In the Silence

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CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

By the tenth day following the funeral Marcea had hoped David would have paid a visit, at least to see Danny. When she had hugged David before the funeral, his weight loss was obvious, but even beyond that — David seemed like a completely different person, and very remote. She thought that David probably had a new girlfriend, someone he'd gotten himself into shape for, and she admitted to feeling jealous.

After lunch the children were napping at the day care. Mary, Bill and the Sisters had everything under control so Marcea decided to go for a drive in her new sport sedan. It was a beautiful June afternoon and before she had given it a second thought, she was turning on the left blinker and heading into the monastery entrance. At the end of a long narrow road Marcea pulled into the gravel parking lot, then immediately made a U-turn. I can't stop. I should have called first. David's probably not even here. I bet he left without even letting anyone know. Probably had to get back home to his new girlfriend. But he should have come by for Danny's sake.

Marcea drove almost seven more miles, way past the monastery. With the convertible top down the warm air felt good blowing through her long brown hair. A white haired distinguished looking gentleman caught a glance of her tanned legs as she got out of the car to buy a diet soda at a country store. He offered her a smile, some small talk and his business card, saying he owned the largest winery in Napa Valley. Pulling out of the parking lot, Marcea put her sunglasses back on and started back. The drive in the country was a well-deserved break and the innocent flirting had felt good.

As she passed by the driveway to the monastery again, she noticed a man without a shirt on working on the fence way across a field. That can't be David. Slowing down she pulled over and lifted her sunglasses. That guy's too slender and muscular to be David. Marcea took her foot off the brake and accelerated down the road. Maybe that was David. I should go back. No, I know he must be gone.

Less than a mile down the road Marcea's curiosity had her turning back around. Parking on the opposite side of the road she got out and walked about a hundred yards down the monastery driveway, stopped and from that distance watched the person digging a post hole. He was well tanned and in good shape. Each time he'd thrust the post hole digger into the ground, his back would flex, and as he pulled it back out the blue jeans would tighten around his small firm hips and powerful thighs. That's not David. Marcea turned and started back toward her car.

"Marcea!"

Marcea looked back. David was jogging across the field toward her while pulling a white cotton tee shirt over his sweaty chest. As David approached, he pulled off his work gloves and extended his work hardened hand. "What are you doing way out here?"

"Oh, I was just out for a drive. I heard you were working out here, so I stopped."

"I'm sorry that I didn't talk to you after the funeral. It's just there is so much I want to say and tell you, but somehow can't." David let loose of Marcea's hand.

"David, did it have to do with those men that. . . ah. . . that came to the house?"

David looked away. "Yes. I can't talk about it."

"David, are you sure? Remember, how we always talked about everything?

"Marcea, I'm sorry. I never want to talk about it."

"Okay," replied Marcea, puzzled.

"Is that your new car?" David was eager to change the subject.

"Yes. Would you like to go for a drive?"

"Maybe another time. They're giving me room and board to help out around here. I'd better not abuse my stay."

"Are you sure? How about just a short drive? Let me buy you a beer or something at the store just up the road." Marcea pulled on David's hand to lead him toward her car.

David yanked away. "No! I can't, Marcea."

"Okay." Marcea stared at David, trying to get him to look straight at her. "You've lost weight."

"It must be your cooking I miss," chided David, still nervously looking off into the distance. "But really, I was working out and even getting in a game of racquetball now and then. Staying here, I don't have to worry about putting back on any weight with the food they serve. And I run every morning when the monks get up."

"Well, whatever David, you look great."

"Thanks Marcea. So do you."

"Danny would really like to see you."

A somber expression came to David's face. "Tell Danny I think of him all the time and I hope to come and visit him."

"Do you know when? He keeps asking about you."

"Hasn't he gotten the letters I've sent"

"Yes, but that's not the same to a ten-year-old boy."

"Danny's ten now?"

"Yes you missed his birthday, it was last month."

David paused, looked squarely at Marcea and said, "I'm sorry. Please tell Danny how sorry I am. And explain to him its going to be a while before I come by. I don't even have a car. But more important, I've got to first get some things sorted out. I'm going to have to start a new life and move on." David paused when he saw a blank look come to Marcea's face. "That's enough about me. Bill tells me you got your own apartment now, and that you're dating a prominent businessman."

"Oh, you mean Tony. We're just friends," Marcea said, surprised David knew this.

"I just hope he treats you better than I did. And I'm very happy for you." David's tone was sincere.

"Well I'd better go," said Marcea feeling somewhat uneasy. Walking back toward her car she kept going over David's demeanor and evasiveness. Start a new life for himself. What does that mean? I'm not good enough for him? Then he tells me he happy for me that I'm dating someone else. He's just being a jerk. I hope he never comes to see me. But it's not fair to Danny. I bet he's jealous . . . Maybe he hates me. Maybe there is someone . . .

Marcea got in her car pulled across the road to turn around in the driveway, and waved at David over the top of the windshield. Her smile looked genuine but he couldn't see the tears already forming behind her sunglasses.

David watched the car fade out of sight, then slowly walked down the long driveway to the monastery and went directly to his room. He opened the closet, took his gymbag off the shelf, opened it, dug around in the cash and felt for the plastic case.

Back at the edge of the field David threw the video tape down the three-foot post hole he had just dug. He then picked up a post and started ramming it down the hole, breaking the tape into pieces. David mixed up a bag of concrete and poured it around the post and over the tape. He got down on his knees and finished packing and sealing the concrete around the base of the post. Picking up a small stick David wrote six letters into the wet concrete before standing up and leaving.

A month went by and David had yet to leave the monastery except for on Sundays when he rode up to Davis with Monsignor Grant to listen to him say mass. This small mission church had been the starting post for Paul; now it was David who was there listening to every word. It was becoming a ritual — Monsignor Grant would pick up David, then after church they'd go out for brunch, drink coffee and talk.

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By the middle of summer David was still earning his room and board at the monastery. Before noon the temperature was already ninety-five degrees and David had just finished pruning trees when he went to find some twine to tie back the branches. While he was hunting around in one of the storage sheds, he came across an old bike. All day he'd been craving an ice cold beer and this was his ticket. David dug out the bike, found the tires to be full, so wheeled it out into the sunlight. The old green ten speed still looked good. Even the chrome fenders were still shinny, flashing the sun back into his eyes as he threw his leg over the seat.

It took David almost forty minutes to make it to the store seven miles away and the temperature had just pushed the triple digit mark. Leaning the bike against the side of the store, David went in, walked straight back to the beer coolers, slid open the glass door and stood in the refreshing blast of cool air. Grabbing an ice-cold quart bottle of beer, David held it up against his sweaty neck as he walked to the counter to pay. Outside, he found some shade under a tree, sat, leaned back against the trunk, twisted the cap off and took a big drink. "Aah!" David said as the good cold beer went down his dry throat. Taking another big swig, David closed his eyes then rested the cold bottle against his chest. I'd almost forgotten how good a beer tasted.

Exhausted from the ride and the hot afternoon David slowly finished the beer then just sat there relaxing in the shade, watching people come in and out of the store. It's about time I get on with my life. Sure feels good to get away from the solitude of the monastery. I should have asked to use that bike. It's sure in good shape for such an old bike. Wait a second! David, stood, walked over, and examined the crossbar of the bike. There it was, his Social Security Number engraved into the frame. This was my bike. I gave this to Paul the summer I got my first motorcycle. There's some meaning here. Maybe this means I should . . .

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David thought about this for a long time as the hot summer days faded toward fall. Monsignor Grant noticed David's unusual quietness when he picked him up Sunday morning. On this day David didn't even hear the Monsignor's sermon; all he could think about was the hard decision he had finally made.

After church they drove to one of their usual restaurants. As soon as they had ordered, David sprang the news. "Timothy, I've been thinking this over for weeks now. I'd like you to help me become a priest."

Monsignor Grant almost choked on his first drink of coffee. "David, that's wonderful. But I have to ask, how'd you come to this decision?"

"Well, there's Paul's dying and all. Then there's how I never could commit to marriage. I'm getting used to the slowed down lifestyle at the monastery. I guess it's for a lot of different reasons. And I told you about finding the bike. I still think that's a message."

"David, I know your intentions are honorable. And from my sermon today, I think you know how I feel about people looking for outward signs and or messages. But, you've yet to give me one good reason for becoming a priest."

"What do you mean? Are you telling me you would not recommend that I become a priest?"

"Not for the reasons you gave me. You wouldn't be happy."

"Why would I have to be happy? I'd be serving God."

"David, God wants you to be happy when you serve Him. That's how you convert people, through being an example of his happiness and love. Why would someone want to become a Christian if all they ever saw was a church filled with a bunch of unhappy people, let alone a disgruntled priest?"

"I'm still grieving Paul's death. I could learn to be happy as a priest, or maybe I should become a monk."

"David, I don't want to discourage you. And don't forget: Paul was also very special to me. I also miss him. But it is more than a matter of feeling obligated to serve God; it's wanting to serve him from your heart."

"I just don't see the difference!"

Monsignor Grant paused, knowing that David needed more than some quick anecdote. "David, have you noticed the head usher at church and his wife that greets everyone?"

"You mean Larry and Mandy? Yeah. They also have a really attractive teenage daughter that helps in the nursery."

"Would you say that they are doing these ministries because they feel obligated or because they want to?"

"It's obvious, they want to. Both of them made me feel welcome when I started coming to church with you. I can tell they love serving the Lord."

"And wouldn't you say that they're a good example of a Christian family that other people would want to emulate?"

"Yes, they're excellent examples. And now I see what you're getting at. It's their happiness and personal lives that converts people."

"That's right, David. But now let me tell you a little story about this family. Almost four years ago while they were getting ready for church, their daughters were out by the car." Monsignor Grant closed his eyes and said a short prayer before he continued. "They lost their youngest daughter in a freak accident. Somehow the counter balance spring broke on the garage door and it came down on Marie and killed her."

"That's terrible," David said, shocked. "You said they were on their way to church when this all happened?"

"Yes, and at that time they only came to church occasionally."

"They must attend all the time now. I always see them welcoming or helping every Sunday," said David.

"That's right David. I find them very inspirational people. Some might say God took their daughter early — that it was his will. But even I question God about why such a great loss. And what's so amazing to me is their faith, the way they live and serve God today, after they've suffered so much."

"Boy, you wouldn't think anything like that happened to them. I wonder when they got over grieving."

"They haven't. I'm sure the loss of their daughter is with them every day. But what they have done is moved on. They did this for the sake of each other and out of love for their oldest daughter. David, you have to get to that point before you can make any kind of commitment, especially if you are considering the priesthood."

"Timothy, it sounds like you wouldn't want me to become a priest."

"No, not at all. God knows, we need more priests, but it's something you have to be called to. We don't need anymore men hiding out in the cloth. And don't forget, not everybody has the grace of celibacy."

"Monsignor, it just seems like there are so many signs. Both Paul and me being single all our lives. Did you know the room I'm staying in was being fixed up for Paul, for when he got real sick?" David paused. "And Timothy, I can't help it, but finding my old bike at the monastery, I think means something."

"David, finding your old bike only means that Paul had kept it all these years and was storing it in the tool shed. Do you know there would be five years of required schooling? And are you aware of the cost?"

"That much schooling? And it costs money?" David was surprised and disappointed at the same time. The waitress brought their food, but David hardly ate.

After breakfast it was Monsignor Grant who brought up the subject. "David, I know you are sincere and I would never discourage anybody about becoming a priest. I'll tell you what. How about if I gave you an assignment? Then, after two months, if you still want to become a priest, I will sponsor you. Maybe I can even get you into a scholarship program or something."

"That sounds good! What's the assignment?"

"Well, when Paul was on the AIDS ward at the hospital, the head nurse cornered me a couple of times. She asked if I could send someone down there a couple times a week to talk about God with some of the patients."

David did not reply. He moved the food around on his plate. The vision of that floor was still fresh from the day he picked up Paul from the hospital. What a terrible assignment. It'd be too dangerous and it seems like such a worthless cause. I'll stall for a different assignment. I'd be better at public relations, straightening out all the misinformation's and . . .

"David, think about it. I know it wouldn't be pleasant, but as a priest sometimes you get assignments you don't care for. It's part of the job."

"I'll do it. No problem," David said. What am I saying?

"Good. I'll make the arrangements and get some transportation for you. How about starting this week?" Monsignor Grant coyly asked while reaching for the check.

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David arrived before 9AM Wednesday morning at the hospital. While waiting on the fourteenth floor, he had a chance to observe the mosaic across from the elevators. Look at all these names. What good am I going to do up here? I've got to . . .

"Hello, you must be David. Monsignor Grant informed me all about you," said the head nurse while extending a handshake to David.

"Yes, I am," David said, shaking her hand.

"Thank you for volunteering. Some of the men never have a visitor, not even family. I'm short handed today so I'll take you to meet some of the patients right now."

David followed the nurse to a rec-room where about a dozen men were watching a blaring television. Three men were playing cards and two were playing chess. She walked over and turned down the sound on the television. "Guys, I'd like you to meet David McIntosh. He lives at the monastery in Napa Valley and may be entering the priesthood soon. He'll be visiting us twice a week for a while."

David was still standing in the doorway and didn't say one word. As soon as the head nurse left, David went to a lone chair next to the window. I can wait this assignment out. I know the monsignor said all I had to do was to visit with these guys. I bet he thinks I'll only last a couple days. I do want to be a priest, but not doing work like this. Next week I'll bring a book to read. I can do this. Hey, I know one thing I can do while I'm here. I can get the medical records straightened out. David left the ward.

Down in the Records Division in the basement of the hospital they drew two separate blood samples from David, one to be sent out and one to be tested in their hospital laboratory. This was standard procedure to amend or change any records, let alone a Social Security Number. It was a good thing that Paul had set everything up beforehand. Just the paper work took over three hours.

After having lunch in the hospital cafeteria David finally made it back up to the AIDS ward and slipped back into the rec-room. "Hey, where've you been? I thought you were going to preach to us about how great God is!" yelled a patient.

David walked across the room as though no one was there and stared out the window. This is going to be harder than I thought. Twice a week for two months. That's only seven more times I have to come down here.

"Hey you! Even Jesus talked to the lepers," yelled the same patient. "You're just another one of those phony, better-than-thou types. I can see it all over your face. You're scared to death. Why don't you explain to me how God put this virus out to punish all us sinners?"

David turned from the window and realized everyone in the room was now staring at him. The vocal patient was big, but thin. He had on a baggy black crew shirt that had big gold wings across the chest, and he was wearing a black leather biker cap. David knew the type, the hard core belligerent kind. "Hey, I don't have to put up with this." Passing between the two row of patients, all eyes in the room were following him as he headed for the door.

"What a jerk. He's a fake just like all the rest. Comes to tell us all about the love of his wonderful God and then he heads for the door."

David stopped and turned. "Hey, I didn't say anything about knowing much about God. Don't unload on me. I have questions I'd like to ask him myself. But if anyone is a fake, it's probably you. Sitting there acting like some tough biker type, with all the Harley stuff on. You probably haven't even ridden a hog."

"Bet me! You want'a see a picture?" The big lanky patient reached for a billfold that had a chain attached to it. He unzipped it and held it open. David took the wallet looked at the picture and, while handing it back, noticed the name JOBE embossed into the leather.

"Hey, sorry. Looks like a nice ride you got there, Jobe. That's the first belt drive Sturgis, isn't it?"

"Sure is. Had nothing but problems with that belt till I converted it to a chain," boasted Jobe.

"I know all about the problem with the belt. That's why I waited for the newer model, after Harley bought back the company and went back to a chain for awhile. It wasn't a Sturgis but I had the black 1340cc shovel head with the red and yellow flames on the fat bobbed tanks."

"If you mean the limited edition Super Glide that they only produced one thousand. I'm impressed"

"You got it. I had number 222. I can still vision that limited edition gold seal on the tank that had my name next to the number."

"What do you mean, had? You got rid of your ride?"

"No. A couple guys were trying to kill me and blew it up in the process."

"Come on, don't be lying to a dying man."

"I'm not. I just can't tell anyone. If my story gets out, I'm in big trouble with the FBI."

"Yeah sure. Like all of us are going to get up and walk out of here to sell your phony story."

David slowly looked around the ward, casually walked to the door and shut it. Pulling up a chair David started from the beginning, explaining about how a Clipper Chip works. Two patients supported his story with their own technical backgrounds. David never even got to the part where his home got blown up; a nurse came in to serve dinner and David's first day was up.

The next day David kept contemplating calling Monsignor Grant and telling him that he wasn't cut out for this assignment. But by Friday morning he decided to give it one more try. On his way to the hospital he stopped at a store picked up a few magazines, some cigarettes and other things. This visit started off a little easier. Jobe appreciated the Biker's magazine and David made another patient swear that he wouldn't tell where he got the pack of cigarettes.

David continued with his story. Whether or not it was plausible didn't really matter to most of the patients. When he got to the part about Paul's death, a couple of the patients had remembered reading about the accident. This, along with David's straight answers to any questions, built credibility. Toward the end of day David's story about what the Department was actually doing inspired a huge debate. Almost everyone had taken a side — either on how much, or how little truth was written or transmitted over the airwaves. The sides were almost equal and the arguments were getting fairly heated when one of the patients brought up the fact that he had read and then recalled a commercial telling him how effective condoms were against the Aids virus. He wished that he had not believed what seemed to be presented as truth; a chilling fact of reality swept over the ward. David ended this visit by making a round checking to see if he could pick up anything for anyone before next Wednesday.

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Over the next month David would rent videos and picked up different things for some of the guys, and each Sunday at their weekly after church brunch Monsignor Grant asked how the assignment was going. David always avoided the subject with a simple one or two word reply, because he felt guilty. Every time he'd get up to the ward they'd start watching videos, talking about motorcycles, the war, or sports — but he had yet to talk about God with even one patient. It wasn't that he didn't want to, in fact he was spending hours on end researching in the monastery study, always determined to work God into his next visit. But the more he looked the more he kept running one thought over and over in the back of his mind. How can I go down there and tell these men about God's divine love, when every one of them is going to die? The answer has to be here in one of these books, but . . .

One day the hinges on the heavy door of the monastery study squeaked as Monsignor Grant entered. "David, I've been looking for you. You only have two more weeks to go at the hospital. Can't you tell me how it has been going beyond a simple, 'just fine' or 'okay'?"

David looked up from the huge old book he'd been reading, stalled, then finally replied, "Monsignor, the first couple of times I went down there I hated it. Now I don't mind it. But there is this one guy named Jobe. He hates everyone. He's not homosexual and I think he got AIDS through drug use. Most the other guys support each other but this Jobe is plain bitter and filled with hate."

"Have you explained about the love of Jesus to him?"

David hesitated, then with a shameful glance at the Monsignor said, "No, I haven't! That's why I am in here. Each time before I go down to the hospital I come in here to prepare, trying to find some way to work God into my conversation. Instead, I've been taking magazines, renting movies and just goofing around with the guys. I haven't preached once about God."

Monsignor Grant knew that whatever he would say would only frustrate David. He so much wanted to tell David that the answer wasn't in any books, possibly not even in the Bible, so he stood up to leave. This journey David had to take alone. At the door Timothy looked back at David, who had his nose back buried in a huge book. "David, just being there with your heart, listening and befriending souls is God's word. Don't worry about preaching. They'll see it in your actions." The door closed behind him.

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Two weeks later Monsignor Grant stopped by the monastery, found some unopened mail of David's and went to find him. Sure enough, David was in the study. "David, didn't you know they have a mail basket here? It's in the kitchen."

"No, I didn't." David looked up from a book. "Why?"

"Here are three pieces of mail for you. One letter is postmarked over a month ago" Monsignor Grant handed the mail to David.

The largest envelope had U.S. OFFICIAL DOCUMENT printed on the outside. David tore it open. The revised 1230 military form had the word HONORABLE in the 'Discharge' box. Included was a letter from Federal Prosecutor Tom Powell.

Dear Mr. McIntosh,

After examining the records of your tour of duty in Vietnam, it is my conclusion, and the recommendation of the Commander and Chief of the United States of America, that you be given this Honorable Discharge. Your courage to forward those top secret documents way back then undoubtedly saved untold lives by helping to bring this war to an earlier end. The one time we met it was obvious to me that you are a man who seeks out the truth no matter the cost. You do not know how much you have recently helped your country.

Tom Powell

P.S. David, please do not lose faith in your government. There are still a lot of good, honest people. Including those within the ATF, and politicians who still believe in 'One Nation under God.'

The second piece was also in an official looking envelope with CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION stamped on the outside. Enclosed were the results of the two blood tests he had taken. David scanned the first paper for his full name and for the correct Social Security Number. Everything was correct. The box on the bottom right corner read HIV NEGATIVE. David looked over the second document. The independent blood test had no name, no address, no Social Security Number, just some bar coding next to the words HIV Negative in bold read ink.

The smallest and last envelope was blue and hand addressed in pencil. It was a letter from Danny. David read the first line, then tucked the letter into his shirt pocket sensing that the monsignor was waiting to talk to him. "I'll read this later."

"David, your two-month assignment at the hospital is up. If you're still interested in enrolled at a seminary, we could tour the one in San Francisco next week before fall classes begin."

David felt a knot in his stomach. "Monsignor, could we hold off for a while."

"Sure, David, I didn't mean to push. I just thought that's what you wanted. You know, studying for the priesthood shouldn't be taken lightly."

"Oh, it's not that. I just want to go down to the hospital a few more times. A patient, Jobe, is on his death bed and he doesn't have anybody. He's even asked me to get him some drugs and sleeping pills so that he can put an end to his misery."

"David, this friend of yours, have you prayed with him for the power of the Holy Spirit to bring strength to him?"

"No. Remember? You told me just being there would be enough. We mainly talk about motorcycles, sports, women and living in the fast lane. I try to slip in a word about God every now and then, but it feels awkward." David took a long pause, not sure if he should say anymore. "Monsignor, I have to be honest with you. I'm thinking very seriously about getting the sleeping pills for Jobe."

"David, if this man wants to take his own life, that's his choice. But if you even remotely helped him in obtaining sleeping pills, or some sort of illegal drugs, that is wrong! It's that plain and simple! It soon might not be against the state law, but it will always be against God's law."

"Monsignor, it's not that plain and simple. I've been through lots of books in here. Though I find a lot about compassion and comforting the sick, there's nothing about this."

"Try looking at the First Commandment!"

"Don't you mean the Fifth Commandment? I know it: 'Thou shalt not kill.' How could it be killing? You just said that it was his choice. Jobe is in tremendous pain. You should come down to the hospital and see for yourself. You go tell him how much God loves him! And Timothy, please don't tell me to listen in the silence. I have been! There are more things I want answered now, than ever before. I'm not even sure I'd make a good priest, especially if I couldn't even help a dying man."

There was so much friction in the air one could cut it with a knife. Both men knew it was senseless to go on with the exchange of useless rhetoric. Ironically, two men stood amongst many books of knowledge and wisdom yet both drew different conclusions to the story of life. Genuine respect and love for each other brought this discussion to an end. Without saying another word, David walked to the door to leave.

"David, there's one last thing. I am proud that you made it the two months. It was a difficult assignment. I'll pray for your friend Jobe. God bless you."

David walked for a very long time before he sat beneath a tree to read Danny's letter.

Dear David,

I know you feel bad about losing your friend Paul. Mom told me how you are staying at the same place he used to live. I know it must be hard, that things must remind you of him all the time. Every time I use the computer you sent me reminds me of all the fun we used to have. I thought we were friends. Why haven't you come to see me yet? I miss you and . . .

David didn't finish the letter and hardly slept that night. All he could focus on was the pain Jobe was in. The weakened skeleton of a once big strong man, a man with no hope was pleading at his conscience. All morning David kept taking the phone number Jobe had given him to call out of his pocket.

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The elevator doors opened. David stared at the mosaic. Jobe's name will be here soon. Stalling around in the rec-room , David visited with some other patients before he went to Jobe's room. The fear of death was radiating from Jobe. Expressionless, he barely turned his head and asked, "Did you call the number I gave you?"

David hesitated, "Not yet, Jobe. Part of me wants to, but then another part says there is more. I just don't know. I can't figure it out. What can I say to you? I've been asking God all night, asking what to do."

"What are you saying? That you won't get me the drugs?"

"No, I'm not saying that," answered David, noticing that the man in the next bed could be listening. "Why don't you tell me about what the Sturgis outings were like in South Dakota?"

"David, lets cut the crap! All we've talked about is motorcycles, sports and women. Tell me about how fair your God is? Sure, I've lead a life of drugs, wild women, and trouble. But he won't help me these last days of pain. That's what I need you for." Jobe yelled in a frill voice.

There were three other patients in the room, plus a visitor and a nurse, David felt each one of them tuned in, waiting for his answer. David didn't say a word, instead he picked up Jobe's hand put it between his and started praying.

"Don't waste you prayers on a condemned man that's going to hell."

"Jobe, God doesn't want to send you to hell. It wouldn't be logical. He would have never sent his son to die for us. Jesus's death promises eternal life."

"Yeah, eternal life in hell for people like me."

"No, that wouldn't be right either. A criminal hung on a cross next to Jesus. He was tormented about the life he had led on earth, kind of like you. But that guy looked over to Jesus and asked for forgiveness. And do you know what Jesus said to him?"

"No?"

"Jesus said something like, your sins are forgiven. And you are going to heaven with me." David felt Jobe's hand tighten.

"That's a good story. But I think you're making it up."

"No, he isn't," said Terry, the patient in the next bed. "It's right here in my Bible." Terry thumbed through his bible found the passage and handed the opened book to David. David showed the reading to Jobe.

As Jobe read the words for himself, a sparkle of hope flashed from his eyes. "Tell me more," said Jobe as he laid his head back. "I believe in God and about his Ten Commandments, but I never knew about that man Jesus forgave. You know, I always wanted get baptized, but never did. Can you baptize me, David?"

David hesitated. He had not honored Jobe's request to physically comfort him with drugs and now Jobe was putting him on the spot again. David had recently watched Monsignor Grant do a baptism at the church in Davis. But the one baptism that came to mind was when Paul had baptized Danny in the kitchen of his home. "Could I have some water and a clean towel?" David asked the nurse. A pleasant stillness filled the room as everyone watched. David poured the water over Jobe's head and said. "I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." David could feel a tingling as he made a small cross on Jobe's forehead. Jobe's weakened face radiated with the promise of a better life.

"I want you to have my Bible," said Terry as he handed it back for David to give to Jobe.

The visitor came over and hugged Jobe. Then everyone started to talk about God and his awesomeness, about the message of love and forgiveness Jesus preached on earth. In less than an hour death had been beaten from that room on the fourteenth floor and a sanctifying grace had replaced it.

During lunch David made a quick round visiting some other patients before returning to Jobe's bedside to tell Jobe he'd be back Monday. As David turned to leave Jobe said, "Don't bother calling that number I gave you. I couldn't ask you to do that, not after what you did for me today. And besides Terry showed me where some guy has the same name as me, but he dropped the E. This Job guy has a whole section. I want to read about him. Maybe we have something in common?"

"Don't stay up all night reading. You need rest," said David clutching Jobe's shoulder. "See you on Monday."

Jobe reached up and put his hand over David's. "Thanks bro, thanks for everything."

Driving back to the monastery, David was feeling elated over all that had happened. The quaint baptism made him think of Danny and the unread letter. David decided to take a slight detour.

Sister Katherine answered the door. "Can I help you?"

"Yes, I'm a friend of Danny's, I was wondering if he was here."

"Danny's at school. Aren't you Marcea's friend? Wouldn't you like to see her?"

"No, I don't want to bother her. Would you tell Danny that David came by to see him?"

"Yes sir," Sister Katherine said as she closed the door.

David had just put the keys in the ignition when Marcea came running down the walk. The yellow knit dress accented her tanned legs and firm athletic body. She hurried to the driver side of the car. "David, I'm so glad you came by. Danny will be upset he missed you. They have year round school here in California."

"That's a rotten deal," replied David.

"Oh, it's not bad. The children even like it. They still get a vacation," Marcea said while trying to catch her breath. "Since you're here, would you like to see how we converted an old convent into an overnight place for special kids?"

"Sure, I've got some time." said David getting out of the car.

Marcea grabbed David by the arm as she led him up the walk. Once inside she introduced David to everyone as though she hadn't seen him for ten years. Bill and Mary joined in but all the excitement made David uncomfortable. After a short tour Marcea took David down the hall to a place they could be alone. "This is my office," said Marcea turning full circle with arms outstretched as they entered.

"It looks like you've done real well for yourself."

"I never imagined that my dream would come true. A year ago if someone told me, I'd be on the board of a facility like this, I would not have believed them. David, you can't believe how good I feel about myself. I earn a good salary, have my own apartment now, and have a new car. But, you know the best part is?"

"No," said David walking around in the office.

"Being able to give things to Ann and Danny. Just being able to provide for them makes me feel so good. David, that's a mother's real wish."

"I suppose that would be a father's desire also," said David stopping in front of her desk. "Marcea, I'm truly happy for you. I've never seen you look so radiant. It's wonderful that your dream has come true. Think of all the children and the parents you are helping. You are a very beautiful person, Marcea. I'll continue praying for you."

"Uh... thank you David," stuttered Marcea, stunned by David's words. I can't believe what has happened to David. Not only does he look great, I've never heard him talk like that. He's different.

There was a knock on the opened door and Sister Madeline stuck her head in. "Excuse me. Marcea, there's a young girl on the phone for you. Do you want me to transfer the call?"

"Yes. Thank you, Sister." Marcea went behind her desk and sat in the chair behind her desk. As she crossed her legs, the yellow knit dress pulled up, exposing her firm thighs.

David caught himself staring and visualizing the times they had been together. He had just looked away when the phone rang.

"Hello," Marcea said. Then there was a long pause while she listened. "That's okay. I can always bring Danny and Ann back here tonight. Or I might just have to cancel my date. Don't worry about me. I just hope you get better." Marcea hung up the phone.

"I didn't mean to listen, but it sounds as though your plans have been spoiled for tonight."

"Oh, it's no big deal. Although it was hard to arrange for Friday night off and a sitter. Danny comes down here often enough. I'll just cancel for tonight."

"Marcea, I hate to see you spoil your night off."

Marcea glowed with the thought of David coming by. Danny and Ann would be thrilled to see him. Later in the evening after the kids went to bed we could just sit on the couch and get reacquainted. Maybe a glass of wine just a relaxing evening at home— just like it used to be. "What did you have in mind?" Marcea asked with excitement in her voice.

"Well, if you trust me..." David smiled. Marcea smiled back. "Why don't you let me watch Ann and Danny while you go out? I know it's asking a lot, but I'd really like to see them both. Danny just sent me a letter, and he's right. I've waited way too long to stop by to see him."

Caught off guard, it took a moment for Marcea to reply, "Thanks for the offer. But, but, David... I'd feel awkward. I... I don't know how to put this, but I have a dinner date with Tony tonight."

David walked around the desk, put his hands on Marcea's shoulders and looked down into her big brown eyes. After all the years they were together, it was now out of true love that David was able to honestly say, "Marcea that's okay. All I want, is for you to be happy. When I look around here and see all that you have done for yourself, I don't want to stand in your way. Please don't feel awkward. Let me watch the kids tonight. It would mean so much to me."

Marcea hesitated before she replied, "Okay."

"Good," David said excitedly. "I just need to call the monastery to let them know that I'll be late and make sure no one needs the car tonight."

David followed Marcea to her apartment. When they got there, he talked her into letting him take Ann and Danny out for pizza. The three of them drove off, smiling and waving, sitting three abreast in the front seat of the station wagon.

Marcea tried to concentrate, but instead sat dazed in front of her mirror — not sure of the new David.

Tony was fifteen minutes early, still trying to make up for being an hour and a half late the first time they went out. Via a car phone he somehow got last minute reservations at one of the finest restaurants in San Francisco. They had met at a luncheon the Mayor put on in appreciation for people who had performed outstanding services for the community. Tony was a friend of the mayor and a very influential business man in the Bay Area. His coal black hair and dark skin caused many heads to turn.

About midway through their dinner Tony excused himself to make an important business call. Returning ten minutes later, he let Marcea in on the deal he was making, a six-story parking garage. He also said that he might even be interested in starting a chain of overnight day care centers. Marcea didn't even hear his offer to have her run the whole chain, should he decided to franchise them.

Marcea smiled between bites of her shrimp, gave affirmative nods now and then while drinking Dom Perignon; yet all she could think of was David with the children having pizza. Something's different with David. Couldn't be a girlfriend; he wouldn't still be at the monastery. This is strange — here I am on a date and he's watching my children. I bet it's a plan to win me back. I must admit — it's sort of working.

Tony noticed Marcea was less than attentive. Pouring her a third glass of wine, he asked, "Would you like to see my place tonight? I have a fantastic view overlooking the bay. I even took the liberty of having a special dessert flown in from Boston."

"Tony, that sounds wonderful. But I'll have to take a rain check. My sitter got sick and an old friend is watching the children. He has to get back to the monastery before it gets too late. I'm sorry."

"Hey, I don't blame you. I wouldn't trust a priest or one of those monks too long with my children either."

"Tony, that's cruel! And I didn't say he was a priest or a monk. He's just an old friend who's working there."

"Yeah, okay, but read the newspapers if you think I'm cruel. Anyway, let's not let it ruin our evening," Tony said, reaching across the table and lightly rubbing his long manicured finger in a circular motion on the back of Marcea's hand. "Did I tell you how beautifully that yellow knit dress matches your eyes? I can't believe how good you look for just working out on your own. Why don't you start coming down to my club? I can introduce you to my personal trainer . . . "

After dinner and two more drinks Marcea finally persuaded Tony to take her home. But she had to promise a raincheck at his place for dessert.

At her apartment Marcea diplomatically tried to say good-bye to Tony in the car, but he insisted walking her to the door. Ann saw them coming, opened the door, ran to meet them and went on to tell how great the pizza arcade was. Tony stepped in the apartment and could hear David's deep voice coming from Danny's bedroom. They were laughing about David's low score on Danny's new computer game. Marcea was still trying to get Tony to leave but David emerged from the bedroom too soon.

David walked up to Tony and grabbed his hand. "Hello, I'm David, an old friend of Marcea's."

Tony gave David the look over. "I'm Anthony T. Leanittie, the Third. Marcea mentioned that you are staying at a monastery."

"It's a long story. I don't want to bore you with it. Anyway, nice to meet you. I should get going." David went back into Danny's room to say good-bye and promised he'd come back in a couple of weeks. Back in the front room he gave Ann a big hug and was half way down the walk before Marcea had a chance to say a thing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sunday morning Marcea bowed out of attending church with Bill and Mary, but asked them to take Ann and Danny. She then drove alone the fifty miles up to the small church in Davis. Her disappointment over not seeing David anywhere in the congregation was soon replaced by relief when she saw him come out of the side door and onto the altar. He switched on the microphone and moved a heavy Bible to the podium. Then Monsignor Grant came out the side door, straining just to carry the bread and wine. David nonchalantly helped him by taking the decanter of wine, then helped him by the arm up the steps to the altar. David took a place in the first pew.

After the service David went to the back of the church, opened the doors for Monsignor Grant and stood next to him, greeting and shaking hands as the parishioners exited. Marcea waited, making sure she was the last one to leave.

Pleasantly surprised, David put his arms around her. "What brings you way up here?"

"You left so fast the other night that I didn't have time to thank you for watching Ann and Danny. Then I remember you told me you liked listening to the Monsignor's sermons so I decided to drive up here to say thanks."

"You didn't have to do that. It was all my pleasure. By the way, if you don't mind, I'd like to stop by and see Danny again in a couple of weeks. After I'm finished at the hospital."

"Sure, he'd like that. Just let me know in advance." Now Marcea stepped back, with a concerned look and asked, "Why are you going to the hospital? Is there something wrong?"

"No, I'm fine. It's a little assignment I got roped into by him," David said motioning toward Monsignor Grant. "And this morning at breakfast Timothy and I need to have a long talk about this death with dignity issue."

"Well, I'd better get going and leave you two for your discussion."

Monsignor Grant grabbed her hand, "Why don't you join us. Maybe you can spare me from a heated debate with David. You know, he can be somewhat of a hot head at times."

"Oh no, I couldn't impose," Marcea said.

"Are you sure? I'd like to hear about how things are going at that old convent you converted for handicapped children. You probably don't know this, but I was the pastor at that parish years ago when the school first opened. We had over 450 students."

"You're kidding. You ran that school. I'd love to join you and find out how you managed the parents." Marcea paused. "That's, if it's okay with David."

"Sure, that'd be great. Get your car and you can follow us," said David with a warm, honest smile.

Seated at one of their usual restaurants, Monsignor Grant and David listened attentively to how well the old convent worked out so perfectly for children staying overnight. Timothy had a special interest, and shared some of Marcea's same concerns, saying how his own polio had put a strain on his parents when he was a child. Then they started discussing how the well-intentioned-parents were usually the hardest to deal with.

David hardly got a word in all during breakfast and finally butted in when the waitress started clearing off their plates. "Timothy, I hate to change the subject but I just wanted you to know I did find the answer to that problem we were discussing last week."

"You mean whether out of compassion, one should help a terminally ill person end his life?"

"Yes. It's about that guy, Jobe, I was telling you about."

"David, maybe we should let Marcea go before we start into this discussion."

"I need to use the lady's room, and then I'll leave," said Marcea slipping out of the booth.

When she returned to say thanks, David was heavy into his discussion; she stood at the edge of the table listening and waiting to say good-bye.

"And then when Jobe asked me to explain that to him, I told him about the loving, forgiving God that I had come to know. I told him about the sinner that hung next to Jesus on the cross and how Jesus said to that man that, today you will be in Heaven with me."

Monsignor Grant smiled. "David, I think you're starting to see the whole picture."

Still excited and jubilant with his news, David went on. "And then Jobe asked me to baptize him. It was at that precise moment that I realized that if I had gotten him the sleeping pill I might have robbed him of the opportunity to have eternal life. The message was so clear. It doesn't matter if it's capital punishment, abortion or helping someone to end their own life. Nobody knows when or if a person is going to find God. But when we assist in ending any life we have put ourselves in God's place. It is only God who gives life and only God that wills it to end. It seemed so complicated, but then it wasn't. Am I making sense?" David asked.

Marcea couldn't keep quiet any longer, "Does it make sense? David, that's the most loving thing I have ever heard you say. Ever since Danny was born I can testify to how important life is, this quality of life issue that is constantly being pushed at me makes me sick. I know God loves handicapped children no differently than He loves everyone else, but I still wonder if someday society might not convince Danny that he shouldn't go on living. Oh, I'm sorry for interrupting," said Marcea, looking over and down at Monsignor Grant.

"No, that's okay Marcea. You're absolutely right. What David just said also makes perfect sense to me. How do you think a crippled up old priest feels every time he hears about death with dignity? I catch myself sometimes feeling like a burden. The word compassion has caught so many off guard. We're not talking about taking someone off life support or using drugs to comfort them; helping to end a life is wrong. It's so important that we pray for people that are faced with these difficult decisions. And we should never make them feel guilty, whatever they decide. Leave the judging to God; prayer and love are our mission."

"Can I jump back in here?" said David. "I just wanted you to know that I finally got it. By choosing to subtract even one second from any life, that person has chosen to raise himself to the highest level of authority. He breaks the First Commandment. He makes himself God."

You could have heard a pin drop in the restaurant. It was one of those moments when something once so complex was made so simple. Marcea was immobilized and the people at adjoining tables were transfixed.

David felt a presence in the silence and finally could hear his calling. He searched for something more profound to say, something to add, but his words had been put in their order and taken their place in time. David could only pray that what he had just professed was pure truth — not for himself but for the timekeeper.

Monsignor Grant broke the spell. "David, I'm very proud of you. You know that I was somewhat reluctant to recommend that you study to become a priest, but after that testimony and the work you've done at the hospital, I think you're ready. This next week we could tour a seminary, that is if you like?"

A priest! Marcea did not even hear David's reply, her knees almost gave out. She was torn. Only one other time had she had this bittersweet feeling — when Danny was born. It took all her strength to just say, "I better let you two talk now. Thanks for breakfast."

Marcea drove five miles before she even knew what direction she was going. Tears were flowing while a knot was twisting in her stomach. She was truly happy for David.

 

 

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