in memory: a lesson from the farm

I sat in the back pew of an upstate church with the February sun leaking in through the stained glass windows. The room was cold and empty. The wooden benches were cold to the touch and the silence was loud enough to make my ears ring.
My hands were cold because the heat was turned down. My thoughts were scattered and my stomach growled because my breakfast was only half-portioned.
Outside, the sky was a brilliant shade of winter blue with long faded strips of scattered white clouds. The sun was bright, but its warmth was vacant, and the sharp winds cried through empty branches of the nearby trees.

As a part of my, “Service and charity” The Farm sent me to a nearby church in Callicoon to clean it, and though the room was empty, I felt uncomfortable with my company.
The white walls led up to high, white ceilings. The carpeting was a deep-colored green; the benches were a glossed shade of stained wood, and up front was the wide pulpit, which is where the Priest stood during mass.
The pulpit was covered with a white cover with a golden cross embroidered on its front. There were two tall white candles on either side of the table top, and in the middle was a golden cup next to a golden plate with The Holy Bible between the two.
Behind the pulpit was the rear wall of the church, which was dressed with a life-sized crucifix that held the Son of Man. His arms extended across and his hands were nailed to each side. His head slumped downward into his chest. His legs crossed, left over right, with a spike through the tops of both feet, and there was a wound stabbed beneath His right rib.
There was a crown of thorns upon His head and above were the letters, “INRI” abbreviating the Latin name, “Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum,” or Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

I was not sober long. My father had just passed away and I was filled with guilt. I felt irredeemable and angry.
The cold in the church matched the cold in my spine and I struggled to look upwards at the pulpit. I felt the struggle of my own company and I was painfully aware of my sins. I was aware of what I had done as well as how far I had run away from truth and goodness.
Same as I struggled to look at pictures of my father because of the guilt in my heart, I could not look up at the cross because of the guilt in my sin.
It was too painful.

I have never felt as cold as I did that morning. I have never felt as empty or as hollow as I did when I was faced with the truth of who I was.

By this time, my chores were finished. The pews were cleaned as instructed. So were the bathrooms, and the carpet was vacuumed. All that was left was to wait for my ride and head back to The Farm.
However, stuck in my own company, the clock moved painfully slow.
The cold seeped into my toes. My fingers felt the sort of numbing chill that comes with pain—and I suppose my heart felt the same as my fingers.
(Numbed and in pain)

At the worst in my addiction and at the bottom of all my binges, the most painful sight was the reflection I saw in the mirror.
My eyes were demonized and half-sunk. My pupils were truly dark—like deep black holes, as if I were lost without a soul, and my heart was emptied.
There was often dried blood beneath my nostrils and my skin was sickly and pale. I would stare at the terrible version of myself, my stomach rumbled without food, and the reflection I saw in the mirror was the painful truth of what I had become.

I would see this reflection the morning after my binges
The sun would come up, light would shine, and I was exposed . . .

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.
But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

(John 3:19-2)

The hardest place to be was alone in that church and faced with truth. I felt exposed in the light and ashamed of what I had become. It seemed it was easier to stay as I was, a sinner, than it would be to submit myself in faith and without fear. I felt weak.
I was ashamed, and while faced with myself, I wanted to run . . .
but there was nowhere left to go.

It’s hard to look up when you feel irredeemable.
It’s hard to have faith in anything when you have no faith in yourself.
I know. I felt that way too.

As I began writing to you, I was informed of the passing of an old friend.
So I will close this with a sad heart.
Tony was more like a father, actually.
In fact, it was his farm that helped me become who I am today

I visited him on The Farm after a relapse in my sobriety.
As soon as I saw him, the regret leaked from my eyes and I wept.
I could not face him because the truth of my sin was too painful.
But he did not reject me.
He did not turn me away or order me to leave The Farm.
No. He held me instead and assured. “It’s okay, son. You’re back now.”

Same as Tony showed me forgiveness, I know my father would show forgiveness. And same as they forgave me, so would Our Father because my sorrow shows repentance, and repentance is the path to forgiveness.

Sleep well, Tony.
Even in my darkest times, the light you shared with me has shown me the way.


thee pond




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