rose and walked over to a large ornate mirror that was hanging on the wall.  As he gazed into the mirror, he straightened his tie and made a brushing motion across his lapel. 

            As he raised his hand to gently caress his hair into place, it seemed to Arnott that it was an entirely needless gesture.  Not one hair was out of place.  In fact, nothing in his attire or appearance was really in need of any attention, whatsoever.  Arnott could not imagine how his other could possibly be more perfectly coifed.

            “To tell you the truth, sir, Arnott’s ego continued and he also continued to stare admiringly at the mirror, “I always knew that you were a cut above.  There is just something about you.  I sense that you are different - special really.”

            “How so?” Arnott queried.

            “Well, you do the main things so very well, sir.”

            “What do you mean, ‘the main things’?” Arnott asked.

            “Simply this, sir.  As I see it, there are three main things that one must do in life.  The first is to protect your own self-image, at all costs.  I know that you have heard psychologist speak of this.  One must constantly be on guard, and let nothing tarnish your sense of self-worth.  And you have done that very well, sir.

            “And what purpose would guilt or self recriminations serve anyway?  In my opinion, those things should be avoided at all cost, just as I have advised you all of your life.  To do otherwise, simply serves no good purpose.  And the pain is just too awful.  It simply must be skirted no matter what.”

            “But, wouldn’t that leave one a bit out of touch?” Arnott asked.

            “Not at all, sir.”  It is merely a tactic that enables you to effectively manage the negatives in life that would damage you.  It is just a harmless coping mechanism, really. 

            And besides, look how well it has served you over the years, sir.  You have avoided a great deal of emotional trauma.  And, you have become so very consistently confident by simply believing in your own, well, ‘rightness’.”

            “And, no doubt, it has all been with your help,” Arnott added somewhat sarcastically, while slightly smiling at his other.

            “Well, yes, sir.  It’s just what I do, you know.  But, thank you for noticing. 

            “And, we have done rather well together haven’t we, sir?  And, better our approach than the alternative.  After all, who wants to end up a down-in-the-mouth victim of what is really mostly superfluous self-examinations anyway.”

            “Well said, ego,” Arnott said feeling now truly reassured by his ego.   He raised his hand in a mock toast; and both smiled broadly.

            “But you said there are three things that are important?” Arnott queried.  “What are the other two?”

            “Ah, yes.  I’m so glad you ask, sir.  The second really important thing would be achievement.  It is achievement which really defines a person.  It is through personal achievement that we are able to rise above the sea of nameless and faceless humanity.  And there is little sweeter than that personal elevation. 

            “Do you remember that first big job you landed with Alcorp, sir?  Do you remember how many people you were going up against for that job?  But, you got it.  You distinguished yourself above all of the others.

            “And what about that house you bought on Dogwood Lane?  It was, by far, the biggest in the neighborhood.  That was a sweetness that you tasted every time you drove up and down that street.  Oh, how especially good it felt when you would pull into the driveway while the neighbors were outside?  You could literally feel their admiration on your back.  Ah, that is what life is all about, sir.”

            Arnott nodded, fully immersed in the pleasant memories of his conquests and achievements. “That was very sweet,” he agreed.

            “That’s what we’re about, sir: achievement, achievement at the highest level.  That is what truly feeds the soul. 

            “You lay a plan; and you make it happen.  You decide what you want and then grab it with your own two hands.  You just go for it.  And you don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.  I tell you there is absolutely nothing better than being on the top of the heap, sir.  Well, unless it is the third thing.”

            “And what’s that?” Arnott asked, genuinely anticipating the answer.

            “In a word, it’s ‘destiny,’ sir.  To be in charge of your own life course has no equal in gratification.  To own the prospects of your own destiny is absolutely invaluable.  It is to die for.  Indeed, it is worth your very soul to be able to simply ‘call your own shots.’  No man, who is a real man, will ever settle for less.”

            “I agree!” Arnott said, with real emotion. 

            “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever stated them quite so clearly; but, I have always absolutely believed the three things that you have just outlined.”

            “I know, sir,” smiled Arnott’s other.

            “Oh yeah, Arnott said, now also smiling.  “I forgot.”

            But now, as that shared smile passed, so did any obvious subject for further conversation, leaving an awkward silence in that absence.  So, Arnott said, “Well, perhaps I should go, that is, assuming you’re finished.”

            “Oh yes, quite finished I think, sir.”

            “Arnott leaned forward and extended his hand to his other, who was once again seated behind the desk.  “It’s been good.”

            “Quite so, sir,” his other confirmed.

            John Arnott felt better now.  The butterflies in his stomach had subsided a bit as he turned to go.  But, then he noticed that the door through which he had entered the room was no longer there.  There was now only a solid wall.  Then, when he turned to inquire of his other, he was also gone. 

            Instantly apprehensive again, he surveyed the entire room once more with some desperation.  As he did, he noticed a door that he had not been aware of before.  It was on the opposite wall from where he had entered the room.  He opened the door cautiously.

            To his surprise, the door did not lead to another room, but to a long, dim hall.  This uninviting passage way seemed much more dark than light.  This effect was created by the small, bare light bulbs hanging from the ceiling.  They begrudgingly provided only small spots of light in the long hall which quickly smudged again into darkness until the next spot of light was reached further on.

            Arnott stepped into the hall with very real trepidation.  He moved slowly forward through the deafening silence.  He could not see the end of the hall exactly.  He could only note the blackness beyond the last spot of light.

            Mr. Arnott was also vaguely aware that he was moving down a slight incline.  It reminded him of the isles in a theater, but very absent the pleasant anticipation.  Nevertheless, he continued to move slowly forward, his eyes riveted on the thick darkness at the end.  “Maybe I should not have come this way,” he thought, “This just doesn’t seem good.”

            Eventually, he stood in the last yellow-gray spot of light.  He paused briefly.  But, he knew he must move forward.  Somehow, he was aware – there was no going back.  

            As he moved forward, he extended his hand into the darkness to defend against any unseen wall or structure.  Then, as if the lights were suddenly turned up on a stage, a bright scene appeared before him out of the darknessHe was suddenly standing in what appeared to be a pleasant city park scene.

            An equally pleasant voice spoke to him from his left, “I’ve been expecting you, sir.” 

            Arnott looked to his left, once again, right into his own face.  The man speaking was just rising from an old wooden bench.  “Ego?” he questioned. 

            “Oh no, sir, I am not Ego.  I am Hope, your hope, sir,” came the gentle voice again.

            “My hope?”

            “That is correct.  And, like your ego, I am here for your accounting.”

            “This is crazy!” Arnott blurted, putting his hand to his forehead.

            “I understand your frustration, sir.  It is a bit disconcerting for me also.  I am simply not accustomed to being quite so entirely my own man,” Arnott’s hope essence confessed.

            “Well look,” Arnott blurted with a note of exasperation, “can you just tell me who you are, exactly.  I mean, I know you are my hope, but what in the world does that mean.”

            “I may wax a bit poetic, sir.”

            Arnott extended his hand quickly toward his other, as if to say, “Just do it!”

            “Very well,” his hope accommodated.  “Basically, sir, I am a perspective, your perspective, and a very necessary perspective to your emotional well-being, I might add.  You see, I am the embodiment of your confidence in the future.  To put it another way, I represent your confidence in what lies ahead, and really, in the prevalence of goodness itself.”

            “And now the future is here,” Arnott quietly remarked.

            “Yes, sir, indeed, it is.”

            “And how do we fare now, my friend?” Arnott asked with the slightest sarcasm.  “Will we now actually discover in the present, what we once perceived to be the good of the future?”

            “I am afraid you must answer that question for yourself, sir.  You see, I have no concept of the present.  My view is always and only forward toward the future.  I simply can see nothing of what surrounds my feet.”

            “OK then, what now lies ahead?  Can I still hope?  Does good prevail in my future, the one that lies, now, just beyond my nose?”

            “Oh, I’m certain that it does, sir,” Arnott’s hope persona said confidently.

            “Well, I have to say, I’m just not quite that certain.  And frankly, I don’t see how you can be,” Arnott returned.

            “I am confident, sir, because one’s hope is shaped as much by the certainties of the past as by your designs for the future.”

            “Which means?” Arnott queried.

            “In short, sir, it means that you shall now surely reap the good that you have sown in the past.”

            “Good?” Arnott questioned.

            “Yes, sir.  I speak of your abundant good works.  Do you not know that those will surely acquit you well today.

            “You have been a good man and done many things of which you can be very proud, sir.  You have been a charitable man.  You have helped many.  You have done your due diligence to attend your church and support its programs.  You have done good things for your community.  Those are the things that now count for you, sir.  And I would say that you may now count on them,” Arnott’s hope said confidently.

            “Well, I have tried to do the right things in life.  Except for a short time in my teenage years, I have always had pretty good morals - well, except for that one small episode with Paula.  But, my wife never knew, so she wasn’t really hurt by it.  And, I swore I would never do it again.  And, I didn’t.  So, I feel like I more than made up for that mistake later, through my responsible life and charitable works,” Arnott reasoned.

            “My thoughts exactly, sir.  From your benevolent past you have fashioned a very hopeful future.  You have done well.  And now, good will surely come.”

            Mr. Arnott’s trembling emotional state began to calm a bit with these hopeful comments.  Indeed,   he was feeling a bit more assured about what was ahead.  But, for sure, it was only a bit.

            “Thank you, Hope,” Arnott’s said.  You truly have lightened the emotional load of this day.”

“Your very welcome, sir,” Hope said, as he bowed his head slightly to convey his own appreciation.

            With those words, once again the scene went quickly dark.  And once again, John Arnott found himself standing at the upper end of what appeared to be that same poorly lit hallway. 

            “What the ...?”  In the surprise of it all, Arnott was again immediately apprehensive as his emotional roller coaster took another nose dive.  “What now,” he thought.  “I’ve got to get out of here.  I’ve had enough of this.”

            Arnott turned to go back through the door by which he had originally entered the hall earlier.  But again, there was no door.

            Suddenly, what had been, up to now, a vague background awareness absolutely burst into his conscious mind.   “I – am – trapped!”  These paralyzing words sprang into his consciousness as though, indeed, a steel trap had just closed around him.  And with this self admission, his emotions plummeted even farther and faster.

            John Arnott froze in a state of true panic.  He became completely afraid to move.  It was as though any motion would precipitate some instantly devastating consequence.  He stood stock still now completely unwilling to move forward or backward, daring only to barely breath.  A thousand dark thoughts began to assault his mind.  However, nothing more than this self-inflicted emotional torment actually happened.

            After several minutes of this panic attack, Arnott’s terror began to subside a bit.  Calmer emotions began to gradually return.  He began to think more rationally.  Finally, he thought, “What am I doing? There is only one course.  Why am I standing here?  I know I have to go forward.”  And so, he did.

            Now, however, he was even more tentative, than before.  He moved much more slowly.  The passage of each spot of light on the floor was but a milestone of foreboding. 

            But, as he moved forward, something reflexive began to happen.  Arnott instinctively started trying to raise his own morale.  “Come on, John boy,” he thought, “so far, so good.  What are you so afraid of, after all.  This hasn’t been so awful.  Nothing really bad has actually happened. 
            “So you had a couple of conversations with yourself.  The comments were all good and encouraging.  Get a grip, man.  You’re doin’ OK here it would seem.”

            Finally, as before, Arnott found himself standing in the last spot of light.  Again, he extended his hand into the darkness.  And, as now half expected, a new scene illuminated.  It was a corner bus stop in a big city street scene.  But, the city look more like a ghost city.  The streets were eerily empty except for one man sitting at the bus stop across the intersection.  Arnott paused a long time both to survey the unusual scene and to gather his scattered wits. 

            Eventually, it dawned on Mr. Arnott that there was only one other person here.  So, he crossed diagonally across the intersection to the opposite corner and started down the half block to the bus stop. The other man made no effort to rise as Arnott approached.  He merely turned his head to quietly observe Arnott’s approach. 

            “And who are you?” Arnott calmly asked as again he stared into his own face.

            “I am your intellect, sir.”

            “Ah, my intellect,” Arnott said, with mock nonchalance.

            “Yes, sir,” Intellect said patting his hand on the vacant end of the bench as an invitation to Arnott to join him there.

            Arnott seated himself and turned to face his other.  He mused for a moment, inspecting his intellect up and down.  Finally, with a slight note of sarcastic exasperation he said, “Lately, I’ve started to doubt if I really have one of those.”

            “No need for concern, sir,” his other responded.  “As you can see, I am quite real.  I do, indeed, exist.”

            “Yes, so I see,” Arnott returned quietly now really feeling his own exhaustion.  After a brief quietness he spoke again from the same weariness.  “Tell me, Intellect, were you, like the others, sent here to give me your insights on the outcome of this day?”

            “I was, sir.”

            “Then let’s just get at it,” Arnott said with some frustration.

            “Very well, sir.  You are no doubt cognizant of the fact that I am a creature, totally devoted to logic and reason.  These form the very fabric of my being.  I hold them to be the supreme apparatus of the of life management. 

            I also believe it true that through the use of logic and reason we can attain the mastery of any circumstance.  Therefore, sir, I believe that we must approach this day, logically and reasonably.”

            “That sounds logical to me,” Arnott interjected with some sarcasm aimed directly at the pompousness of his intellect. 

            “Well then, may I ask you, sir, the auditor that you will face today, is he evil?”

            “No,” Arnott said abruptly, “of course not.  He is known for His goodness, and love, and compassion.”

            “Then, is it reasonable to assume that he will devise evil against you?” Arnott’s intellect questioned.

            “Well, I suppose not.” Arnott answered.

            “Well then, answer me this, sir.  Is He reasoned?”

            “Certainly,” Arnott answered with confidence.  He is the author of reason.

            “Then, does it follow that he will be reasonable with you?” came the next question.

            “I would certainly assume so.” Arnott answered.

            “And what of you sir?  Let us consider you in the same cold, clear light of logic.  Have you defrauded anyone?”  Have you stolen?  Have you lied?  Have you harmed anyone, physically?”

            “No! of course not,” Arnott responded with some force in his voice.  Oh, I may have padded my expense account a bit and told a small lie here and there to make things go the way they needed to.  But, certainly I wouldn’t think any of those things amounted to very much.”

            “Well, there you have it from your own lips, sir.  In light of the facts presented, I can only logically conclude that any audit of your life by a good and reasoned being would only come to a positive conclusion for you.”

            “I suppose it would seem so,” Arnott confirmed.

            Now, literally exuding the pride which comes from being completely unaware of your limitations, Arnott’s intellect smiled, rose, and bowed low from the waist.  Rising, he said, as high sounding as ever, “Sir, I believe our matters are concluded.”

            With those words, the scene, once again, darkened; and John Arnott now found himself and his bench once again at the beginning of that now familiar dark hallway.  But even though his surroundings had suddenly changed again, Arnott remained, this time, somewhat immersed in his thoughts of what had just taken place. 

            Then, suddenly coming to some clarity, he said, “What’s wrong with me?  Something is just not right here.  I have had only positive reinforcement through this whole ordeal.  And yet, I am as nervous and unsure as ever.

            “There is just no reason for this.  There is absolutely no reason why I should not be confident.  So, that’s what I am going to be.  By all accounts, I have done life right.  So, I’m just going to believe in that - and be confident.”

            Arnott paused again immersed in his continuing thoughts for a long moment.  Then, unexplainably, out popped a deeply frustrated, “Ah man!” as he was driven as if by some unseen force to again to the idea of, “But, what if…”

            Emotionally exhausted and completely frustrated, John Arnott once again turned his attention to the long trek down that dark hall.  He wondered how long this process would go on.  Nevertheless, one more time, he started to move down the incline of that hallway. 

            As he move forward he thought, “John boy, at this point, you are little different than a dog jumping through hoops.”  Nevertheless, as before, he eventually found himself thrusting his hand, once again, into the darkness to achieve the now familiar result.  And, he was not disappointed.  The scene before him immediately illuminated but this time only slightly. 

            John Arnott now found himself looking across the expanse of what appeared to be a large, stone walled dungeon which had one small, flickering torch on its massive central post.  The only other feature of the room, itself were two massive door on the opposite wall. 

            Beneath the torch, at the base of the post, sitting flat down with has back against the post and his legs splayed straight out in front of him.  His posture screamed “I’m exhausted and I’m done.” But, the man, himself, uttered not one word.

            Arnott walked forward toward him.  But, by his third step, he became aware of the scathing stare of his counterpart.  It was as if his unblinking eyes were attempting to burn a hole in Arnott’s face.  It was extremely discomforting. 

            “Hello,” Arnott said, a bit intimidated by the look he was getting.  But, his counterpart said nothing.  He just stared in obvious contempt for Arnott.

            Now, Arnott realized that he needed to assume a different posture, entirely.  He said, “Have we got a problem, friend?”

            “Well, you might say that, Arnott’s other scowled.  If you call stupid a problem, then yeah, we have a very serious problem.  If you call thick headed, hard hearted, self-excusing, and egotistical a problem, then yeah, Mr. Arnott, we definitely have a problem.”

            Arnott’s face instantly turned to fire as he instinctively understood that all of those adjectives were aimed directly at him.  Before he thought, he blurted out, “Well, why don’t you just go to …” Arnott caught himself just before he finished, realizing that this was definitely not the day for that kind of reaction.  But before he could restate, his other continued.

            “You just don’t get it do you, Arnott!  Hell is exactly where I am going, thanks to you!”

            “Well that suites me just fine!” Arnott shot back.

            “You really don’t get it do you.  Don’t you know, even after all of this, that you are talking to yourself, you fool!  You have just wished hell on yourself!”

            “You may look like me, hot shot, but I don’t know you!” Arnott returned

            “You’ve got that right!” Arnott’s other shouted angrily.  “And do you know why you don’t know me?  It’s because you never gave yourself a chance to know me!”

            “What the devil are you talking about?!” Arnott yelled with peaked anger.

            “I’m your conscience, Arnott!” the other yelled back.

            Arnott paused briefly under the impact of what he heard.  “My conscience?” he said in a much lowered and questioning voice.

            “That’s right, your conscience,” Arnott’s other responded, also in a much lowered voice, but one which was thoroughly infused with a tone of deep disappointment.

            “Well, why are you so angry?” Arnott questioned.

            “Because you ...” He paused, obviously overwhelmed with deep emotions.  “Because you have absolutely refused to hear me all these years on the things that really matter.”

            “I’m listening now,” Arnott returned defensively.

            “Oh yeah.  That’s great.  Now, in the eleventh hour, when I can do nothing to help either of us, now you are listening.  Well, I’m afraid you’re just a wee bit too late, my friend.”

            “What do you mean, too late?” Arnott asked, suddenly feeling deep pangs of undefined fear beginning to well up inside him again.

            “John, in a few minutes...”  The voice of Arnott’s other broke and he lowered his head.  Arnott saw large tears dropping to the floor.  But eventually, Arnott’s counterpart started again, “John, in a few minutes, those doors will open and we will be drawn through them to experience the eternal death of Hell’s forever flames.”

            Arnott was instantly cut to the heart.  Instantly, he knew that he was now hearing the real truth that he had been only very vaguely aware of before.  His knees buckled; and he sank to the floor. 

            “Please, oh please no,” Arnott whispered as he leaned forward on his knees, doubled over by the burning emotional pain of what he had just heard.  “This just cannot be,” he groaned.

            Arnott’s conscience, now also completely broken emotionally, now moved to where John Arnott was.  He knelt down in front of Arnott; and they both wept for several minutes.  Finally, Arnott raised his head to again stare into the face of his conscience.  “But how...?  Why...?”  Arnott choked. 

            “I just couldn’t reach you, John.  I tried day after day.  But, those self-absorbed idiots would drown me out with their pleasant lies, and their easy way.  They would tell you what you wanted to hear.  They assured you that everything was OK.  So, you simply listened to them and all but entirely ignored me.”

            “What idiots?  Who are you talking about?”

            “Do you not know, even now?  It’s those fools that you met earlier, that puffed up ego of yours, and that treacherous false hope, and that know it all intellect who wouldn’t know real truth if it slapped him in the face.  Always, the true reality escapes those guys.  They serve only their own bellies. 

            “In their whole miserable existence, they never, for even one day, served your real interest, your enduring interests.  Their single concern was only ever their own gratification.  Every day, they but stroked you, to stroke themselves.  And as a result, we are all now become eternal victims.”

            “But, I thought they were helping me.”  Arnott pleaded. 

            “Well, I leave it to you, John.  Do you feel helped at this point?” his conscience countered.

            “You were the voice of my anxiety, weren’t you?” Arnott asked.

            “I was.  That was I calling to you, trying to warn you before it was too late.  Even today, when they were falsely encouraging you, as always, it was I who stirred you to be skeptical of their lies and treachery. 

            “But their desirable lies, as usual, spoke much louder to you than my demanding truth.  And, as usual, it was simply easier for you not to hear me.”

            Arnott lowered his head and began to sob again in the deepest anguish.  His conscience sat quietly, now simply helplessly observing. 

            Eventually, Arnott raised his head again.  “Conscience, you have a knowledge of the truth, is there any real hope at this point, any at all?”

            “Do you mean, to avert what awaits us beyond those doors?”

            “No, Arnott clarified, not to avert it.  I realize now, that is impossible.  But, can we somehow find a reprieve in the future?  Is there any hope of escape from the horror of those flames at any point in the future?” Arnott ask, in the most desperate tone.”

            “John, I don’t think it now serves any purpose to...”

            “Please, conscience, answer me.” Arnott pressed.

            “No John.  There is no such hope.  The only hope we ever had was to renew a truth based friendship with God through Jesus. 

            But instead of pursuing Him with your whole heart when you had opportunity, the idiots persuaded you to marginalize Him, and trust in yourself for direction and fulfillment in life.  Now, that opportunity is entirely past.  And, our fate is now forever sealed. 

            “There is no reprieve.  There is no clemency.  There is no appeal. There is no pardon of any kind available.  All opportunity is behind us.  We are now forever hopeless.”

            Arnott closed his eyes tight as these words sunk into his consciousness like sharp knives.  Tears squeezed from beneath his eyelids.  And now, the profound anguish of the moment simply took the form of quiet weeping. 

            Arnott’s conscience spoke again.  “John, with all my heart, I wish this could be different.  But, we are all measured carefully by God’s truth, against His real requirements for meaningful relationship.  And the lies of your self-concentric inner man do not alter those requirements in the least. 

            “Self esteem is fine, John; but we are not, at the end, measured by ourselves.  Hope is wonderful; but it must not become misplaced in our self and our own puny life schemes.  God gave us intellect as a tool to discover Him, not to devise ways to circumvent a friendship with Him. 

            Arnott was now completely doubled at the knees and waist.  He was rocking back and forth slightly, the involuntary motion of his profound sorrow and fear.  There was only a quiet waiting now, barely disturbed by the low whimpers of Arnott and his conscience as they hovered together on the floor.

            After a time, the door through which Arnott had entered the room opened again.  His ego, his intellect, and his hope entered the room without a word.  Once they were in, as before, the door disappeared. 

            Arnott and his conscience watched them move to one corner of the room and huddle together sheepishly there.  John Arnott noted the scowling look on the face of his conscience as he view the other three with obvious contempt. 

            “Conscience,” Arnott inquired, “what will happen to them?”

            “They will join us.  We are, after all, one.  For better or worse, we are one,” he said, with unmistakable disappointment in his voice.

            At that moment, the two large doors directly in front of Arnott and his conscience began to slowly open.  His conscience whispered in a low but desperately fearful voice, “It’s time.”

            Arnott began to weep with abandonment, as did all of his others.  Suddenly, thick rays of ultra-white light surged instantly into the room, grabbing Arnott and all of his inner facets.  It withdrew them from the room as instantly as it had come.  Then, slowly the doors closed again and the scene, for a moment, stood empty and quiet.   Then the room slowly darkened again.


            In the waiting room, David Hart was nervously waiting for his own name to be called.  He had, by now, understood that the closest one to the door of the inner office would be the next one called.  He was struck by how very real and touchable everything was.  He hadn’t really expected that.

            Betty Sweeney had just gone through the door to the inner office as Bob Hamiter entered the waiting room and seated himself to David’s left.  Various thoughts were flowing through David’s mind, “I wonder what’s waiting for me on the other side of that door?  I just wish I knew more about what’s going on here...”

The End