John Has a Church Nearby
D. Edwin Burbee
The road stretching in front of me, its distance grinding down the will to continue is causing hypnotic staring. A plume of red dust, with hues of brown, flour like in texture arrive in my face curbing the distant gaze. Thick wooded pines, like soldiers at attention, stand guard on my right. To the left, fields of weeds appearing as uncombed hair wandering to the horizon speak words inside my head. This is desolation. But this is what you were longing for, isn’t it? Yes it is. I am an alcoholic with 3 months of sobriety. Backpacking in the Adirondack Mountains, retreating from everyone and everything is crucial. Without calluses on my feelings, once numbed with whiskey, being alone keeps sanity tight and close. My name is Ernie.
Thirty-one is too young for a drunkard, I told myself. It is not really a problem, I told myself…Lies, all lies! I took my first drink at six never stopping until May of this year. Every member of my immediate family was alcoholic; may they rest in peace. It is not their fault; “in the blood” says my AA sponsor. The search for an answer brings my distortion to this empty yet beautiful place. What am I looking for? That is mysterious. Pushing me forward is a compelling power, seeking insight just around a distant curve of path. I am a living puzzle, the 1,000 piece size, born containing 999.
The Tongue Mountain Range trail was my choice with lean-tos for overnight camping. The down side is timber rattlers; these are large snakes some approaching five feet. The upside is they are a great source of protein; The Ruger SP101, on my belt, is loaded with snake shot for that purpose. Seeing an unoccupied lean-to in the distance, I stop to set up camp.
Removing my backpack, I hear the sound of footsteps, the voice of a women behind shouts “stopping for a break”.
“Yes, where did you come from”?
I’ve been following you for miles”, she replied. Odd, I thought; wonder why I never saw her? “Are you heading for Brown Mountain, My names Vicky”?
“I’m Ernie; Vicky was my mother’s name, what are the chances”?
“Must be karma”, she quipped.
“Actually, I don’t know where I’m headed, how about you? She did not reply, only smiled.
Then she spoke, “The look on your face plus tone of voice tells me your walking away from somewhere, not to; am I correct”?
“Look, I’m just on a hike are you some kind of seer”?
“Never been called that before, but that’s fairly close” she responded.
“Close, close to what?”
“Ernie lets start a fire and I’ll brew up some tea”.
“OK Ms. Seer, but watch out for snakes”.
“Snakes stay away from me Ernie”.
Fire started and water set to boil we sat down on a log, she spoke first.
“What are you searching for”? Her voice is melodic and when she speaks, a profound peace overwhelms.
“A solution to a problem Vicky, I’m a drunk, been dry since May, seeking a cure or a way to live without booze; make sense?” She poked at the fire. Sparks winking in darkness compliment the unusual feeling of peace.
Pausing a moment, her tuneful voice plays; “inside of everyone’s soul is a door without a knob. Behind that door is a closet with a cloak hanging on a hook. Most think past this door an entire lifetime”.
“Vicky, how do I open this door”?
“You knock and it opens, then you put on the robe. To tap on the door is accomplished by praying the sinner’s prayer”.
“Vicky, what are you some sort of minister”? Again, no reply just a smile.
“Alright, what is the robe or cloak for”?
“It is the robe of forgiveness, a complete pardon awaits anyone who knocks and asks the Almighty One to forgive all past sins. Donning the robe marks you as His, gifting eternal life. But the road to life forever is strait not impassable; The Great Spirit will guide you, for you are no longer alone”. Reaching out she placed a stone in my hand. “What is this”, I inquire, and “it feels warm”.
“Ernie this is for you, it is syenite a form of granite. Keep it forever as a reminder of this moment. John has a church nearby, all your answers are there”.
“John, John who”?
She stood placing her hand on my shoulder, “John the Baptist”.
“This Church, how do I find it”?
“Just walk you’ll see…just walk”.
Opening the side flap on my backpack I placed the stone inside. “Thank you Vicky, would you like another cup of tea? Vicky”? She was gone! Looking up and down the trail there was no sign of her; vanishing almost instantly without a sound.
Sitting back down on the log, I begin to cry. Flowing tears of sorrow breach the dam of resentment. Manacles of memories melt instilling peace. The queen of sleep reintroduces herself; drifting, drifting then suddenly sunrise.
At daylight, I leave the lean-to and begin to walk, following an off-shoot path. There is not a thought as to direction, walking excitedly, and just placing one foot in front of the other. When the sun is high, a church steeple comes into view. Reaching the building I read the name, “Fellowship Baptist“.
The Minister greets me at the door. “What can I do for you”?
“I want to pray the sinner’s prayer and be saved” The words come out without thinking.
“At this time, you are exactly where you’re supposed to be, follow me”, he directed.
That was 34 years ago. Sobriety and the Great Spirit live within. The syenite rock is still in my pocket. I now know that Vicky is my Guardian Angel and one day we will meet again, only this time I will be wearing the cloak of forgiveness.