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Archive for the ‘Short Fiction’ Category

Two Wolves

I don’t know the origin of this parable — if I did, I’d give credit where it’s due — but I’ve stumbled across it a couple times in my travels, and completely agree with its message.

Two Wolves

An old Cherokee chief is teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves.

“One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego.

“The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope,
serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.

“This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old chief simply replied, “The one you feed.”

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An angel clipped of her wings rests, not so soundly, taking up less than one-fourth of a seemingly huge hospital bed.   IVs in her arms, providing her with vital fluid and nutrients to preserve her for what  time she has left.  While mother watches on, little Alexa struggles to breathe in her sleep.  The oxygen tubing in her nose makes it slightly easier, but apparently not much easier, since she often wakes gasping for air.

Alexa had been diagnosed with Leukemia the previous year.  For a long time her mother, Linda, had been noticing that she would bruise easily and heal slowly.  The little girl always seemed overtired and more susceptible to every little bug that happened to be going around.  These were subtle warning signs, but Linda felt guilty for not seeing them earlier.  Now, seven years old, Alexa had been through chemotherapy, but unfortunately they didn’t catch it in time, so she’s going through the very difficult final stages.

Alexa woke up coughing. “Mom?”

“I’m right here, baby,” her mother said, from a chair near the bed.

“What time is it?” asked Alexa.

“Just after midnight, Skyscraper, try to get some more rest.”

Little Skyscraper was the nickname Alexa’s dad had given her.   Charles Severin had worked for a construction company based in New York.   Some of the taller buildings in the city were a result of he and his crew’s handiwork.  But Charlie always said that Alexa was his proudest creation.

On one occasion, he was working on a site, which was pretty near completion, and he walked out on a ledge to secure some bolts on an outside wall panel, but his safety harness wasn’t fastened properly.  Charles fell thirty-seven feet to his death.  Alexa was five at the time.  Her mother decided she couldn’t bear to stay in New York any longer, following the accident.  So the two of them moved to Cape Cod, Massachusetts in an attempt to begin a new life.

As Alexa tried to go back to sleep, a night nurse entered the room to take her vital signs.  This was a source of great aggravation for Linda, since a nurse would come in to do this every two hours; usually waking the young girl from much-needed sleep.  At least they caught her when she was awake this time, thought Linda.  When the nurse was finished taking Alexa’s blood pressure, she walked over to the window and went to close the blinds.  “No!”  Alexa cried out, stopping the nurse in her tracks.

“She likes to look at the sky,” Linda explained.

The nurse apologized with a smile, then left the room.    After a couple moments of silence: “A seagull landed on the ledge out there today when you went to the cafeteria,” Alexa said, in a tired, raspy voice.

“Oh yeah?  Stop by to say hello, did he?”

Alexa then quickly changed the subject: “Do you think I’ll see Daddy in Heaven, Mom?”

“If it’s at all possible, you and your Dad will be together,” Linda finally answered.  She had a hard time believing in a god that would take her husband away, and then less than three years later, be in the process of taking her only child.  Of course she wanted to believe that they would reunite in some perfect utopia somewhere.  Still,  either her answer or her hesitation to answer made Alexa seem suddenly withdrawn.  It seemed the only color left at all to her feeble little body were her lullaby blue eyes, which pierced your heart and then made a home there.  Her once sandy brown hair was gone now.  Thanks to chemotherapy, she was as bald as a newborn baby.  Yet, she maintained such elegant beauty.

“Where did I come from Mom?  I mean, before I was born,”  asked Alexa.

“Mom’s tummy, baby.  You know that,” Linda answered, speaking in baby talk, not for Alexa’s sake as much as her own.

“No.  I mean before I was there.”

“I don’t know Alexa,” Linda said, pained that she was unable to answer her daughter’s questions.  She didn’t want to lie to her, having no idea what was ahead, but even anyone who claimed to have answers to these questions couldn’t know for sure.  It’s an overwhelming feeling of emptiness.  “Faith” had become an ugly word to Linda; reaching in the dark for a hand that may or may not even be there.  After Charles’ death, she tried to convince herself that she was no longer capable of feeling, tricking herself into believing that she had somehow pulled the plug at the source of any emotional attachment.   But now this comes along and exposes her as a fraud.  Her game was over and she could no longer pretend that she was emotionally impenetrable.  She was vulnerable to her very core, helpless to protect her own child from this invisible villain.

“I’m afraid Mom.  I don’t want to die.” Tears rolled down pale cheeks as she reached for her mother.  Linda hugged her tightly, as if trying to squeeze all the fear from her, as well as her own.  Both of them now with tears flowing, locked in an embrace, drawing comfort from one another.  No words of encouragement sprang to the exhausted mind of a tormented mother — just an ache that didn’t seem to have a beginning or an end.

Alexa managed to once again find sanctuary in a chemically assisted slumber, where fear could seemingly go on the back burner for the time being.  Linda didn’t have this option.  Sleep had eluded her for so long now that she had almost forgotten what it was like. She would often just sit and stare at the angel whose form barely created a dent in the mattress; so small and so delicate.  Linda would look at the beautiful child who would melt the heart of the hardest human being, yet this same beautiful child receives no mercy from a supposed loving God — a loving creator who people praise and worship, just in case he exists.  People spend their entire lives trying to be good and trying to please this absentee father, in the fear that if they slip up, they will suffer eternal damnation.  As Linda sat there in the stuffy hospital room thinking about these things, toying with the ideas that had always kept people in line, she found herself being suffocated by abstract prisons and religious dogma.  A venom grew within her, and she wanted to lash out at somebody or something, but God — as usual — was obviously nowhere to be found.

Linda suddenly had to leave the room; couldn’t bear the stagnant air a second longer.   The bright lights of the hallway irritated her tired eyes, so she sealed them shut in an attempt to hold in the tears, which eventually broke through despite her efforts.   She leaned her face against the cool wall and began sobbing uncontrollably as she lightly pounded her fist against the doorframe.  Her legs grew weak and indifferent as her body slowly bent under the weight of itself.  One of the nurses at the desk across from her took notice and walked over.  Aware of what the mother was going through, she put her arms around her and let her cry into her shoulder.  Linda thought to herself that she must have slipped up somewhere along the way, because God had a special Hell set-aside for her.

“Mom,” her voice in a whisper.  “Mom.”  Linda awoke, in the uncomfortable chair where she spent most of her restless night.

“What is it Skyscraper?” she asked with a yawn; her eyes focused in on Alexa, who was partially sitting up.  In a wheezing and excited voice Alexa went on to tell her about a vivid dream that she had.

“A seagull came to the window and invited me to go flying with him,” she explained.

“The seagull you saw yesterday?  He talked to you?”

“Yeah… No… Well, kinda.  He talked to me with his mind.”  Alexa continued: “I got up out of the bed and flew through the window, like it wasn’t even there!  The sky was beautiful Mom; all purple and pink and orange mixed together.  Me and the Seagull flew up to the clouds and went through them.  And it tickled my nose,” she said with a giggle.  “He didn’t have to tell me where we were going — I just automatically knew.”

“Where was that, baby?”

“To see Daddy!” Alexa enthusiastically answered.

She went on to tell about how, after awhile she didn’t even have to fly where she wanted to go; she would just think of a place, and like Magic, she was there.  “I even thought of you, and all of a sudden, I was here with you again, while you were asleep in the chair.”  Linda was amazed at how Alexa went on and on about this  incredible dream.  She hadn’t been this animated the entire time they were in the hospital.

“It’s all perfect, Mom.  I wish you could see.  Then you’d know.”

Linda was confused by this statement, but went on to ask, “So, did you see Daddy?”

“No.  I had to come back.  But the seagull promised that I would see him soon,” Alexa assured.

“That was a beautiful dream, baby.”

“Yeah,” Alexa agreed as she leaned back into her pillow, looking out at the morning sky.

Alexa’s condition didn’t stay so promising throughout the course of the day.  She gradually got weaker and each nurse who came in was unable feign an optimistic front.  Her vital signs were low and when she wasn’t sleeping she could only communicate in muffled whispers.  Alexa did mention the dream a few more times.  “It’s all perfect.  It’s all so perfect,” she would say, only slightly coherent.  Linda was made dizzy by the relentless aching and utter powerlessness she felt as she could only watch her little girl fade in and out of consciousness.

Eventually the Little Skyscraper closed those lullaby blue eyes for the last time.  A faceless crew of medical professionals came and did everything they could to make the inevitable as peaceful as possible.  But the parentheses, which surrounded the seven years that were Alexa’s life, had now closed.

A mother holds the lifeless hand of a child no longer belonging to her.  The chest which Linda had watched strain to rise and fall throughout the night was now still.  This was the coldest morning she had ever known; empty of a promising future and full of memories forcing their way to the surface, only serving to bite and gnaw at the heart of what was now left over.  Still, the angelic complexion remained on this tiny body void of spirit.  Now the little girl Linda had given life to — or was it the other way around? — was no more.

Later that afternoon, Linda went back to the room to pack up their belongings.  Once meaningless items, such as incomplete pictures in a coloring book and plush toys, were now priceless treasures,  inextricably linked to a soul exuding the purest of love.   Linda walked over to the foot of the bed and picked up a worn out blue blanket — a loyal ally to Alexa in times of need.  Holding it up to her face, she rejoiced in the scent of her baby girl.  Through tears streaming down her face, she suddenly saw out of the corner of her eye — a visitor, standing on the ledge outside of the window.  Linda’s legs went numb and she grabbed the end of the bed to secure herself.  Her eyes met with the eyes of a noble messenger, a radiant, feather-bearing prophet able to answer all questions without saying a word.  It was a seagull… It was “The Seagull”; of this Linda was sure.

The bird’s stare penetrated her, filling her with an overpowering feeling of peace and reassurance, a feeling of liquid light coursing through her veins.  For the first time in days, a smile eased its way onto the face of Linda Severin and a weight was lifted from her.  With that, the bird turned around and flew off into the early morning sky, leaving the memory of Alexa’s words: “It’s all perfect.  It’s all so perfect.”

 [11] He was taken away lest wickedness should alter his understanding, or deceit beguile his soul. [12] For the bewitching of vanity obscureth good things, and the wandering of concupiscence overturneth the innocent mind. [13] Being made perfect in a short space, he fulfilled a long time: [14] For his soul pleased God: therefore he hastened to bring him out of the midst of iniquities: but the people see this, and understand not, nor lay up such things in their hearts: [15] That the grace of God, and his mercy is with his saints, and that he hath respect to his chosen.

From the Book Of Wisdom, chapter 4

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