Father and Son
by Sean Taylor

The ground around me is wet, still coated with a light dripping of morning's dew. The bare spots of soil, however, are dry as empty bone, and form an alarming juxtaposition with the living, green patches.

A prayer. How can I form a prayer? You must experience a prayer, not just say one.

"Father. . ."

Nothing still. Only memories come dancing into my psyche, in cascading spirals before my inner eye. No prayer arrives, only glimpses of past images, but I let them transport me where they will.

* * * * *

"Father. . ."

He always stopped his hammering and cutting for a short while every time I entered his shop. No matter how soon the deadline or how crucial the moment, my timid knock at the door frame was all that he needed to take a brief pause from his work.

"Come here, son," he called out to me without looking up, "Come here and give me a hug."

Of course I ran to him. Small and uncoordinated eight year old legs stumbled across the damp earth between us, but the reward for my effort was waiting in my father's embrace. He had a tender, terrible hug, squeezing with all his might, but always as carefully as if I were as fragile as old pottery.

"What is it now, my favorite interruption? Has your mother sent you to fetch me in? No, wait. . .It's not your mother at all, is it? You've come for another story, maybe?"

"No, father."

"Well, what is it then? I'm fresh out of guesses."

He relaxed his embrace, allowing me to pull away from his shoulders. My tears left a tiny reservoir in the fold of his robe, a pool which threatened to dribble onto a exposed patch of skin where his robe folded over, heavy with sweat.

"Crying!? You're hurt!? What happened?"

My face was caked in blood and grime, beginning near my nose and extending across my cheek to my ear. Tears had mingled with the filthy mixture and caused it to stain not only my face, but my clothes as well.

"Tell me who did this to you."

I wiped at my tears with a dirty sleeve. "Please. . . it's not that bad. It'll be all gone in a few days anyway."

I watched as he pulled a stool from the work table, righted it, and motioned for me to sit. Then he cleared a place on the damp ground, and sat, waiting for me to begin.

"We were making doves out of clay, me and some other kids from town. I made one for you and mother. You should have seen it! It was so beautiful! Sarah wanted one, too."

"Sarah, huh?" He smirked just a little when he said it.

"Yes, Sarah," I responded, confused by the reaction, "I made another just like yours, but David, the priest's son, tore it apart while it was still drying. He told me that the only reason I was good with clay was because you and mother couldn't afford anything other than dirt for me to play with."

"And you ignored him, I hope."

"Uh huh. But it didn't stop David. He punched me hard in the stomach, then in the nose. And the kids just watched him the ones that didn't run off I thought they were my friends, but they left me all alone with him."

"Don't be too hard on them. I don't suspect that any of them enjoyed leaving you behind when you were hurt."

My father had a kind of rough wisdom, not polished and pretty like a gem, but rugged and real, honest, like a rock. He never hid it behind fancy thoughts or big words, but it was wisdom, nonetheless, full of proverbs to rank with those of Solomon.

"I was scared, too, but I didn't run away."

"But did you want to?"

Silence was my only answer.

"Well?" He pushed the question.

"I don't know. Maybe the only reason I stayed was because I couldn't get up from the ground."

This man who had raised me, taught me, and guided me now lifted me onto his work table, and began to clear away the grit from my face with the skirt of his robe.

"It's ok to be afraid . . . sometimes even to run away. The trick is knowing which one's right when the time comes."

My face was clean now, and I nodded that I understood.

"Good. Now when are you going to let me see this wonderful dove you've made for your mother and me?"

"I gave it to Sarah."

"That's my boy." He laughed. "Here, let's get you down from the table. Why don't we close up the shop for today, and go see if the two of us can't find some more clay, and maybe replace that missing bird."

* * * * *

Pictures from the past are funny things. They always seem to appear when you need something to push or goad you. Why I should remember my first bloody nose, here, on this mountain, is one of those small twists of providence some call fate.

I don't want to do what I know I must. I'm scared, frightened more than perhaps I've ever been. Right now I want only to run back into that faraway town, my long departed father's shop, his arms, and let him wipe these tears away with the hem of his robe. But I can't.

"Father. . ."

The words don't come easily to form a prayer, but they do flow. Perhaps a bit forced, a bit unwilling, and certainly not from a tranquil conscience, but regardless, they are indeed there. I can hear them slide off my tongue, as if I am not saying them, only hearing.

"Not my will. . ."

No, not my will indeed.

"Not my will, but thine."

There. It is done.

©1992 Sean Taylor