From the Journals of Ethan Keaton Pitney

 

All great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.

Albert Einstein

She came for me.  That was the thought running through my mind, the overriding meaning of that moment, of all moments, for all eternity:  she came for me.  I was dying, bleeding and broken, and she came for me.  All about me was snow and wind and biting frost and death, and still she came. 

           
I had given up, you know.  I had totally surrendered, the one thing I had thought I would never, ever do.  I did it.  I gave up.  On me, on life, on the world, on God…  I gave up on everything.  It was just too hard.  Too hard to dare to hope, to have any faith.  I gave up.

            I tried hard at first, even picked myself up by leaning against a statue. Once I was on my feet I tried to walk through the snow, but I fell, my knees too weak to hold me up.  My blood painted the snow red, fierce and hot for a while.  It then began to sink in and became pinkish smears, faintly tinting the white as more and more flakes fell from Heaven.  Covering up my blood, my life, as if it had never been. 

            I refused to be erased so easily, so I started to crawl.  Unable to walk, lost in the snow, even then I wasn’t ready to surrender.  Somehow I dug down deep and found buried steel, a stubborn strength born of years of abuse that I had always managed to endure.  Years were a lot longer than a single day, a single day couldn’t possibly beat me if years had not.  I had refused to let the bullies at school erase me in the past, I wasn’t going to give up today without a fight.

It took every ounce of will, every shred of courage in me, to inch forward through the snowdrifts.  Each breath was an agonizing chore, the cold gusts of air like minuscule knives invading my lungs and tearing at them from the inside out.  My ribs were broken, and so was one of my arms, but still, I kept crawling.  I refused to believe that I could die this way, cold and utterly alone.

            The whole time I was praying, begging for the strength to keep moving, asking that God save me, that someone be sent to rescue me from this calamity.  It wasn’t fair, I argued.  I was too young, hadn’t even really lived yet; I wasn’t ready, there was so much more that I had planned to do…  I could feel the icy fingers of panic and fear upon my soul, and they chilled me as much as the wind and snow did, perhaps more. 

            It was so weird.  I’d never really prayed before.  Never been to church much, for that matter.  I doubted if I was doing it right.  I just desperately needed someone to help me.  I couldn’t do this alone.  I was always alone.

            It was only when I reached the oak that I realized my folly:  I had crawled further away from the road and possible salvation, and instead was on the outskirts of the woods.  No one could hear my shouts for help from here.  No matter that I no longer had the strength to whisper, let alone scream.  I was alone, an island of human warmth surrounded by cold, about to be consumed by an ocean of snow and ice.  That made me lose hope, that’s what made me give up at first:  that lonely image of drowning in the white.

            I leaned against the tree, resting.  The wind howled in my ears, the primal scream of an approaching beast, a dragon.  It was hunting me, stalking me, and soon it would be here to eat me, to devour every limb, every morsel of my being, so it would seem as if I had never been.  I began to cry then, breaking down as the panic seized hold of me.  I screamed wordlessly, my teeth chattering and lips numb. 

            My body was wracked with pain, and I lost all hope.  My muscles ached, and I was shivering so violently that my whole body shook.  I turned my face against the bark of the tree, feeling tears spill in warm paths down my chilled cheeks.  I struggled to catch my breath, to think straight.  I blocked out the world and retreated into my thoughts, my safe haven.  I locked my fear and panic into one compartment of my mind, and turned away.

            I asked God why He wasn’t stopping this, why He wasn’t saving me.  I asked Him why He would create a world filled with living things, teeming with possibilities, yet design it so that a day came where all of that could be taken away.  I was about to lose all possibility of experiencing life any further, and I had no choice about it.  The decision had been made for me, I was going to die through no fault of my own.  If He was God, He could stop this.  He could save me.

            I thought it ironic that I would die this way, surrounded by wind and snow.  I had been born during a storm like this fourteen years before, and the way I was welcomed into the world now seemed to be the same as the way I would exit it.  The irony of dying in a cemetery also struck me as funny:  at least they wouldn’t be troubled about getting me to the graveyard. 

            I cradled my head in my bloody hands, now turning a faint shade of blue.  The bastards had taken my gloves, my hat and my coat after they beat me up, thinking it was a great joke to leave me to freeze in the snow.  They probably thought that I would be able to make my way home.  They hadn’t anticipated the sudden snowstorm that was even now covering the world in a blanket of white, erasing the whole world beneath it, including me.  The bullies had beat me up to “teach me a lesson,” but never intended to murder me.  The storm was responsible for that, and I blamed God for the storm.

            I lay there in a snowdrift against the old oak tree dying, the snow piling up higher than my waist, and I was blaming God.  I huddled in on myself, struggling to think clearly as my body was ravaged by the weather.

The wind shifted, and the tree became a shelter from the biting cold, and the snow became an insulating blanket.  It was peaceful:  the wind still roared, but was somewhat muted and seemed calmer.  I snuggled into the snow, holding my arms under my chest, and let my body heat keep me warm in the air pocket under the snow piling atop me.  For the moment, I had a ridiculous sense of peace.

            I suddenly realized the absurdity of the idea that God was to blame for all this:  God hadn’t followed me home from school, ambushed me outside the old cemetery on the edge of town, beat me up. God wasn’t the one that dragged me into the graveyard, and then left me there without outer garments in the snow to freeze. 

            God hadn’t done that, people did.  Vile, malicious young punks who belonged to the human species, but had no possible hope of being considered to possess any humanity.  Sure, they hadn’t foreseen the storm, but that didn’t mean it was the storm’s fault I was about to die:  whether I was here or not, there still would have been a storm.  It had no cruel intentions, no desire to hurt me, the way the bullies had.  They wanted to do what they did, they chose to.

            I began to understand what evil was in that ludicrously philosophical moment, where I lay dying under a tree.  It was no longer reserved for villains in novels or movies, or applied solely to generals and dictators in history.  No, evil was a choice that any human being could make, a choice to hurt or help another being.  One side was evil, the other good, and God had nothing to do with that choice, as I could see it:  He left it up to us to choose.  God was good, because there was freedom in that choice, a freedom He gave us, rather than keep us as loyal slaves.  To be good meant to encourage freedom, not to enslave.  There was even liberty in figuring it out for ourselves, instead of just receiving easy answers.  The struggle for clarity made us free thinkers.

            I smiled as I froze; glad that I had found a way to understand God at least a little before I died.  I thanked Him for letting me live at all, giving me the chance to make my choices, to experience all the possibilities I had enjoyed.  I asked God to forgive me for questioning Him, for doubting.  That’s when I gave up for the second time.

            I figured that, since I had just reassured myself as to the goodness inherent to God, that being with Him wouldn’t be so bad.  I was going to Heaven, hopefully, and that seemed like a nice place compared to the cold deathly world I currently inhabited.  I wanted to give up life.  Death didn’t seem like such a scary thing suddenly, it would be a release from the torture that had been inflicted upon me. 

            Not just the torture of the cold and the wind, or the beating visited upon me by the bullies.  No, the torture was existence itself, a life where every day my peers at school judged me and found me wanting for some reason.  I was tired of trying to live up to their standards.  I finally knew that it wasn’t worth it: I would rather die as myself, finally at peace with God, then live pretending to be like them.

            It felt good to make peace with Him and myself.  I was actually happy.  I had so rarely been happy in the past few years, but I remembered what it was like.  The cold had numbed my body, I couldn’t really feel it at all, but I could feel God, this wonderful warm peace inside of me.  It banished the fear inspired by the cold and by the possibility of my death.  I accepted it and gave up any hold on this life.

            It was as I gave up that she came.  It was kind of blurry and I was dazed, perhaps even deluded, but this is the way it seemed to me:  I was on the verge of collapse, my face frozen and my eyelids about to close, when the wind pushed the flurry of snow out of the way for an instant.  I saw a silhouette through the snow because of it, a dark shape.  I thought for a moment that it had wings, and then my eyes closed. 

            I was not allowed the sweet release of oblivion, however.  A feminine voice called to me, warm and vibrant and alive, saying my name over and over.  It increased that warm feeling inside me, and I actually felt comforted.  It seemed to drift away in the wind, and then it returned.  Soon I felt arms wrapping a coat around my shoulders, and a few moments after that someone picked me up.  That’s when I passed out.

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