He had been awake for a long while.
The ceiling had not changed its color in all of the time that he stared upon it. The birds never stopped singing their praises as the rays of hope streamed through the withering panes of his window. The days seemed longer now. His knees ached even before placing his feet on the creaking beams that his landlord called a floor. Lifting the covers from his fatigued form, he gently bowed on one knee and then, the other. Bowing his head upon his tightly clasped hands, the sunlight illuminated more grandly his coarse, white hair. His utterances towards God, more a comfort from the awareness of the blistering pains forged upon the human body with the passing of days than a pious plea for help from the Almighty, steadied him for his assault upon the mattress, as he would call upon its firmness to raise his decrepit soul from his morning talk with the Divine.
The days were long passed when his straight razor would, with ease, strike the soft whiskers from his face. Now, the sharp, glistening blade was reluctant to even scrap the steely white hairs from his cheek. More war than convenience, he would settle for a more rugged look than his gentlemanly desire. The mirror reminded him of his son. The lad would soap his face and take the broad end of a black comb to mightily slay the imaginary beard he wore. They each stroked their blades against their skin and rinsed them beneath the warm water spilling from the faucet. Each smiled towards the mirror having conquered their unwanted hair and looking regal. They were handsome. The mirror is cruel. Only one stands before it today. The other, an esteemed soldier and defender of the Nation, never returned from his duty beyond the seas. Dreams deferred were dashed. Raised to carry the torch, the old man would eulogize him and watch his friends carry his coffin. Reflections are as coarse as the hairs that are rinsed from his blade this day.
It takes a few minutes to secure his gold cuff links into his finely ironed shirt. Every crease pronounced. Collar straight without error. He had learned in his youth that winsome presentation is rewarded with great favor from God and man. Not a day would pass that he did not think of the "good thing" that God awarded him in his more carefree days. His wife would always pierce his sleeves with the cuff links and gently place his robe upon his shoulders every Sunday morn. He would hold her ever youthful hands and pray to the unseen God that He would keep her in perfect peace with her mind stayed on him. She would embrace. He would kiss her forehead. She departed to the front row to cheer him as he preached. None would hold his hand on this day. No arms would comfort him. Two years ago, he kissed her forehead for the last time. On this day, when the world would challenge him greatly, there would be no cheer leader in the front row. Parked in the space that was set aside for him for over thirty years, the links glistened as the day shone forth through the windshield. Today, he would stand for the sake of righteousness. No books in his office to pack. Entirely sterile, it was. He knew this would be his last.
Over three thousand souls peered at him as he held to both sides of the pulpit. In his youth, he rested upon the pulpit for dramatic effect. Now, weakened by the long years of spiritual warfare, it is a buttress for his failing legs. They were close enough to hear his thoughts yet, a million light years away from what he believed. No doubt, they were cautious to show him respect. For, in their youth, he taught them Bible stories and encouraged them throughout their formidable years. They honored him as they would any elder from the community. When they left for college, they learned truths. The stories seemed to fade. They were just words spoken by a man. Anyway, he was old. He was cranky. He hated people. He hated people for what they said. It was a truth. He hated people for what they did. It was a truth. He hated people for what they believed. It was a truth. In this day, he was ancient. He was holding to old thoughts, old ways of doing things and keeping people out that needed to be a part. It was a truth. We gave him a chance to change and to become more enlightened. He refused. We can not have our children coming up believing what he believed. How will we ever get those "out there" to come in with him saying what he believes? It is a truth. We know more now. In his day, we did not restrain him. This must be his last.
He felt their eyes. Their respect was merely a kind exchange of patience. If only he had spoken the words that would share their faith then, he would be a hero. In the deep recesses of his heart, he wanted to be celebrated. However, he remembered the vow. He remembered that moment. It was not in a picturesque edifice filled with silver and gold. It was not before three thousand souls. There was no three hundred member choir singing from rafters. He remembered being in the presence of that still quiet voice. He remembered how tears fell upon his neck and chest. He remembered being told that he was loved. After all that he did, he was still loved. No promise to or from man would ever equate to the solemn promise that he had given to this Spirit that loved him for all eternity. Their stern looks would not prevail. His face was hardened.
They have come to silence the message. They have come to rid themselves of the messenger. His words are mere violence upon the ears and souls of men. What shield have we against his darts? Does he not know that we have one in the wings that speaks like us and for us? If only in the dark of night, we could have banished him with our tongues, our quills, our allegiances. He would not listen to our counsel. We had been brothers in cause. How distant he became to us. He left us. We spoke of the need for compromise for the sake of godly gain. He retorted that we must be upright in all our dealings. Rather than accepting that the world has changed and everything around him, he chose to be brave and protest self-righteously. We yielded to a better way of thinking. He said there was a more correct way of thinking. When we saw things as they were, he told us not to be blind to irreverent actions and hostile prejudices. He told us to beware the enemy. We caught him traveling with the enemy. How dare he stand before us as if he is better than us!? His message has cost us much. We have lost many with him as our messenger. When he finishes, we will be done with him. He has brought us nothing but disunity. Far more important than his truth, our unity is. If he does not soothe us, he shall rue the day that he came to deliver his truth.
Amidst a few patters of hands, he yielded. The Truth had been spoken. The new diviner was standing in the back. It had been a common practice that the elder and the junior would stand together. Each shaking the hands of the parishioners as they exited. At the close of service, the cleric was mobbed. Babies were kissed. The women's ministry head invites him to a tea next Saturday. The Treasurer invites him to join his foursome Wednesday at the Country Club. The newest deacon inquires about a promotion among the laity. He waves toward the old man leaving through the rear exit. The old man pauses. They once loved him. When he stood against those who sought to do evil against the City, he preached in the City's Square all night and all day. When fellow clerics sought to compromise yielding their power to the state, he stood against them. Criticized as arrogant and self-centered, he shielded himself from their antithesis by holding his wife's hand. Before the old man can raise his hand to wave back, the cleric has turned his back. He tells his parishioners gathered outside the door, "Tomorrow will be different. We will grow with a new message. I will be that messenger. Let the old ways die and embrace a new day."
The exit door closes unnoticed.