A door opening upon the threshold of life
Miranda Lea sat on the tiny patio in her summer recliner; beside her, on a tatty blue, metal stall, an inviting glass of iced water. She stretched out in the warmth of the sun, looking upwards to the clear blue, untroubled, sky above her. She felt grateful for this time of peace; for this rare moment of relaxation, and, above all, for not feeling in the least guilty for snatching it from the grasp of her conscience, the unrelenting dictator that, even now, disapproved of her resting for even a brief respite.
She lifted the paperback from the stall, written by someone called Linda Mead. Its brand new, gleaming cover reflected the midday sun into her eyes. Ironically, the book had been recommended to her by a friend who only knew her as the frail, nonagenarian.
`Read it, Miranda,` she had insisted. `It will change your life!` If she had been honest, she would have added, `whatever`s left of it!` This thought made Miranda chuckle as much as the irony of it all.
So this will change my life, Miranda chuckled, again. She had heard that before many times; had always been disappointed. And yet, this book felt comfortable in her hands and resonated with an unspoken plea that spoke to some deep, sub-conscious place within her. So she opened it, spontaneously sniffing the new paper, reminiscent of the freshness of early morning, and, more out of respect for Elsie`s kindness than for anything new she could gain from it, she began to read from the opening chapter…
“It was dark; very dark. It always was. Dark. Not even a tentative hint of light. Not that I knew what light was, of course.
I cried out, `I want to be free.` No response.
`I want to be FREE,` I yelled, a second time. Still no response.
Good, I concluded, I am alone. Where my carer was, I had no idea, but, for once, I was glad to be alone. I stumbled towards the open door.
My unsteadiness betrayed the 30 years since I first walked. Oh the delight of those infant steps; but, now, what a burden.
`Don`t try and go to the garden on your own, dear,` my mother had told me, firmly. What garden? I cannot see a garden.
Indeed not, but my heightened sense of touch told me that the sun was shining. Warmth upon my face greeted me through that open door.
What sun? I cannot see the sun.
If seeing is believing, there is no garden; there is no sun; there is no open door.
Anyway, what is a door? The door, my mother told me, when closed kept me safe. But now I reckoned it differently – the door, when closed was dead; when open, it was alive!
Or, perhaps, I was reflecting how I had felt for these past 30 years or so. Life, for me, was a closed door; alone, I had very rarely ventured beyond the threshold; the step that I now felt with my feet, spoke out – to trip would shatter my stolen independence.
And yet, I stood upon that threshold. The soft, gentle breeze kissed my cheeks; the call of the birds sang a sweet symphony upon my ear; I breathed in the breath of life; fresh; lungs filled with the vitality of early summer. Or was it still spring? In my darkness, the seasons were all much the same.
I lifted my right foot above the step, holding securely to the sun-warmed door frame. I remembered the many times I had been assisted to make this journey.
`Now, be careful, dear, there`s an uneven piece of ground in front of you.` I remembered the warning. I don`t need to go far, I thought, suddenly acutely aware of my recklessness; so vulnerable; all alone; what would happen if I fell? Who would help me up again?
`Don`t try and go to the garden on your own,` resonated in my head like a life-long demon. Why not? I now rebelled.
I had never rebelled; how could I have? I had always needed my mother, and now a carer – whoever she or he might be. But I would have liked to have rebelled – to have protested my need for independence. But it was never an option.
Somewhere, I thought, excitedly, mischievously, like a helpless child that others patronisingly assume I still remain … somewhere, there`s a garden seat. I remembered the times I had been led to it.
No, it`s too risky. Just stand and enjoy the world outside the open door.
Anyway, what is a door? The door, when closed, kept me captive; shackled to a chair in the ever-darkness of life, continually restraining me from that natural pull of maturing independence.
I had learned from an early age that I was different.
`What is seeing, mum?` I had asked. And then, when I had been told in words I could understand, I asked the question my mother had, for years, dreaded, but knew would eventually come. `Why can`t I see?`
As time progressed, with care and love in abundance, I was able to understand that, although I was unable to see as others did, I had compensatory strengths that they did not possess.
`What`s an egg?` I was given one to feel, being told not to squeeze it too hard, and definitely not to drop it.
`What`s a lemon?` I was given one to hold and feel the shape and imagine what it would look like; to sniff its sweet aroma, and to taste its sharpness. But how do you explain yellow to someone who is blind?
`Is there anything that no-one has ever seen?` I questioned one day.
`Well, there are many, many things I have never actually seen,` my mother carefully answered, `but I know what they look like through photographs or what I have seen on television or read in books.` But then, considering the question further, she added, kindly, `but there is one thing that no-one has ever seen and it is the most important thing in life …`
`What is it, mum?`
`The soul. The soul is that part of each of us that is at the very depth of our being. It cannot be seen. It is where God lives within us.`
`So, no-one can say they have seen everything?` I asked.
`No-one can see the soul except God.`
There was a smile in my mother`s words and then it changed to regret as she considered the things that we alI are blind to; the many things taken for granted by those who can see.
A hand gently rested upon my left shoulder, immediately transporting me from memory to the present. Instinctively, I turned … and I saw. I actually saw for the first time.
There was no darkness, only a vague, formless background contrasting with the sharpness and beauty of the face that warmly greeted me. All the hitherto unseen colours of the spectrum were there to be seen in his smile. All the unknown sights of the whole world were there reflected in his eyes.
And I was frightened and yet elated; confused, yet I knew who this person was who stood before me. His very presence was peace; there was no need for alarm. Indeed, I knew who he was.
He placed a hand gently under my left arm and led me back to the door.
The open door; that open door through which I had made my escape from monotonous captivity. And he softly spoke, `Those who have ears … listen!`
What did he mean? The man then helped me across the threshold of the door but, then, even the vagueness of my temporary vision began to fade. Colours darkened as the familiar ebony curtain was drawn once more. And yet, I still felt his guiding hand upon my arm.
Then he whispered into my left ear, `there are so many with sight who are blind. But you, who live in the darkness, see so clearly.`
Instantly, I was aware of an overwhelming feeling of joy and peace; and a sense of belonging. He led me to the rarely used mirror, hanging disillusioned upon the lounge wall. For just a brief moment, no longer than it takes to watch a butterfly flit from one branch to another, I saw again.
At first dimly, then as vivid as midday sunlight on a calm sea. And there he was, standing beside me, his features clear, his smile kind, welcoming and knowing. There was no beard. His hair was grey and did not hang low upon his shoulders. He did not wear a white robe; although grey and white and beard and robe were only known through my mother`s patient teaching. In my imagination, I had `pictured` what these things would look like. And now I saw. It was him.
Then I saw myself. Never before had I seen the face I saw only by touch and imagination. It was a beautiful face – radiant, filled with overflowing joy that words could not justly express.
As precious moments are like drops of rain that go to form beautiful lakes of reminiscence, so too, this encounter with ecstasy, was soon to pass. But the memory of it would remain, vividly, forever.”
Miranda closed the book and gently placed it back on the blue metal table. She thought and she remembered. She was wrong; there was something new to receive by reading that first chapter again. She wiped her eyes with a handkerchief as the tears began to roll their way onto her reddened cheeks.
Those same eyes that once saw only darkness. Yes, as she had written, so many years ago, that first encounter with her God was soon to pass. The darkness returned for a while but then, shortly after, as a permanent reminder of the Creator`s immense love, the light and colours and shapes were fashioned again, became more vivid and distinct, until it was possible to read and write, as she still did, without even the aid of spectacles.
Elsie doesn`t know who I really am, she smiled in recognition. She doesn`t need to. After all, her life has been changed by reading my story. That`s what matters. I`m now just an old woman ready to meet my Saviour. I can`t wait to see him again.
Everyone who knew Miranda would readily testify that she was a teenager living in an old woman`s body. She had that strange air of rebelliousness about her. A student mentality. Some would disapprove of her outrageous attitude to life, and yet, secretly envying what she possessed. At 93 she was like someone who had been given a new zest for living. Little did they know.
It was a little over 60 years since that wonderful day. How often the over-used cliché `it changed my life` meant very little, or, if it did, was only a temporary respite from reality. But, for Miranda, it was so real and permanent. She remembered, daily, her remarkable transportation from complete darkness into that precious light. Not that it had been immediate. No, God is too kind for that. It was gradual, gentle, but, as each day dawned, new horizons opened for her. She eventually realised why her mother could not describe yellow.
In fact, colours were what surprised and thrilled her most. Flowers that once only smelled sweetly, became fully alive with their natural hues.
Blues and greens don`t go together, her mother had once explained; it meant nothing to Miranda, then, but now she understood and disagreed when she saw bluebell woods, and buddleia against rampant bushes. And so many different shades of green she had noticed. Someone, blessed with sight from birth, may easily miss the nuances that Miranda had enjoyed, and still did. Life was exciting.
Like an athlete who had started a race three laps behind her opponents, Miranda eagerly chased after the things that she had learned existed but had never seen. She travelled the length and breadth of her homeland; cruised the Mediterranean; flew across the Atlantic; witnessed, with her own eyes, the midnight sun at Norway`s North Cape. But, Cornwall was the home she loved most of all. It was at her two up, two down, in Penzance, that she had met with Him. It had become her personal shrine. She had written about it, using a pseudonym, leaving her true identity a mystery. It was a best-seller. The income from it had allowed her to explore the previously inaccessible. But, the most important consequence from her writing was the promulgation of truth to a vast audience – these things do happen, she was able to say. Believe.
Miranda Lea attended church as often as she could, although, she would reason with herself, when one has had a divine, miraculous healing, anything else would find that impossible to follow. And there were parts of the liturgy that she found difficult to equate with the Jesus that had encountered her.
And yet, every time she came to receive the Blessed Sacrament she felt so close to Him that she always cried tears of joy. Exaltation, she would call it. She could hear Him say `this is my body; this is my blood.` No matter who presided at the Eucharist, it was the voice of the One who had visited her that she heard,
One Sunday she tested this holy phenomenon. She concentrated upon the priest`s voice. When he came to the words `this is my body`, and broke the host in two, it was not the priest`s voice she heard. Having tested this blessing from God, she knew this was a divine gift, accepting it as being so.
At home, recently, she was spending time cleaning her kitchen. The radio, tuned to one of the local stations, was chattering away to itself. Miranda paid little attention to it, and yet, at one level, she heard everything that was being said. It was the Russell Miller afternoon programme, in which he often welcomed studio guests. Her interest was not particularly aroused by someone who stood outside Truro cathedral handing out cards to passers by. Until he spoke. She could not remember the question, but the answer stopped her as she reached into the bottom cupboard to remove the saucepans. She distinctly heard the voice that once spoke to her within the house and every time since, when she received Holy Communion. It was the same voice.
She stood next to the radio, increasing the volume so that she did not miss one syllable. `I have come so the blind may see,` the man said. It is Him, she exclaimed to the radio. And she stood and listened to every remaining word of the interview, breathing as quietly as possible. She felt nervous; her hands shook. It was that precious voice from the past. But, how could this be Him? Why Truro? Why anywhere? Why me? she thought.
Russell referred to him as the `man with the cards`. She resolved to seek him out, in Truro, as soon as she was able to do so.
Tuesday in the second week of September
It was a dull, but dry, September morning. There was more than just a hint of Autumn in the chill wind that blew into Penzance railway station. Miranda Lea boarded the service going to London Paddington. The train was busy, but she found a seat that was unreserved until Newton Abbot. She peered through the window; St Michael`s Mount was glimpsed in a grey, choppy sea, then the train sped into the countryside, tracking its way from the southern coast to its northern sibling, about four miles distant.
She left the train at Truro – the city was bustling as always. Even allowing for the withdrawal of family holidaymakers now that the schools were back, Truro still boasted a generous measure of tourists, predominantly of retirement age.
Miranda caught a `bus from the station and alighted at the museum. She followed the narrow alleyways through to the pedestrian precinct and eventually arrived at High Cross.
At first she did not see him. People busied themselves all over the Cathedral square. If this `man with the cards` was there, he was hidden from view. She walked closer, searching. And then she caught sight of him, for just a mere second or two until her line of vision was again obscured. Then she glimpsed him once more. Yes. How could she have doubted it? The voice on the radio belonged to him.
As before, there was no beard. His hair was grey and did not hang low upon his shoulders. He did not wear a gleaming white robe.
`My eyes have seen you before`, she whispers as she moves closer to Him. There is a way through the crowded square and she nervously proceeds. He looks in her direction. She stops as He smiles at her. He knows me. He waves his hand to beckon her on. `My eyes have seen you before` she repeats aloud, `many years before.` His face – broad smile, welcoming – says, `come to me …`
Miranda walks, almost glides, to Him and He lays his right hand upon her shoulder. `Thank you for coming,` He says. `I was hoping you would, one day.`
`My eyes can see, and my ears hear that same voice,` she splutters in wonder, refusing to let her eyes move from adoring His face.
`Yes, they do,` He replies.
`Now, Lord, you can let your servant go in peace,` Miranda says with tears running down her cheeks.
He wipes them with His handkerchief. `Yes,` is His gentle reply.
She feels the adulation she sensed before; at every altar since.
`Tell no one,` He insists as He looks into her eyes. `My time here is not quite finished.`
Miranda nods, understanding the importance of His words. Quietly, like a gentle summer breeze, she says, `Thank you. Bless you. I love you.` Then she turns and walks back the way she had come. He watches her until she is lost from view. He takes a long, deep breath; whispers, `thank you for coming. I love you, too.`
The third Thursday of September
Departure in peace
Miranda Lea was getting tired of long days alone. Now, with Autumn`s decreasing daylight, they seemed to be getting even longer. She was ready to `depart in peace`.
She was seated in her lounge, with no-one to talk to. The crucifix above the mirror was her greatest friend in that room. She received only a few visitors and, without any close family, often felt very alone. Mrs Abrahams, a pious busy-body from the local chapel would call in to see her on an irregular basis; just to check if she needed anything. And then there was Beatrice, her twice-daily carer, who interfered with her peace by talking incessantly about all manner of piffling things. Miranda had little time, or energy, for trivialities.
After her visit to Truro, she had swiftly succumbed to the ravages of advancing years. She was ready to surrender her stranglehold on life. All had been accomplished. A wonderful life. Tired, life complete, satisfied, grateful, ready to move on, she looked towards the glass door that led to the garden. That`s where it all began to change, she reflected. End of darkness. I love that door, now. When shut it is just shut, but ready to be opened. I don`t need to open it anymore, but it`s good to know I could if I wanted.
Then, that wretched darkness returned. The crucifix, above the mirror, became indistinct in the mist of her eyes; and she was quietly, gently absorbed into the beauty of the untainted world which took her soul, leaving the tired, worn body behind; no longer needed.