I got a call from an old friend. He said he was leaving, and would I drop by to see him off?
When I arrived, I could see he was uneasy, like he wasn’t sure he was in the right place. No bags. No one with him. Just a slip of paper in his hand. He smiled a bit when he saw me.
“Thanks for coming,” he said as he hugged me. He was trembling, his breathing labored, his embrace weak. He wasn’t well. I knew this would be his last trip.
There was a bench nearby, and we sat. “Thanks for coming,” he said again. “I’m glad you’re here. I don’t understand. I mean, this trip. I’ve never taken one like it. I don’t really know what to expect. A friend told me about it, said they had room for me. But I only made my reservation a few days ago. I should have made it sooner. Don’t know why I put it off. He told me not to worry. They’d have my place ready when I got there.”
He looked down at the paper in his hand. He slowly lifted it to me. “He said this is all I needed.”
He handed me the paper. It had his name and the date, not much else. He pointed to the bottom. The paper had been stamped. In red letters were the words “PAID IN FULL.” He looked at me and then looked down at the paper.
“I didn’t pay for this. I never could have. Another man paid it, all of it. It was expensive. He said he did it so I could go. He gave everything.”
He looked back up at me, tears welling up in his eyes. “Why would someone do that? Why for someone like me? I thought there must be a mistake.” He looked down again. “I had to tell him, you know. I couldn’t go without telling him, you know, what I’ve done, so many things I regret. I felt so guilty, you know.”
“Yes…I know,” I replied. “What did he say?”
My friend looked back at me with a puzzled look. “He said he knew,” he replied, “He knew it all already, every bad thing I had ever done, and yet he paid for me anyway. He told me never to worry about it again, that it was finished…it’s finished.
“So here I am,” he said as he looked around, the uneasiness again evident in his face.
“What is it?” I asked.
He looked back at me for a long time, then looked down again. “I’m afraid,” he said. “What’s going to happen? I don’t know how it will be, you know. That’s why I wanted you here.” He looked up again. “Do you know what it’ll be like? Can you tell me what will happen?”
“Yes, I can tell you a little. Sit back and rest. Don’t worry, everything will be all right now. Everything’s been taken care of.
“When it’s time, he will call you. You’ll know his voice. When you hear your name, just close your eyes. In that moment, even before you can open your eyes again, you’ll be aware that something is different; something is very different. Your pain—your pain is completely gone. Your legs are no longer cold, your chest is no longer heavy.
“But there’s something else, something added, something new. You feel…light. As if the weight of the world has been lifted from your soul. You feel surprisingly…amazingly…alive. More alive than you’ve ever felt before, in a way you’ve never felt before.
“You chance a breath. You draw it in slowly, waiting for the pain, waiting for the cancer in your lungs that’s been your cruel master for so long to command, “No further.” And yet he is silent. He is gone. You breathe, deeply, fully.
“And now, again something new, something different in the air. A fragrance. You exhale and breathe in again, tasting more. No, not a fragrance, not something in the air but something of the air, as if the very air itself is alive. It’s pure, no…no, more than pure. It’s beyond pure, beyond amazing. You can’t describe it.
“You breathe in again deeply, fully, wonderfully, and then…you hear it. A sound. A sound around you. A sound everywhere. It’s beautiful. What is it? Music? Is it music? No, no, no, no. It’s more than music. Voices? Yes, it…it sounds…sounds like voices, but more than voices.
“And then, without knowing how you know, all of a sudden you know. You know what it is. Angels. Heavenly angels. It’s angels! A choir of heavenly angels filling the air with the most beautiful sound you can ever imagine.
“You’re caught up as you listen, and then you realize your eyes are still closed and all this is happening in only a moment.
“You hold them closed. ‘Do I dare open them? What will I see? Everything so new, everything so unbelievable.’ You slowly, ever so slowly, begin to open your eyes. As you do, you notice first only brilliant light, dazzling and blazing brighter than even the sun, and yet—strangely—it doesn’t hurt your eyes.
“As you look around, you see others—other people, people from everywhere, all dressed in robes, white robes, their robes shining with brilliant light. You look down at yourself. You’re no longer in your bedclothes. You’re wearing a white robe, too! A brilliant, white robe like the multitudes around you. You notice that though your robe is gleaming. It’s not the source of the light but seems to be reflecting the light, as the moon does of the sun.
“You look to the sky, but there is no sun. Where is this light coming from? Now you notice the multitudes, turned with hands upraised. The angels, turned, hands upraised. All singing in beautiful harmony, words of praise, all turned toward the source of the light.
“As you turn, you behold one like the Son of Man, dressed in a long robe, with a golden sash around his chest. The hair of his head is white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes are like a blazing fire. His feet are like polished bronze, his voice like the roar of many waters, his face is like the sun shining at its brightest.
“When you see him, you fall at his feet. You feel him place his hand upon your shoulder, and you hear him say, ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last, the Living One. I was dead, and behold, now I am alive forever and ever!’
“And as he raises you up, wiping the tears from your eyes, he draws you close and softly whispers in your ear, ‘Well done, Crawford. Enter into the joy of your King.’”
As I sat there on the bench with my friend, I noticed a peace had come over him. He was now calm, his eyes closed, his face serene. I realized he was no longer with me but had already begun his journey.
“Farewell, my friend. We will miss you. Farewell, until we meet again.”