Friday, March 21, 2014

Leaving the Family

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“You know, you don’t have to do this. You could just walk away, disappear.”

Tom, surprised that he was being offered an “out,” hesitated for only for a second.

“No, I’ll go. If I don’t, the rest of the family will wonder why I didn’t show up and that could lead to complications.”

“Fine. It’s your funeral if things go wrong.”

“I know.”

The meeting with the family was a regularly scheduled event. Not only was it scheduled; attendance was required. He straightened his tie and jacket, exchanged one last glance with his concerned companion, and left the building by a back door.

A half an hour later, Tom pulled up in front of a wrought iron gate supported by a ten-foot high stone wall. The video camera hanging from the gatepost swung in his direction as he reached out and pushed the button on the intercom that connected to the house. The gate slowly opened. Whoever was on duty on the other end of the camera had confirmed Tom’s identity and his right to admission.

Moments later he entered the house. There was no need to be told where to go—he was, after all, related. He greeted the others as he always did when these meetings were called. The words sounded normal, the gestures from cousins, uncles and from those who had “married” into the family, concealed no malice that he could identify. Nevertheless, Tom could feel the electric tension in the air, like the oppressive stillness before a storm.

Do they know? Does someone suspect that I betrayed the code, that I broke ranks?

He thought the word betrayal because the world would judge his actions as such, but he knew in his heart that a much greater betrayal had marked the life that had been, until recently, his only world.

His uncle sat enthroned at the head of an enormous teak conference table. The light coming in from the French doors behind him created an aura that wrapped itself around the old man. The position was deliberate, planned and posed. His face was like granite, his thoughts unknowable and inviolate. As was his privilege, Tom took his place to the right of the current family patriarch.

At precisely the hour assigned for it, the meeting began. As expected, the head of the family took the lead.


Everyone present knew to what the old man was referring.

“Two houses were raided this week…”

“…As was the warehouse…”

“Someone’s been nosing around the offshore accounts.”

The news was grim from every point of the table’s compass. Over the past several weeks, the noose around the family’s neck had inexplicably and inexorably been tightening.

They don’t know, or they wouldn’t be talking so freely…

The muffled beeping of a cell phone interrupted Tom’s thoughts and brought a startled silence to the table. For anyone to dare to call when the inner circle of the family was meeting could only mean more bad news. Without a word, the old man pulled the phone from his pocket, listened, then broke the connection. Slowly he turned toward Tom. If there were feelings behind that stony, expressionless face, the business at hand took precedence over them. All eyes followed those of their don. Something tangible, but as yet unidentifiable, had taken possession of the room. Instinctively, the others waited for the capo, the head of the family, to personally deal with the specter that had suddenly raised its ugly head at his table.

No one saw the gun. From that close, the bullet couldn’t miss even though the silencer slowed its progress. It missed the wire of the tiny microphone taped to Tom’s chest, and plowed through several vital body parts.

Jesus, I tried to put it all right. I wish I had known you sooner …

As the life drained from his body, Tom’s second-to-last thoughts focused on the conversation with the FBI agent who had offered him an escape from this very possibility.

…It’s your funeral if things go wrong.

Was this right or wrong? The recording of the discussion around the table would help to convict those present. There would be no time for the gun, or his uncle’s fingerprints, to disappear before federal agents came charging through those French doors. Humanly speaking, things had gone wrong for Tom, but whatever happened from this moment on would help to make things right.

Tom’s last thoughts were of his new family, now gathered and waiting to meet him.

He smiled.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Walking Trees

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“The patient has arrived, Sir.”

“Thank you, Gabe. Let’s get started.”

The operating room was silent except for the quiet breathing of the Surgeon and his assistant. The patient was not physically present; this surgeon’s technique did not require her to be.

“I see it right there,” said Gabe, pointing to a tiny blotch nestled in the cerebrum.

The Surgeon nodded his approval.

“Well done. That nodule was discovered just the other day. It’s a good thing the patient came to me immediately before it got a chance to extend itself farther. As it was, it almost went from thought to action.”

“What caused this one, Sir?”

“It was nothing really. A friend neglected to call. There was no slight intended, just a busy schedule that got in the way.”

“It doesn’t sound like enough to do any harm.”

“Small and insignificant as it looks now, it would have led to a much bigger problem if she had allowed it to fester.”

Gabe scratched his head.

“One thought would lead to another?”

“And eventually to an action that everyone would regret.”

He reached out and touched the spot that his assistant had indicated. Instantly, the cancer-like cell was exorcised, dissolved without leaving a trace. The Surgeon paused, searching the nooks and crannies of his patient’s mind. When he found what he was looking for, he continued.

“See that over there, Gabe, the dark shadow covering that whole area to the right? There’s one that hasn’t been turned over.”

Under the Surgeon’s light, it wasn’t hard to see the ominous mass. Its tentacles, slight, seemingly anorexic, reached out into the cerebellum. Though their tips seemed innocuous, it was clear that their roots had grown thick and fat, bulging with menace.

“That’s the result of an old wound, a fifteen year old memory that our friend here has not released to me yet.”

The Surgeon’s assistant thought for a moment, his face growing more perplexed as the seconds passed.

“Why don’t you just touch it and take it away like you did this last one?”

As soon as he said it, the little assistant blushed with shame. He knew the reason. Hadn’t it already been mentioned several times in this single conversation? The Surgeon smiled, aware of what had caused the sudden flush.

“You know I won’t touch it until she lets it go. She has chosen to harbor an old wrong, and she can justify her reasons for holding on to the memory of it. She nurtures that original memory with every additional imagined offense. The scab gets ripped off; the wound reopens and grows.”

Gabe peered through time and eternity at the patient whose thoughts lay open before them.

“Why does she hang on to something so dangerous? Fifteen years is a long time.”

“Our friend thought that such a little black spot of painful memory was harmless, that she had it under control, that she could handle it. She didn’t understand that one unhealed memory would poison every other thought, every other action. For fifteen years, the relationship between the offender and the offended has been diseased, not enough to kill it, but enough to cripple it. It has chained the two of them, kept them from enjoying grace, from reveling in the warmth of close friendship, and from living out their conjoined mission as I would like to see it lived out in them. This memory, and the offense that made it, will take a while to heal completely.”

Time was no obstacle to the Great Physician and, even though Gabe had been hanging around humans for so long that he had come to share their appreciation of instant solutions to immediate needs, he knew that some things took time.

“Trees walking?”*

The Surgeon laughed.

“Ahhh, you remember that event, do you, Gabriel? Yes, for her the healing of this cancer will not be instant. The roots of the disease have had time, and her permission, to go all through the body. Pockets of resistance will pop up. If she is wise, she will bring those moribund memories to me immediately and not allow them to affect her joy, her peace, and her passion. Slowly but inevitably, the memories will be healed—if she wants them to be.”

Gabe was silent as he watched the spread of the cancerous mass of unhealed memory contaminating everything in its path.

Better let this one go soon, or you’ll be walking in the trees for a long, long time.

*Mark 8:22-26