Make Me a Channel of Your PeacebyNephylim©
"To some death comes as an Angel of Mercy, to release them from suffering, to ease them into the last long sleep. Often, after illness it is said that death comes as 'a blessing'. But, in the end death always comes as a thief in the night; unexpected, unwanted, unwelcomed."
The minister looked out over the sea of faces. The Chapel of Rest was full to bursting and, raising his eyes further he could see that out in the courtyard there were more huddled figures, despite the fine rain that had been falling all morning, the kind of rain that settles in a soft mist and seeps through to your very soul. This man must have been popular. He hadn't known him, not at all. There had been a time when he had known them all, at least by reputation if not personally, but the town had grown out of the village and now... He sighed before pressing on.
"We gather together as Christian people in the sure and certain knowledge that, to us death is not an ending but a resting place along the way."
Something outside in the enclosed courtyard caught his eye. In the middle of all the huddled figures, wrapped in their winter coats, dark as crows there was... there was... someone. It was as though the crowd huddled deliberately around the edges of the courtyard, giving this one person a wide berth, as though they were sending a message, shutting him out. He stood, candle straight, eyes and chin lifted almost in challenge. For a moment the words failed him as he caught a look of... of...
"David, 'Dai' Davies was a strong and silent man. He was protective of his family, a real family man." Again he faltered as something about that figure caught and held his attention, making him feel somehow uncomfortable. He was too far away for him to be able to see anything other than that it was a man, a tall man in dark trousers and white shirt... nothing unusual there at a funeral. But this man was unusual. He was unusual in that he had long dark hair, flowing loose around his shoulders, misted by the rain. He was unusual in the look on his face, which was not sorrowing but angry. He was unusual because of the way he seemed to wrap silence around himself, pushing everyone else away.
"David was a loving father to his children Emma, Jonathan and Kate, an attentive husband to his wife Lorna who sadly went before him leaving him to raise the children alone. He was a pillar of the community, always there with a helping hand for any who had need of it. He was a big man, a giant of a man but a gentle giant, a kind and loving man." Why are some of the congregation shifting in their seats? Did he catch the odd uncomfortable look? This was strange.
"Although he was not regularly amongst the congregation at the chapel he was a chapel man at heart. His father was a minister and he was brought up in the ways of the chapel. As a boy..." He droned on, letting the words flow from his lips, words he had spoken in the same or similar form at services such as this for more than thirty years.
This time there was something different, and it had something to do with that figure in the garden. He didn't even have a coat. Alright, it was early September and it wasn't that cold, but there was a biting wind and that rain was chilling. He was standing so straight, so still. It was unnerving, spooky even.
He let his eyes fall to the congregation. At the back the faces were as they always were, solemn, sad, some dabbing their eyes, all attentive, all focussed. But at the front the faces looked... different, almost as though they were embarrassed as well as sorrowing.
"Let us stand and sing hymn no 3 in your hymn books...
The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want;
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; He leadeth me
The quiet waters by.
My soul He doth restore again,
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
E'en for His own name's sake.
Yea, though I walk in death's dark vale,
Yet will I fear no ill;
For Thou art with me, and Thy rod
And staff my comfort still.
My table Thou hast furnished me
In presence of my foes;
My head Thou dost with oil anoint,
And my cup overflows.
Goodness and mercy all my life
Shall surely follow me;
And in God's house forevermore,
My dwelling place shall be.
The minister enjoyed singing and usually it gave him a lot of pleasure to let go and hear the voices, mostly timorous to be sure but occasionally, given the setting in the sleepy Welsh Valley, there would be a swell as members of this choir or that would take up the harmony and the room would pulse with the music. That did not happen today, although there were some fine tenors out there, but something equally extraordinary did.
Almost as soon as the organ laid down the first note, a voice picked it up. It was a male voice but sweet and pure, polished in its presentation, absolutely true in pitch and tone. He almost faltered himself and he noticed that some of the close family, at the very front, froze at the sound of it. No one looked around. No one turned their heads or even glanced at each other, but they all heard and it hit something in them because they closed down, drew slightly closer together, ignored the voice, ignored whatever it was that it evoked for them... or at least tried to.
It was not so easy, with all the people, the strong voices, the melodious tunefulness to pick out one person, to identify to whom the voice belonged but he didn't have to because he knew.
They hadn't believed that he would actually go through with it. It had only been by chance that he had found out at all. There was no way that any of those bastards would have told him. The last thing they wanted was to have him there, a reminder of the fact that their perfect little family was not so perfect after all.
He wouldn't let anyone go with him, although they had all offered, some had begged. They'd gone anyway, of course, at least Adin and Sarah had, a deputation if you please. They lurked in the crowd, huddling in dark shapeless coats, hiding.
The scent of flowers was overpowering. There were so many. For some reason they hadn't expected there to be so many. Wreathes lined the path leading into the courtyard outside the small Chapel of Rest. People were spilling onto the road outside and they had to squeeze through steaming, damp bodies to get in. Lucky they were both small.
Keeping to the edges they worked their way around to the back of the courtyard, where they could see... everything. They could see through the door into the chapel. They could see the coffin, surmounted by a huge teardrop shaped wreath of white flowers. They could see the heads of the people... down at the front that would be 'them'... the family. Emma would be made up to the nines in high heels and hiding behind a mask. She would probably have some man or other with her, giving her his arm and his body. Jonathan would be distinctly uncomfortable because he knew... he'd always known... and Katie... well Katie didn't even believe... she'd never seen.
Their grandmother would be there, like a mother hen... shooing them all before her, clucking around them, broking no argument, allowing no word of disquiet... no room for acknowledging the truth.
They could see all that and, of course they could see Luke.
They really hadn't expected him to come. He was so stubborn; always so stubborn. He had taken it into his head to go through with this madness and no one had the remotest chance of talking him out of it. That was probably why he had insisted on coming alone. Not that they would ever have allowed that.
He was standing in the middle of the courtyard, oblivious to everyone. Sometimes his eyes fixed on the coffin and sometimes they rose to the mountain above the chapel. When he did that it seemed to his watching friends that he was frail, although he stood tall and strong, as if he were about to bend like a reed in the wind... bend and break.
Adin ached to go to him, to put his arms around him, to be there for him. Everyone else had someone to hold on to but he knew that it would be the worse thing he could do. Luke needed to do this on his own, besides it would not be wise... given the circumstances.
He hated the way that everyone was avoiding Luke. He had as much right as anyone to be here; more than most. It almost broke his heart when they sang... when he sang. Luke was a singer, he had always been a singer; even though he wasn't professional, he could have been. Maybe if none of this had happened... Yeah... maybe. Luke could have done anything he wanted.
Today he was just standing.
After the hymn they said The Lord's Prayer... well at least they did. Luke didn't and neither did Adin or Sarah. Luke had given up on religion a long time ago... after it had given up on him.
Frankly, Adin and Sarah were worried about Luke, all of his many friends were. He had been so silent since he had found out, so silent and withdrawn. He was never the most gregarious person but these last few days he was simply not there.
And he was not there now. He was present in body but it was easy to see that mentally he was far away and they could guess exactly where he was. It was not a good place.
Gradually the service wore on and came to an end. Luke was looking up again. His eyes were over the roof of the chapel, up among the mountains. Following, Adin was surprised to see the shape of a bird circling above. It was too far away to see exactly what it was but it looked like a crow.
When people began to file out of the chapel Adin unconsciously moved closer to Luke, no longer caring if he saw them. Jonathan came to the door. Adin saw him stiffen when he saw Luke. For a moment he looked as if he was going to come over, to say something, but Emma was right behind and she pushed him out of the way, refusing even to look in Luke's direction. Katie followed her lead and the look that grandma hen sent over was openly hostile.
The looks and whispered comments continued until both the chapel and the courtyard were empty. Luke remained immobile, staring, absent.
The minister was the last to leave. He stood in the doorway looking at Luke, a strange expression on his face. Someone called him but he ignored them. He walked slowly over to Luke and put a hand on his shoulder. Luke's eyes snapped to him but he said nothing, his face impassive.
"Are you alright son? You look... Did you know the deceased?"
Adin could not see Luke's face, but he knew that it would be showing his emotions clearly. He had such expressive eyes and they would be registering pain, confusion, sorrow, anger... all of them clear to see. The minister looked a little stunned and Adin smiled, moving forwards.
The minister deliberately hung back at the end of the service. For the life of him he couldn't have said why although, of course he knew. Curiosity had always been something of a fault and he was more than curious about this situation.
The man was still in the yard, unmoved, unmoving. Almost everyone else had gone. There were only two people left and, by the looks on their faces, they knew him. Close to, he could see that the man was younger than he had thought, little more than a boy. The minister watched him for a moment. His face was rapt, staring over the chapel to the mountains beyond. Emotions were flying across his face, chasing each other through his eyes.
The minister had seen the family stall in the doorway, the older woman hustling them away. They knew him too. Who was he? Curioser and curioser. He couldn't help but to be drawn to this boy who seemed to wrap himself in a shroud of silence and loss, but there was something... something that told him that his grief was different to the rest.
He couldn't stand in the doorway forever and he took a step forwards. The closer he got the more he could sense the pain, it was overwhelming. The boy was handsome, more than handsome. Some might call him beautiful and there was a sense of familiarity. Ah yes... he had the look of this family about him. A relative then; and not a popular one by the look of it. What had he done, this beautiful boy, to turn his family so badly against him?
The dark blue eyes flickered and, for a moment the minister thought he was going to faint. He put a steadying hand on his shoulder and the boy brought the full force of his gaze onto him. It made him shiver; not only because the eyes were wide and beautiful, a curious shade of dark blue, ringed with black, but also because of the expressions they held, one after another -- anger, fear, pain and sorrow and, over it all a deep confusion.
The two people who had remained, lurking he thought with an inner smile, stepped forward protectively. They were young too, his friends perhaps. One of them, a boy, put his hand comfortingly on his arm and his eyes; which had been locked with the minister's, filled with something that was almost challenge, almost anger, and, shockingly almost condemnation; widened slightly. The minister could feel it too, the tremors, through his hand. The boy must have been frozen. He was shivering so hard.
"Luke." Then louder. "Luke." The girl closed ranks on the other side. The boy -- Luke, turned his head stiffly, looking deeply confused.
"I thought I told you not to come." The voice matched the rest of him. It was soft, musical, beautiful. His was the voice heard during the ceremony.
"You have a very beautiful voice." The words just slipped out as he thought them, making him feel foolish and embarrassed. Luke looked at him, his eyes blank, and said nothing.
"Come on mate... let's get you home. You've had enough."
"No. I'm going to the 'crem'."
"Luke, you're crazy. Don't do this to yourself." The anguish in his voice was genuine making the minister's curiosity rise a few notches. Luke shook his head stubbornly.
"And how do you think you are going to get there?"
"You're not driving anywhere in that state."
"Watch me." He shook himself free of all the hands and took a step toward the gate, but then he swayed and would have fallen if his friend had not anticipated his move and remained glued to his side. A good friend then.
"Luke, this is madness. You're going to make yourself ill. Why torture yourself? You're not thinking they have miraculously changed, will welcome you back with open arms? Not even you are that insane."
Luke didn't respond. He tried to take another step, swayed again and sank to his knees, his head bowed, his body wracked with silent sobs. He looked somehow defeated. Instantly both of his friends were kneeling beside him, wrapping him in their arms, ignoring the rain, the puddles, everything but their friend's distress. The minister felt that he should do something, say something, but there was something about the little tableau that was intensely personal.
As he walked past, Luke rested his head on his friend's shoulder and whispered. "Take me. Please." The boy nodded and tightened his arms. "You know I will."
"Minister!!" He looked up in surprised at the sharpness of tone in the voice that hailed him from the gate. It was the older woman, the one he had nicknamed 'Mother Hen'. She had taken time off from clucking around her brood to glare at him. Her eyes flicked to the little group in the courtyard and back to his. They were hard, glinting steel and her mouth was set in a severe line.
"You're holding everything up."
"I have a duty to ALL my congregation, Mrs Davies. If things are held up for a few minutes so that someone in deep pain can be comforted, then so be it."
She snorted. "Deep pain." She sneered again, flicking her eyes to where Luke was climbing to his feet supported by his friends. "Don't be fooled by that one. He has the face of an angel and the heart of a demon. He's devil's spawn. I doubt he would know an honest feeling if it slapped him in the face."
The minister thought of the emotions that had passed through the expressive blue eyes. He had no doubt at all that each and every one of them was genuine. His curiosity began to get the better of him.
"Who is he?"
"Trouble, Minister, that's what he is, pure trouble. Now come on everyone is waiting."
As he turned away he looked back one more time and met Luke's eyes. There was raw pain there. Had he heard what she'd said?
Adin watched Luke in the driving mirror. He had wanted to sit in the back with him and let Sarah drive but Luke was in no mood for company. He hadn't been for days. Adin couldn't remember the last time he had seen him smile... it certainly hadn't been since he'd had the news. He hadn't slept since then either and barely ate, or spoke.
When they had first got to know him Luke had carried a shadow in his heart, a darkness that seeped into everything he did. It had hurt him, torn him, eaten away at him from the inside out. It had damn near killed him. It had taken a lot of support from a lot of very good friends to chase that shadow away, not that it had ever completely left him but at least enough to allow him to have a more or less normal life. Now it was back and it was darker than ever. The old look was there in his eyes, the bleakness that spoke of wounds so deep they went right through to the soul. Adin could not bear to look into his eyes these days, even though they were so...
"Are you okay bro?"
Luke didn't answer. Adin doubted he even heard. He was staring out of the window into the rain which was now falling steadily. He was lost, far away and completely lost. Adin shivered. Last time he had been forced to stand by and watch the best friend he ever had almost completely destroy himself, spiritually, mentally and ultimately physically and he was not about to do it again.
A light touch on his hand, where it rested on the gear stick, made him jump. Sarah was looking at him, smiling gently. She'd been there. She'd always been there. A wave of love and gratitude so strong it almost took his breath away swept over him. Petite and blonde with powder blue eyes Sarah looked like a porcelain doll but she was much, much stronger than that. Sometimes Adin wondered whether any of them would have made it through the dark times without her strength and, even more than that, her perspective.
"It'll be alright. He needs to do this. It isn't a bad thing Adin. It's hard but it will be healing in the end."
He looked into the mirror again. Luke had closed his eyes, leaning his head back. Perhaps he was asleep. He looked open and vulnerable and it made Adin's heart constrict. Not a bad thing? Perhaps, but not a good thing either.
"I'm scared Sarah." He kept his voice low. "The last time he was like this we almost lost him."
"Yes, we did. But he's stronger now. It was all very raw then, he had no self esteem, he thought no one cared about him... he didn't care about anyone, least of all himself. Last time he had nothing to live for... this time he has us."
"Yeah." He said it without conviction, logic pulling in one direction and gut wrenching fear in the other. "I still think it was a stupid idea to come here. He's spent six years trying to recover from the rejection and now he's putting his neck on the line to be rejected all over again."
He looked up again, into the mirror. Luke hadn't moved, he certainly seemed to be asleep now. He was exhausted. He looked it and yet... he was still as close to perfect as anyone Adin had ever seen.
"He's been going down for a while Sarah. He's been having those dreams again, screaming in the night. He... he's switching off and there's nothing I can do to reach him. From the day he heard about the funeral it's got worse. It's as if... as if something inside him that was slowly coming back to life died again that day."
Sarah squeezed his hand and he glanced over at her warm smile. "It'll be alright Adin. It's just brought everything up again, that's all. Now that it's over, truly over he can start to heal properly. We're all here for him, for both of you."