A Friend called Joseph (a tale of yore)
I really wasn’t looking for a friend like Joseph. It was one of those serendipity things that made a difference and made a friend. Once begun there was no turning back, only a new direction forward and around rocks that appeared. Like when our sons were born in the same month. What a couple of weeks that was. This time there were cigars added to the coffee and cribbage games. There was much backslapping and dreaming while we walked and talked on the way to work. We had become quite good friends indeed. It was one of these rare types that the wives and the husbands are all good friends. Really good friends, friends that overlooked the way he picked at his beard and I picked my teeth. Our young boys were part of the mix, and such a reason for joy.
Our meetings at the coffee shop were something to look forward to. Lively debates about the camel races, neighborhood toughs, wives, kids, politics, the number of troops on the edge of town, and religion were all part of the mix. Occasionally there would be others that would join us, but mostly we were an island. Lost in strong opinions and good coffee we walked the breadth of our friendship warmly.
I was sitting there alone one day waiting with two cups of coffee, my turn to buy, and he didn’t come. It had happened a couple of times in the past and I didn’t fret much and besides I could have both cups of coffee. It was on the second day that I went to their house and found it empty of people, but scattered things laying around. Caught by surprise I knew that they didn’t move to a new hut because he would have had me help and bring my donkey. I just stood there and wondered. About the coffee, the discussions, the hugs, the borrowed tools, and the way he tugged at his beard just before he was wrong on some political topic. I was going to miss the help on my roof, and the way his kid played with mine. What would I tell him? I didn’t know? I just didn’t have any answers.
It was a couple of days later that I was at the coffee shop, alone, and was listening to the stories of the troops that were grouping near the city walls. No one knew why and there was much guessing, but they kept coming. Buy the end of the next week I was amazed at the numbers that had accumulated in the camps, and of course at the exaggerated stories of what they were here for. Some said for protection against an invasion, and others said they were the invasion! All I knew was business was up at the shop.
When the first news of terror and the wailing of mothers got to the shop we all looked at each other and then ran to our homes. We knew in an instant it was real. We knew it wasn’t a story gone wild. When I ran down my street there were grim faced troops going from house to house. They had been on my block for a while. It was covered with wailing fathers and weeping mothers and blood. The blood of sons. I had a son! Had, why did I use the word had? As I ran to the door I knew before I got there, my wife needed comfort, my son was dead. I leaned on the house and slid to the earth. I was empty and had nothing to lean on. I flailed on the ground. Made mud from my tears. I was spent and drained when I clearly saw the edge; there was more pain, a new pain. A fresh violation because the one friend I could count on had left!
This, the second pain. This was a new version, it was hope draining away. Stability subsiding and strength ebbing, my confidence shaken. This was the surprise, death was a shock, but nothing to lean on was new. The days since Joseph left were fine for the most part, although I missed him, I could survive. But this was different. This went deep to my core and the one I had counted on wasn’t there. Where could I go with my anger and my impotence to deal with the violation? I was rendered to a state of despair and found the bottom at a level that I didn’t know existed, or that I would go. I had seen people distraught before but had not visited the place to this degree in my life, and the smell cannot be undone. Now I knew their suffering. My 9 was their 9 on the pain scale. And of Joseph? Why was my son now dead, and his was with him? This was unjust! I was empty, for the first time. Completely. More this time because I have had pain before, but I had always had someone I could carry that pain to that was safe. Today I had no place to set it down. I was at the end of myself. I had found the wall.
It was there, at the wall, where I lay weeping when I heard the voice that was safe. I heard the voice of the inner man. I had known that voice before, but never this sweet. Never this safe, this warm and this complete. I had known this voice in my youth and in my later years. In times of secret and times of quiet, but it had been a while. Too long since I had listened for it and too long since I had listened to it. But here it was. Like time had stopped and I was important to the voice. The concern for my grief and loss was like a warm cloth washing my pain, like you would wash my tears. The loss was still there but the heat was missing. The angry heat. The heat of the pain, the heat of the tears on my face, but not the heat of impotence. It was different, now. The voice would correct things and I could trust Him. Trust that the books would be balanced, and now I could wait with patience and act in confidence.
I was thinking about that voice, years later, and the penetrating way it moved through me; right to the pains’ source. Right to the core that needed extinguished, and not the brush fires that were visible. The brush fires burned, but the center is done. It was eerie, but that son of Joseph came to my mind and then I understood. The eyes of that boy could penetrate stone. Like my stony heart, and find the spot that needed opened. Why him and why now? How did that gaze lend confidence that I would be well again? Why did I believe it? All I knew was that the day I see Joseph again will be a reunion, not a hurt. And we will weep at the loss of our sons. I knew that the comfort I give will be the comfort I received. Not comfort from a human perspective, but a God perspective, and it will be enough. I could now find peace for the hour at hand. And peace to extend. Peace that was no stranger.
Joseph would lose his Son. I would be a friend. I would taste the salt of the tears of loss and confusion and hurt. I had gone before him, to this place, and reconciled the question of Justice with the voice that said Justice is in His time and in His hands and I would be made whole on that day, but today I will walk with a limp. A limp that will evoke questions. Questions that I can answer. Answer with a smile of knowing and a hug of assurance. Perhaps it is that which you are needing now… that assurance. That you will come to a place that Justice will be found. I know this place. I carry it with me, for such a time as this. For you. It is time to set it down. It is time to weep. Joseph’s Son came back, Justice is here.
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