The Darker Days Have Come
The darker days have come
Johnny Bray sat on an empty bench; the early morning rain had moved east and the sun was winning its battle for supremacy against the dispersing clouds. And yet, it could have been coal bunker darkness for all he cared. He looked around the quiet, solemn square. Even the silver maple trees had shed many of their leaves and now looked sadly upon the precinct below. If they could have spoken they would have cried out `he is gone; he is gone`. They had seen more of him than anyone, these past few months.
Johnny looked to the centre of the square. That`s where `ed `ave been, he thought to himself. Now, there was no-one. A single bouquet of whites and yellows and greens lay right in the middle where his feet would have stood. Someone else loved `im. It was a comforting thought. But flowers would not bring him back. Johnny knew this; he was not to be fooled. His friend had gone. He now understood, more clearly, what the Cardman had said to him, only days before.
They had been sitting together on the same bench where Johnny now rested. The Cardman talked about the coming of Autumn and the darker days to follow. He encouraged him to continue reading his Bible. Even then, it sounded as if the Cardman was preparing to go away. And Johnny asked him the straight question, `you`re not going anywhere, are you?`
The Cardman pointed to a silver maple leaf as it drifted to the ground. `You see that leaf,` he said, `that is what must happen. One dies and falls, but then, come springtime, a new one will take its place. As the tree grows there will be even more leaves …` He handed Johnny a card. The picture was of the actual view they were looking at. On the reverse, a name and address. `Johnny, this man will help you. Don`t hesitate to call upon him; he will be there for you.`
And they were the last words the Cardman had spoken to Johnny. They sat together, silently, for a while. Then Johnny walked home. It did not even seem appropriate to say goodbye; Johnny did not look back at the Cardman, but clutched the card he had been given, somehow knowing that the handwritten words would be important for him.
Now, that final conversation seemed precious. Johnny stood up and left the square as others came, bringing flowers. A young girl was crying as she passed him. The darker days had come.
As Jayne Wilkinson entered High Cross, almost falling over a young, dark-skinned man as he passed in the opposite direction, she could not hold back her tears any longer. She clutched the golden yellow chrysanthemums in her hands. They were for him – her gift, for him. And, as she knelt in the centre of the square she read, aloud, the words she had written; one last time. `You have been a friend to me. I have never known such a wonderful friend. You will live, forever, in my heart.`
As she read these words, she wept. He was gone. It was all over.
The Bishop, having just arrived and looking around for those who had been touched so deeply by the Cardman, walked across to where Jayne wept. He knelt beside her. The stone hassock was painful upon his knees. He was outside of his comfort zone, but where he needed to be; where others needed him. In his heart he heard the words of the Psalmist, “I waited patiently upon the Lord, He stooped to me and heard my cry.”
Jayne turned and saw the Bishop beside her. Her face was wet with tears; his eyes matched hers. They wept together.
`I loved him,` Jayne confessed, without preamble. `He gave me so much hope … but now he`s gone.`
`Indeed, he touched so many lives,` the Bishop replied.
`I feel that mine has been turned on its head,` Jayne told him, not talking to the Bishop of Truro but to a fellow pilgrim who, too, was feeling the pain of separation. `In these past few months, he changed my life. I`m going to miss him so much.`
`Me, too.` And the Bishop smiled, warmly, as one bereaved to another; giving and receiving support.
She told him, `my name is Jayne; with a “y”.` She suddenly felt a little nervous, realising who her companion was; her words fell awkwardly from her mouth.
`Jayne, I intend to be here for the next few days. Just to be around for people if they want to talk.` It was said as an invitation to her.
`Thank you, sir,` Jayne replied. `I think I`ll need that.`
Later that day
Twilight fell upon Truro as Johnny walked along unfamiliar paths towards Trebotham. For him, it was a journey into the unknown. He did not know Father Patrick, but the `man with the cards` had said he should seek this man`s help. And that was good enough for Johnny.
It did not take long to reach the vicarage – a large, stone, detached house, with a gravel drive and parking area. A car had just been driven in through the open gates. The driver stretched as he got out and closed the door behind him. He caught sight of Johnny standing in the opening of the gateway, featureless in the half-light. Johnny walked towards him, the sound of gravel beneath his feet announcing his presence.
Father Patrick held out a hand in welcome. `You`re Johnny?` he asked.
`Yeah.` Johnny smiled. He felt he already knew this man.
They sat in the comfortable lounge. `I`ve just come back from Plymouth,` Father Patrick said, `I was surprised to see you so soon.`
So soon? Johnny thought. `Were you expecting me?` he asked.
`Yes. But I didn`t know exactly when that would be,` Father Patrick smiled. It was a warm, genuine smile that immediately made Johnny feel safe.
`I was given this card,` he said, holding it for Father Patrick to see.
`That`s good. He told me he was going to give it to you. But, I didn`t know when that would be. I guess, he`s gone … has he?`
`Yeah. All there is, now, is an emptiness where `ed usually stand. I sat there and looked for a while but … but it hurt too much.`
`Yes, I can understand that.` Father Patrick looked at Johnny`s questioning face.
`Where`s `e gone? Do you know?` Johnny pleaded.
`Not for certain, Johnny. He told me you`ve been reading the Bible …`
`Yeah,` Johnny became animated, again, and produced the book from his rucksack.
`In it,` Father Patrick continued, `there`s a story of two men who were walking home from Jerusalem. They were downhearted and sad, because it was just after Jesus had been crucified. They felt lost and confused. I imagine, you and I may be like those two, right now.`
`Yeah. I feel like that,` Johnny confirmed.
`Have you read that story, Johnny?`
`Yeah. It`s in … Luke`s gospel.`
`Indeed, it is, and what happened as they walked along?`
Johnny thought hard. He had only read the story once, as far as he could remember. Even so, he could see, in his mind`s eye, the two men walking in the late afternoon sun … no, there were three of them.
`A stranger walked with them,` he answered. `It was the Risen Jesus.`
`Yes.` Father Patrick looked at Johnny seriously. `That story is re-enacted over and again every day. Sadly, it`s a fact of life that many people are weighed down by tragedy and sorrow; disappointed and disillusioned; lost. Many do not `see` the stranger who walks with them; the stranger who feels what they feel, weeps with them and – at an appropriate time – laughs with them, again.`
`I am that `stranger` for you, Johnny,` Father Patrick announced.
`For me? Why would you want to do that for me?`
`For many reasons. But mostly because I`ve been asked to walk with you. Will you let me do that?`
Johnny was speechless. How could anyone care so much about him? He was nothing, a nobody! At least, that is how he thought of himself.
`Will you let me be that stranger, Johnny?` Father Patrick repeated.
`I miss `im so much,` Johnny admitted, implicitly answering Father Patrick`s question.
`Then, let me help you. I know you got to know the `man with the cards` very well. Let me walk beside you, as if you were one of those two walking along the Emmaus road.`
Johnny thought hard. `But, are you not also one of the two, yourself?`
`I am. I`m one of the disciples and also the stranger, at the same time. I see it as being able to give and receive. That`s my balance in life.`
`So,` Johnny asked with more confidence, `when do I come and see you?`
`As often as you need to talk; or need help. I`ll be here for you.`