The sign of the vapor trail
By Randy Weeks
I entered the numbers and the phone began to ring. Jesus answered saying he’d expected me to call. I said I really needed to see him – right then! So we met on The Balcony at City Grocery, as usual.
It was so cold that no one else was outside except for the occasional smoker. Jesus and I drank coffee.
He sat silently, waiting for me to speak. I worked up the courage. Through tears I said, “Good Lord, I just don’t understand!”
Jesus put his hand on top of mine. He knew my heart was broken. His eyes showed such compassion.
I asked, “Was there more I could have done? If I had only called him – told him he wasn’t alone. Were you watching? Did you see the state that he was in? Couldn’t you have stepped in and stopped him? Why didn’t you step in? He was my only brother. Where were you when he took his life?”
“I was right there beside him,” Jesus said. “I put my arms around him, but even then he couldn’t see the light that was there in the darkness.”
My mourning rose from the pit of my stomach, and I began to weep. Jesus pulled me close. We both wept.
“My heart’s broken, too, Randy. Your brother couldn’t see that I was right there beside him. I whispered to him to come to me, but he misunderstood. He thought he heard me call him home. He stopped crying and sighed. He even smiled slightly. It was the smile of a man who had given up fighting and let go of his chains. His spirit’s free now.”
“But he’s gone,” I protested. “He’s gone, gone, gone, gone.”
“Not really,” said Jesus. “There’s a part of him in every person he loved. There’s a part of him in everybody he helped through disaster relief work. There’s a part of him in everyone he gave to as a Kiwanian. There’s a part of him in everybody he helped ‘under the radar’. And there’s a part of him in you. He still lives in your memory and he always will.”
“I feel like I’m sitting in his ashes, What do I with ashes?” I asked.
“You just sit in them,” Jesus replied. “You sit in them and grieve for what was, what wasn’t, and what could have been but was not to be. When it’s time to get up you’ll know. You’ll know, and you’ll get up and move forward like everyone else – one step at a time. You’ll find a new normal and your joy will eventually come back. When it does, let it. That’s what he would want.”
Jesus smiled. “Your brother’s soul is doing exactly what he sang about so many times. (singing) ‘Off we go, into the wild blue yonder. Climbing high into the sun.’”
I had to chuckle at that. First of all, Jesus can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Hearing him try to sing the U.S Air Force Song was funny in and of itself. But the idea of my brother’s soul soaring into the heavens like Jonathan Livingston Seagull delighted me. So I laughed.
Jesus took my hand in his and said, “Look me in the eye, Randy,” I did. “You will get through this. You have your sisters and their husbands, your sister-in-law, and your nieces, nephews, and cousins to lean on. And you’ve got your City Grocery family here on The Balcony. I saw how they carried you through the shock and I see how they’re loving you through the rest of this. Let them. You’d do the same for them.”
“You’re right,” I said.
“I know,” he replied. “Now, will you trust me on this?”
“Yes. I’ll trust you,” I said.
“Good,” he said. “Now, can we both get out of the cold?”
“You go ahead,” I replied. “I’ve got some thinking to do.”
Jesus shook his head and said, “I don’t know how you sit in that corner when it’s 25 degrees outside.”
“Layers,” I said. “Layers.”
Jesus saluted and went indoors. I sat for awhile, thinking about my brother’s soul rocketing through space. I looked up and saw several vapor trails criss-crossing in the sky. I said out loud, “There goes my big brother.”
Vapor trails are a sign to me now. My brother is flying more freely than he ever did. That brings a smile to my face, my heart, and my soul.
In memory of my brother, Rodney Odom Weeks, 1945-2017.
Randy Weeks is a minister and a counselor. He lives and writes in Oxford. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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