words from a broken vessel

A Hope Found at St. Monica’s Road

Simeon stood at the sacred spot on St. Monica’s Road where a few days ago a boy he knew lay, never to move again. Flowers wilted against the curb, surrounded by a garden of graffiti, expressing pain, sorrow, and loss.

The police phoned Simeon a couple nights ago. He replayed in his mind the moments before that call over and over: the news segment he was watching while reaching for his tea, wisps billowing from his chipped mug. Then the phone rang. A woman spoke on the other end, giving the formal police introduction followed by the request of his presence for identification. The victim only had Simeon’s business card in his jacket pocket. Some time later, onlookers peered at the senior balding pasty skinned man staring into the face of a young boy – no, a young man – which he recognized as a once promising student in his class. But now Mical’s face was frozen in that last act of life. Moments later, after giving the identity of the victim, the street mourned in silence at the wailing of a mother, flailing and screaming.

He had grown fond of Mical. “He has an impeccable mind,” Simeon once told a fellow teacher at Cedarbridge Academy. He hoped that somehow, someway, he could help to encourage and guide him to better things. He called his mother to offer free tutoring and guidance. Simeon remembered his first meeting with Mical’s mom, a wiry light-skinned woman, her young face grooved with exhaustion and bitterness, adding to the illusion of being older. When asked about his father, visceral hatred spat out the answer: there was no father. She was apprehensive of Simeon’s help at first, but relented. He gave a business card to each of them. Never in a century would he have envisioned seeing that card again almost a decade later, crinkled and yellowed with age, a spot of blood on one corner. A death caused by mistaken identity.

“You’re here.”

Simeon jolted from his ruminations. Mical’s mom stood beside him, a fresh bouquet held in the crook of her arm. Her visage was creased even more deeply with sorrow, and yet…there was something different.

“I’m surprised,” she said.

Simeon sighed deeply. “You shouldn’t be.”

“You know, he really appreciated all you did for him. You changed his outlook. You challenged him. He loved it.”

“He challenged me, too. He had potential. He could have been a lawyer, a judge, or maybe even a politician.”

“God forbid!” she chuckled.

Simeon replied with a chuckle of his own. Not because of her derision of politics. But because of whom she asked to forbid it. Somehow, Mical’s mom was able to discern his expression.

“Did I say something wrong?”

“Not exactly.”

“Which usually means I did say something.”

“I can see who he got his mind from,” Simeon said, grinning.

Mical’s mom nodded while sighing with a stray tear as she delicately placed her flowers to accompany the leftovers.

“Will you walk me to the car, it’s near the church.”

She smiled tightly in agreement, crossing her arms around her, as if attempting to hold herself together or risk falling apart while walking.

An uncomfortable silence traveled with them. Simeon wasn’t sure exactly what to say. He has said his fair share of clichés to know that silence was the best salve during these times.

“We got into the church a few weeks ago.”

The same chuckle escaped, followed by a mumbled apology.

“Ah. So that’s it.”

“I didn’t mean to offend.”

“You didn’t. It’s expected. Haven’t you ever gone to church?”

He recalled an ancient time, when hair was plentiful and the thought of exhaustion was a memory: early morning Sunday school; multiple Bible lessons; the pastor shouting from the pulpit as he dabbed his forehead; the crinkling from unwrapping sharp mints by the elderly Mrs. Butterfield; and flannelgraph on the classroom walls. They both laughed at the flannelgraph.

“I take it you no longer go?”

Simeon said nothing, hoping that by ignoring the question the inevitable next question won’t be asked. But it comes nevertheless.

“Why?”

Simeon hesitated for a few seconds before replying. “When I saw the evil around me, I felt it was all too naïve. Look at what’s happening in the world: terrorist attacks, political upheavals, sex scandals, poverty, disease. Even here in Bermuda we have racial issues, crime, drugs, corruption, everyone at each other’s throats. And now…Mical.”

She didn’t answer; however, the tightening of her jaw proved that she did hear what he said.

“Someone killed him thinking he was from another gang. I’m sorry, but that’s just not fair. I’m not trying to add more pain or confusion, but I just can’t believe when there’s so much suffering.”

She halted suddenly. Simeon glanced apologetically at Mical’s mom, bracing for a tirade; he was ashamed that he allowed himself to become raw with emotion, being insensitive to a grieving woman who just lost her only son. But she didn’t. Instead, she stood in front of a house with peeling pink scabs, as if infected with leprosy. A nativity scene, the big garish plastic type, faded after years of use, now glowed in the dimming light of evening in it’s sparsely grassed front yard. She stood staring at it, saying nothing for several minutes, causing Simeon to squirm uncomfortably. Her eyes were closed. Was she praying?

“Don’t you find it interesting that of all the places Jesus could have been born, it was in a stable? This is why I have hope.”

Simeon did not hide his confusion at her statement. “I’m sorry but what does being born in an animal feeding trough surrounded by stinking, disease ridden animals have to do with hope?”

She turned to face him, her face almost as serene as the plastic figures looking adoringly at the baby Jesus. “God’s Son was more than willing to enter our stinking, disease ridden world to suffer with us, and willing to enter the stable of our hearts, to change it from a stable to a temple.”

Simeon was stunned at her analogy. Mical did indeed get his mind from her, he thought.

“Someone once said that being a follower of him gives me a way to suffer well. No sugar coating. No denying reality. That baby there would suffer on a cross for this world many years later. The Father lost his Son to the evil of men, but received him again on Easter morning. That truth allows me to be honest with my emotions and yet, still have hope. I will see Mical again.”

It was right then, as if on cue, a Christmas song chimed from St. Monica’s church. He knew it well: “I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day.” A man, who lost his wife to a kitchen fire and nursed a son crippled in the Civil War, wrote it over a century ago. Simeon wished he were still around; he would be the perfect counselor to Mical’s mom now. In one of the stanzas, the writer bows his head in despair, saying that there is no peace on earth, since “hate is strong, and mocks the song, of peace on earth and goodwill to men.”

He had heard the carol many times. But in light of Mical’s death, the last stanza struck him hard. He observed Mical’s mom smile and nod her head slowly, eyes glistening with tears.

“God is not dead nor does He sleep.  The wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men!”

Maybe, he thought, maybe I have given up on Christmas too easily. Maybe, I need to seek him out, like the wise men did. And maybe, when I find him, I will finally find the peace I am looking for so desperately.

“Would you mind if I join you for church this Christmas?” Simeon asked.

Mical’s mom peered into his face, noticing that it was Simeon who now had tears. She clasped his arm firmly with both hands, and said, “Mical would have loved that very much.”