"The Road Home"


“The Road Home”

On the Road God knows how long,     Thought I heard a soft familiar sound,     Voices on the wind, Calling me Home again.        Memories, events and places,         A warm reception familiar faces,       Waiting there for me,         The end of my life journey…   J S


Since the second week of December through the 9th of this month we have had the misfortune of experiencing 5 deaths of friends and family members. Five different families left to deal with the loss of a loved one. Left behind to deal not only their grief but the grueling task of taking care of all the business involved with dying, all the arrangements that must be made, the mortuary, cemetery, church, flowers, obituary, music, pictures, reception, food and a host of other things that must be done. Often it isn’t until after the burial and reception that we can finally settle down and deal with our thoughts and emotions, no easy task. Perhaps it is best that we are kept so busy immediately following the death of a loved one.

Everyone has their own idea of what awaits us when our life journey is complete. Most believe that when we die our souls are spirited away to a heavenly paradise complete with God, angels, saints and the dearly departed, what a lovely sentiment. I find the concept of the hereafter both intriguing and terrifying at the same time. The idea of a heavenly home is comforting but the forever and ever part is frightening,  but then how can we be expected to understand eternity when our lives are so finite.

I have long compared life to a road that we must travel. Sometimes the road is smooth and travel is easy. Sometimes it is rough and full of potholes and the going is treacherous. Other times the grade is steep and hilly and travel is slow. Then there are those damn forks in the road where decisions must be made and the wrong choice can detour us from time to time. I have certainly run into a few forks and made the wrong choices on my journey. Thank God I’ve managed to make my way back to right road.
 In 2005 I wrote a short story entitled “The Road” in which I describe what I believe might happen when I die. In the story I don’t know that I have died and experience a series of strange experiences that trigger flashbacks from various points in my life. In time I discover an old road where a road had never been before. At the base of the road is an old giant California Pepper Tree. While standing in the shade of the tree trying to figure things out I begin to hear music find myself longing to follow the road. After some deliberation I overcome my fear and begin my journey up the road.
Here is an excerpt from “The Road.”
 I found myself growing unusually tired as I made my way up the road. The grade was much steeper than it had first appeared, and the hot sun wasn’t helping matters any. I stopped for a moment to catch my breath and wipe the sweat from my face. I eyed the road ahead. The bend, which was still a ways off, had looked much closer from the pepper tree. Suddenly the music stopped. I strained to hear the song but there was only silence. After a few minutes I was nearly convinced that the song had all been in my head and was considering turning back, when the singing began again. I rested awhile longer then continued on my way.
Soon I rounded the bend and was surprised to find that the paved road abruptly ended. A narrow, but well worn foot path took its place and continued southeast about 50 yards, then disappeared into a grove of oak trees. The song was more audible now, and coming from somewhere just beyond the trees. As I got closer to the trees I began to hear other sounds as well, familiar sounds, the tinkling of glass and silver, laughter and the soft murmurs of people engaged in conversation. I picked up my pace and followed the path into the trees, anxious to see what lie ahead.

It seemed like forever as I made my way through the trees. What I saw when I came out on the other side completely blew me away! I found myself standing on the south edge of a grassy glade perhaps half the size of a football field, completely encircled by giant oaks. Near the north end of the clearing stood an enormous white pavilion, like those used for garden weddings or other festivities. Beneath it sat scores of people, talking, laughing and carrying on. It was astonishing! I thought that maybe I’d stumbled onto someone’s private wedding or anniversary reception.

At the center of the pavilion stood a magnificently ornate marble fountain, perhaps fifteen feet tall! Crystal, blue water spilled freely from the vases of three winged cherubs that seemed to be floating near the crown of the fountain. Amazingly, water cascaded soundlessly from tier to tier into a large pool at the base. A few feet to the right of the fountain there was an enormous sculpture of a stately lion. Though its pose was a peaceful one, it looked as though it were there as protector or guardian, its face solemn and thoughtful, its mane wild and unkept. I was immediately reminded of the noble lion Aslan from C.S. Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia.” I couldn’t pull my eyes away it was all so beautiful.

The spell was soon broken as the music ended and the guests began to applaud. I turned my head searching for the singer and found her standing near a large floral arrangement not far from the lion. I stood there transfixed. She wore a white, full length gown and had a tiara in her hair. She was radiant! I couldn’t believe my eyes, for as impossible as it was, the singer was my mother!

I was stunned! I stood there unable to move, watching her as she moved gracefully among the guests delivering another song. She looked so beautiful. Overcome by emotion, I began to cry. I was confused and for just a moment considered leaving, but when I turned around there was no longer a path behind me, there were only trees. I realized then there was no turning back.

I looked back at my mom. So much had passed between us. I stood there dazed by memory overload, the good, the not so good, and the ugly. I closed my eyes and listened to her voice in song, trying desperately to regain my composure, trying to forget all the pain I had ever caused her, I was so sorry. When I reopened my eyes a minute or so later, I felt a little better, and realized that my mom had seen me. She was looking directly at me and was waving, beckoning me to come to her, and behind her the guests were rising from their chairs and they too began to wave. I stood there unable to move for what felt like an eternity, then very slowly I began walking towards her, and she towards me, the guests fell in behind her. 

We were perhaps twenty feet apart still moving towards each other when I took my first real look at the crowd behind her. I had been so enraptured by the sight of my mother that until now I had paid little attention to the others. I wasn’t at all surprised to see that the group was filled with familiar faces. I knew them all! A few steps behind my mom were my uncle Peter, Grandma Pepita, my cousins Janene and Sandra, Aunt Lucy and a man who I recognized as my grandpa Angel who I’d never chanced to meet. Not far from them were my grandpa Leo and grandma Lula, my in-laws Shelby and Arlene, and Uncle Barney and his boys were with them! Incredible!  I continued scanning the crowd and saw my nino John Barrios, Chema, Al Pacheco and Frankie! Phil Davis, Kathy, aunt Natalie, Uncle Lupe, Phil Gomez, even Bob and Mary Lloyd, and so many others. They were all there and were so happy to see me!

I was in tears as I fell into my mother’s arms and she held and comforted me, and told me everything was okay, just like in my dreams. I tried to tell her how sorry I was, but she put a finger to my lips and told me to let it all go, that it didn’t matter any longer. It felt so right to feel her close to me, to know that she was there, to feel her love. I’d almost forgotten what a mother’s love felt like, it felt like heaven.

Moments later I was surrounded by family and friends, all crowding in around me, like some gigantic group hug, all eager to greet and welcome me. It was an incredible feeling, I was on fire inside! Never in my life had I experienced such heartfelt love and warmth, such joy and happiness. Only after I’d been greeted and hugged by everyone, did we begin walking back to the pavilion. Hand in hand, my mother and I led the way. I felt so good, like a lost child who at long last is reunited with his family.

By the time we arrived back at the pavilion things had become clear. It was all beginning to make perfect sense. I watched as people made their way back to their tables, talking and laughing, so pleased that I had arrived. I realized then that I had not happened upon the road or the reception by chance, none of it was accidental. Everything I’d experienced thus far had been part of the plan, just part of the trip. I was there because I’d been invited. It was my time, and this was my reception, I was the guest of honor. Everyone who was here, including my mom, was here because of the impact they’d had on my life. They were here for me, to welcome me and make my transition easier. At that moment I realized that my life journey was complete, and at long last I was Home.   Home to stay……    


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