By Clay Howard | 2018
He had never doubted there was a purpose for life though never eager to conclude what it was. Such conclusions seemed premature and vain, farbeyond what he, or any human, could possibly imagine.
Religions seemed more a matter of desperation than of resolution. So, he was very much content to let his little life transpire as it would: and, perhaps, bits of fact would reveal themselves along the way.
As casual and peaceful as he was there always lingered a feeling of anticipation, a voice, a faint vision of something or someone waiting for him. It was a strange sense of need. He was needed. Yet, he also needed it and did not know why.
Abin considered himself to be average in every way. His only real ambition was to live honorably and be a good man. To this, he succeeded and failed to his own measure.
Abin did not pray. It seemed absurd to attempt to tell the unknown and unknowable what It already knew, what to do or what he wanted to happen. He did take a moment in each day to thank whatever forces of nature and life for his blessings. He routinely sat quietly in the silence of his own solitude, looked into the darkness with his curious mind, exploring what might be there beyond his mortality.
Long ago, he had come to grips with fear. Fear of the unknown is to fear life itself…as life is, most certainly, an unknown mystery; a mystery of what it really is, why it is and in the manner that it is. So, his inner ventures into the darkness were as fearless and innocent as the purest of children; yet, somehow, he felt a magnificent strength and wisdom that armored him from whatever evils or dangers might linger in the darkness.
Such is the total of Abin, a simple man.
It was a good day. Winter had come to an end and fresh green rose from the earth in trees and grasses. Early blossoms dotted the landscape with yellows, violets and reds. Birds sang their luring calls. Frogs overwhelmed the nights’ silence in a grand chorus of tenors, baritones and base.
Abin always looked forward to the spring planting. The scent of freshly turned sod, finally giving the seeds a home in the soil, were special as if he was intimately participating in the cycles of life. To Abin, a simple seed was a miracle, a great mystery, as it would soon become a plant baring fruits and seedlings for its’ own posterity.
He often felt a bit silly talking to each seed as he placed it into the soil, encouraging it to have “a wonderful moment and do well”. He joked that some listened and some did not. From this, he compared himself and all humans as some listened and some did not. And, the proof is in the baring.
On this day, as he worked his garden, a gathering of neighbors were heard down the lane. As one man was passing bye Abin asked what event was creating the gathering. “It is Ms. Dora”, the neighbor replied. “She is in her final moments”, was his only comment as he hurried along.
Abin had heard of Ms. Dora but never knew her. In reflection, he realized he had never taken time, nor made the effort, to know her.
He set aside his task in the garden and followed the neighbor down the lane. It was a good distance to the cottage where Ms. Dora lived. Others were walking and talking about this woman of interest….all with a somber and loving manner.
His thoughts were in doubt of himself as he walked in unison, in orderly haste, with the growing number from the surrounding neighborhoods. Who was this lady? Why are so many responding to this moment? Why had he not known her or been more aware of her, as others were? He had good acquaintance with a great number across the countryside while, somehow, never meeting Ms. Dora.
As he entered the small but beautiful courtyard of the quaint cottage it captured his attention with its’ random, yet orderly, ambiance. Varieties of roses, ferns, lilies, ivy and precise courses of stone made for a serene moment, inviting one to the door of this beloved woman.
Folks of all ages and manners stood about in small groups, speaking quietly. Each comment was of how Ms. Dora had helped them or done some deed for others; and, in all this, not one mentioned her need for thanks or notoriety or compensation.
The door was open. The need to enter compelled him to do so. As he stepped inside his breathing was short. His heart beat loudly. The room was so simple it was beautiful. Indoor plants were healthy and vibrant as they rested on the window sills, trimmed in drawn curtains. Old oak chairs surrounded a simple round table. The fireplace held last winters’ final ashes and on the mantle were simple framed photos.
To the far side of the mantel a photo of a young woman, in black and white, captured his attention. He knew it was of Ms. Dora. The round face was framed with meticulously groomed dark hair. The eyes were direct and gentle. Her lips were flush and a bit pouting while high cheek bones girded hypnotic and luring eyes.
A chill came over him as he stared at the photo. Had he known her before? What is it that affects him so? A silent voice called to him to enter the presence of this woman. He questioned this voice. Is it his own imagining or is it real? And, as he struggled with his uncertainty he found himself entering the bedroom where Ms. Dora lay.
Within this small room were a number of people. There was a priest and three ministers and one elderly lady who must have been a friend or family member.
Ms. Dora had been in an apparent coma and spoken to no-one for some time. All those present looked at Abin as he shyly entered the room and with the looks of those who questioned the reason or authority of his presence. “Sorry”, Abin said to all. “I’m Ms. Doras’ neighbor and not a good one I must admit. Please allow me a moment.” He stood by her bed and looked down upon the elderly form. Her silver hair was combed back and framed a face of conflicting features. It was a face of time and troubles, of love and adversity. The lines and crevices told of tales only tellable by the one who traveled them. Her hands rested atop the immaculate sheets. They were strong hands painted with raised blue veins and delicately textured wrinkles.
With all this, a complexion of amber and light served to preserve the youthful life that had lived, and remained, within this diminishing flesh. How adorable she was!
He wept quietly, remorsefully, that he had not foreknown this person.
Should he dare to touch her? Everything within him told him to touch her hand….to tell her it is all well and he has been in her presence. The soil from his gardening was on this hand as he took hold of hers. Her hand was warm and soft as his hand was warm and callused. And, as he held her hand he closed his eyes and looked into the darkness only to find it full of light. Within this light came a fair and cheerful lady, Ms. Dora.
She moved directly to him and embraced him with total love that immersed his body and mind with something he could not put words to, as it was beyond words. She then put her mouth to his ear and exhaled a breath that bathed his soul with something that felt as though he was nothing but light and at a peace that could not be of measure.
He then opened his eyes as his lungs regained their ability to breath and looked directly into the now open eyes of Ms. Dora. She looked into him with a delighted smile. “I have been waiting for you”, she spoke gently and with a tone of joy. Abin replied in a chokened voice, “I have been waiting for you too”.
For a long moment they looked into each other as though a long awaited reunion of two grand friends. She then closed her eyes, took one last breath and ended her time.
How does one contend with the unknown and unknowable; especially when it comes to you directly, stabs itself into your very soul in a simple, severe and immeasurably loving manner? Is it ignorable? No person can answer that until confronted with it. And, how is one to conduct his or her view of life, the miracle that it is, and carry- on with each day in a fitting manner?
As for Abin, he quietly excused himself from a room of speechless people, attended the last rights of this good woman and returned to his small farm with its’ gardens and flowers and chickens and cozy cottage.
To those around him, there was the usual quiet and affable man. But, there was another happening within Abin and, perhaps, in a world parallel to that of our common awareness. In his quiet moments of solitude, when he sat silent and looked into the darkness, this darkness was now full of light. At first, it was a pale green and moved about in slow waves like a calm sea with gentle currents moving randomly. And, he could hear, from within himself, the gentle waves of water crawling methodically over some beach of sand, far away.
For many mornings he sat quietly, before the dawning, and found a peaceful solace in his inner visits to this ‘invention of his mind’. Abin was most certain this event was something his whimsical mind and brain had created. “Surely”, he thought, “this is my own creation, one to mellow me.” Mellow him it did. He felt so at peace with all matters of the day.
As the spring and summer passed, autumn adorned the forests with a rainbow of colors and he gathered the summers’ harvest he often found himself pausing and looking at the world around him and quietly sobbing. Nothing seemed wrong or amiss. He felt no sadness; yet, a tender melancholy was his constant companion, like a shadow that did not need light to reveal itself.
In the evenings, as he had tea and watched the sunset, his methodic mind focused upon his own nature and the ever-present sweetness of his melancholy. “Yes”, he concluded, “it is a melancholy, a strange and peaceful sadness that seems inescapably loving. Yet, it is a love unlike I could have imagined and it stretches my emotions and feelings as far as they can reach, and more.” And, as he considered the word ‘love’ he realized how casually and carelessly he and most humans use the word without ever attempting to understand the great mystery of love in its’ most pure form. And, he began to comprehend that love is not one thing. It is a great immersion of many, if not all, things that a conscious life could know and feel.
Rumors have a way of moving fast and being transformed into many varieties that become small and dismissed or exaggerated and embraced. Such was the day of Abins’ last and only moment in the presence of Ms. Dora. Unknown to Abin he had become somewhat of a celebrity, somewhat of a silly man who smelled bad, who intruded on the last moments of a dear woman, a saint who awakened a soul to speak when there was no hope for speech, a man who made a dying woman smile just by his presence. And, for some, he was one who knew things of the spirit and God but would not tell. A man of quiet secrets was the view of many.
At first it was a bit annoying when a greater number of neighbors would come bye just to visit. Sometimes they stayed late, as the winter was chilling and Abin always had a warm fire. It eventually became something he welcomed as it made him feel useful to befriend those who took time for his company. But it seemed it was more of a ‘social’ where folks would gather to talk to each other about all matters of life and crops and weather…and wait to see if Abin had any comment.
But Abin was a man of few words. Long conversations seemed fluffy and full of air, to Abin. It as simply Abins’ way. So, he sat by the fire and smoked his pipe and listened. If it came time for the chores he would do the chores. When it came time for a meal he would eat. When it came time for a nights’ sleep he would retire to his room and the last visitor would turn out the lights and shut the door.
It pleased Abin to see good people gathered and comfortable in his simple home while he disappeared to manage his evening tasks. “Folks would not miss his presence”…so he thought.
Abins’ way was to be helpful to others when they needed help; and, to not impose himself when not needed. He relied upon his own inner voice to know the difference.
There was always adversity. Neighbors fell ill, struggled to plant or salvage crops, a broken leg makes it difficult to manage daily chores, emotions and conflicts within families and between neighbors, roofs needed mended or there would be the elderly without enough wood to weather the winter. It was Abins’ way to labor when labor was needed, to join in salvaging the moment, to sit through the nights with those who were ill, to give simple counsel to the young and old when asked; and, this was for no reason or motive other than the right thing to do, in the mind of Abin.
As many years passed, the gatherings at Abins’ home grew in numbers. Folks would come and go at leisure. Time had taken its’ toll on this hardy, roughed and quiet man. The years had been good and laborious and hard and gentle in their natural ways. He had seen many folks come into the world and many leave it. He had seen and endured seasons full of bounty and those hard and lean. And, through this time he had never forsaken the inner peace offered beyond his mortality. It was a peace others could sense and feel from him; and, perhaps, that was what drew them to him and the gatherings of casual conversation in his simple home.
Laura loved to visit her grandmother. This particular visit was most needed. Laura had found herself in a state of aimlessness. Something was missing and she did not know what it was. Laura was a gifted woman, attractive, intelligent and charming. Life had done her well in wealth and profession. She knew she was blessed and grateful but what was it that left her feeling so empty? As she sat with her grandmother on this fine evening, swinging of the porch swing, she confided this to the attentive elderly woman. “It’s a big world out there, grandmother. It is also a troubled world. People just don’t seem to know what to do with themselves and I’m one of them. Sometimes I just want to go out and fix it; but, then, I realize it’s impossible”.
The grandmother listened and smiled and put her arm around her beloved granddaughter. “No, we can’t change the whole world, my dear”, she began. “Each of us has a world of our own, however. How big is your world, the one you live in, the people you know and work with and meet in your daily life? That’s the world you can do something about and it’s simply done by what you are in yourself and to others. If you do just that one thing you will help make a better world”.
Laura looked back into her elders eyes. “You are so right and so wise. How did you get that way out here?” Grandmother smiled as she looked down the road, across the meadows and focused upon a small cottage in the distance. “There is a man I wish you could have met and talked to. He is dying and has not spoken for some time. Perhaps you can walk with me in the morning and we will pass bye his home.”
When morning came the two took down the road. Laura always enjoyed the countryside as it gave her a sense of calm she could not get elsewhere. And, to be up early and walking with her grandmother was special.
They soon approached the cottage of the man her grandmother mentioned the night before and the yard was full of people from throughout the countryside. All were speaking quietly and in small groups. Grandmother asked “Is he about to pass-on or what is happening?” An old friend and neighbor came to her. “Abin is in a bad way and we all know it’s his time”, he whispered.
The two kept talking as Laura wondered closer to the rose garden in front of the cottage. She felt a melancholy serenity surrounding her as she touched the roses and lilies and admired the ivy and neatly arranged stonework and stone walkway to the porch. The door was open and she tip-toed in and admired how tasteful and simple and cozy the cottage was. A pipe rested on the mantle of the fireplace with a framed picture of a young man sitting against a gnarly tree. He was simply dressed with a hat and was most pleasant and ruggedly handsome. “This must be Mr. Abin” she thought out loud. “I can’t help but think I have seen him somewhere before”. The eyes in the picture were so familiar and the more she looked at them the more she felt an overwhelming need to go to the room where he lay. It was a sense of urgency and she did not know why such a feeling would overcome her.
The door was open and a few people were standing around the room. One was a physician. Two held their holy books and one must have been a friend or one of the family. “Excuse me”, Laura spoke quietly. “I am Laura and visiting my grandmother who is a neighbor of Mr. Abin. I can’t explain it but I need to stand by him for a moment.” She slid past the others as she spoke and looked down at the elder man. The rugged face told of a lifetime of labor, of ventures and struggles only the one who lived them could tell; yet, there was also an amber glow of youth, steadfast, in this diminishing body. His hands lay on top of immaculate sheets, rugged hands with blue veins, strong but gentle hands.
Abin had not spoken or been conscious for some time but he seemed to be resting peacefully with a slight smile that was trained by a lifetime habit of smiling.
Laura took his callused, warm hand with her soft, warm hand and closed her eyes to pray into the darkness. As she did so, there was only light…a soft white light within and around her. A man approached her. It was Mr. Abin. He held her in a most loving way and her body and mind felt a love she could not have words for. He put his mouth near her ear and blew a warm flow of life into her and she, for the first time, felt a real soul within her, a life-flow full of color and sound and peace.
She opened her eyes and looked down at the open eyes of Abin. With the soft sound of joy he said “I’ve been waiting for you”. In a broken voice she replied “I’ve been waiting for you too.” They simply looked silently into each other for a long moment as though two old friends had met and were absorbing the delight of the moment. Abin closed his eyes, took one last breath and ended his time.
Copyrighted 2018 | Clay Howard