The Journey Home. A guest contribution to Off the Beaten Path

Off the Beaten Path will mark six months of weekly blog postings in just about 3 more weeks. I’m quoting below from that initial post, about what some of my original goals were. (see my post: Blogging in the Dark, 11/20/14)

“I want to hear from folks who are willing to share their paths in their chosen walk of life. You too have stories and poems and songs and pictures that celebrate life itself. With so much anger and anguish in “Media” posting today, I need a place to retreat to, listen to some jazz or classical compositions and remind myself, as Mr. Armstrong reminds us, “Its a Wonderful World”

I hope you will share your paths with us.”

An old friend, to whom I owe more than even he knows, who has made regular comments on my postings, sent me a short story he had written a few years ago while taking a class on creative writing. It is a gentle, moving tale, which was reconized by his instructor and his classmates as a wonderful story, worth sharing with others.

I immediately thought so, myself. It is with his permission that I post it here to share with all who visit this blog. As always, we invite comments and similar submissions from anyone wishing to bring a little personal perspective to this space and allow others to peek into what interests and moves you as well.

Thank you, all, for reading and following. Fred has more stories to share, as do I, and hope I can match his succinct, personal style.


Fred Hofheinz

THE JOURNEY HOME

Sarah had died in May and it wasn’t until December that he could pull himself together enough to even think about a future without her.

She was only 58 years old when the cancer began to eat her insides away but, mercifully, its progress was swift and her suffering brief. He had celebrated – if that was the word – his 72nd birthday two days after her funeral.Because of the disparity in their ages, he had always been certain that she would outlive him by many years. He had never dreamed that it would be he who would be left behind.

He spent the summer mourning and in such despair that his friends began to worry whether he would retain his sanity. He had been a witty and  brilliant conversationalist who had always been renowned by his friends as “the life of the party.” Now he had become a recluse, who politely but firmly rebuffed every dinner invitation and every offer to attend a lecture, an academic conference or any other event. Telephone calls were not returned and letters went unanswered.

He had already been teaching for more than a decade in the small Catholic college where he would spend his entire career, when Sarah came into his life. She had beenhired in the midst of her graduate school studies to fill in for one of his colleagues who was on sabbatical. She only expected to be there one year and then return to the University to complete her doctoral degree.

She spent the rest of her life in that tiny college town and abandoned her academic career after teaching only that one year, in order to make a home for him. His colleagues in the Philosophy Department often remarked that it was she who was the better scholar and who would likely have had the more distinguished career. He never disagreed.

He never expected to ever marry until he met her and often joked in later years that he had not done so earlier because “he was waiting for her to grow up.” In a more serious mood, he remarked that she was the first woman with whom he had ever had a friendship.

It had not been a smooth beginning. In their first meeting, at a party at the faculty club shortly before the beginning of the academic year, they had gotten into a discussion, that grew into an argument, that became a near-shouting match, that settled into an-almost-all-night-long conversation, about the influence of the 11th century Islamic philosopher, Avicenna, on the thinking and writing of the 13th century Christian theologian, Thomas Aquinas. Since he considered himself to be one of the few knowledgeable scholars of this obscure academic trivia, he resented this upstart young graduate student for disagreeing with his pompous soliloquy at the party. It was the first time, but not the last, that he finally had to admit that she was right.

They knew that they would have to continue talking for a long, long time and by the end of the semester they began making arrangements to marry. The wedding took place at the end of the academic year and their conversations continued uninterrupted for thirty-five years. But now they were stilled and for several months he had no idea how or why he should continue living.

But as summer turned to autumn and autumn to winter, he slowly cast off his deep depression and began to plan for whatever years might remain for him to live without her. He had resigned from the college faculty on his 70th birthday, and although his former colleagues tried to coax  him back to deliver an occasional lecture or a take a brief teaching opportunity, he had no desire to even think about such things without Sarah nearby to critique his work. And he knew of no other activity that could fulfill him.

As he sat alone in that house where memories of his beloved lurked in every corner and on every bookshelf, his attention wandered back in time to the home of his youth and the love that had consumed him before Sarah came into his life. Could he return home? Could he regain the love  that once had been his? Would he be welcome?

The evening before Christmas he locked the house for a final time, walked slowly down his front path and climbed into his car for the short drive home.

As the huge structure loomed on the horizon, his heart began pounding as it had not done since that terrible day seven months before. He remembered the first time he had entered that building more than a half-century before and he recalled the joyous and fulfilling years that he had spent within those walls. He was trembling with a mixture of fear and anticipation as he opened the heavy gate that he had closed behind him so many years before.

He walked slowly down the long, dark corridor and pulled open the door to the bright, candle-lit room. The three dozen monks in their dark robes turned to him as he entered the chapel and the abbot moved forward with open arms.

“Welcome home, Brother Louis” the abbot exclaimed, “we have all been waiting for you.”