In the Christian calendar, today marks the day the wise men came, bringing gifts to the baby Jesus. On the day of the Epiphany the sacred is revealed to the world through the birth of a child. It is the final day of Christmas.
An epiphany can also be of a more personal nature. A sudden revelation, the acknowledgement of an underlying truth, a spritual flash. I had an epiphany once.
I stood on a bridge in the middle of the night. It was cold. The water below me was oily black. Every now and then the bridge groaned, its foundations shifting. The traffic traversing it left a haze above the road – electrons and fuel.
A flock of birds flew above me, painted black by the night, calling to one another, mournful yet with a sense of belonging. If I had been able to fly I would have joined them on their quest to find land or home. I imagined tracing the air with wings, caught up in identical movements, heads turned together; many but one. Maybe that’s what joy is like.
The water split and changed direction like a whirlpool was forming. I imagined tentacles and fangs but it was the wash from a tugboat, light feebly pulsing yellow. I imagined jumping, climbing aboard, begging the captain to take me to a place far away until I realised he was probably only going to the next ferry stop and that it was a very long way down.
I wondered what it would be like, the slam of the body as it hit the water. How far down would the body go before it resurfaced? Would up or down look the same in the black of night? Would there be fear or elation? Or just an endless deepening of silence?
It was only that morning that things had begun to change. My sister had admitted she had been abused as a child by the same man who had abused our cousin, Patrick. Our parish priest believed in keeping it all in the family. The thing that had triggered the memory she had blocked so successfully for over twenty years was an article in the paper outlining this particular priest’s appointment to an important position in the Vatican. She screamed uncontrollably for hours. It was then my sister’s battle with mental illness began in earnest and I began to lose my faith.
Being an onlooker is hard. You are constantly waiting in the wings to see if you are needed. Often your presence is overlooked. People define you as someone who copes and somehow they think that precludes you from feeling any pain. Sometimes the only thing to do is walk. Even if it is in the middle of the night.
I walked for hours that night until my feet felt encased in shackles, the iron digging into my flesh. I had no choice but to stop on the bridge, tucking my hair into my collar, ducking down out of sight, so I wouldn’t be tagged by some well-wishing passer-by as a ‘jumper.’ I’ve never wanted ‘to jump.’ Not so far. But I can understand why some people do.
‘It’s further down than you think,’ said a voice from the shadows. ‘If you fell you’d cut through the water neatly like a knife through cake. You probably wouldn’t make much of a splash, either. There’s a good chance nobody would notice.’ The voice belonged to a boy, not more than 15 or 16.
‘Sounds like you’ve really thought this through,’ I said. The boy nodded. ‘Sometimes it pays to consider every possibility,’ he said.
Turns out the boy, Raphael, slept on the bridge some times when his Dad drank and it got volatile at home. He was comforted by the sounds of the traffic and the calm of the water below. He didn’t plan to jump, either. He just wanted somewhere to think and find a bit of peace. He was in his final year of school and was planning to become a counsellor so he could help kids like himself. ‘Sometimes even a smile from a stranger can make all the difference,’ he said. ‘It reminds us we’re worth something.’
Raphael smiled, took my hand. ‘Whatever it is, it will sort itself out if you give it a chance,’ he said. ‘Don’t give up.’ And I haven’t. Not yet. As well as being surprised by the kindness of strangers, I am often surprised by their wisdom.
So on this day of the Epiphany I remember my own epiphany, that a single act of kindness can make all the difference, as it did for me; and I remember the boy on the bridge with the name of an angel who was the instrument of that revelation. Thank you, Raphael. I’m sure you have saved many souls since then. I’ll never forget you.
It’s unfortunate that some people we’re suppose to look up to as role models have the power to dictate the destiny of our faith. And, how their example can turn our life and way of thinking around forever.
In the same manner, there are seemingly insignificant nobodies that spring out of nowhere, whose simple whispering gesture can unknowingly breath a promise of fresh air within the crumbling lives of unsuspecting strangers.
Angels and demons, in disguise. I have experienced them both.
Life is, indeed, amazing! 🙂
Chris – you are so right. Thank you for commenting on what was a fairly dark post. I really appreciate it !
I didn’t consider this to be a dark post Selma though perhaps it felt that way when you were writing it. Certainly the part about your sister is about as dark and sad as it gets but my overwhelming feeling was one of hope. That sometimes we can find solace in the strangest places and at the hand of a complete stranger. That a young boy can be so wise says to me that he has done more than his share of living and has experienced more than a person of that age ever should. And yet….his thoughts were for another – you – I really hope that his life will one day be touched by an Angel who will shed sunshine on his world.
Gypsy – awww, thank you for your very insightful comment. There are so many wonderful people out there, aren’t there? And some of them we only meet briefly and then they’re gone. Raphael was one of those people. I’ve been thinking about him a lot lately.
i have found that it is only in the exploration of all the possibilities,, that one ever finds peace… this was lovely….
“Our parish priest believed in keeping it all in the family…an article in the paper outlining this particular priest’s appointment to an important position in the Vatican.”
It was also common practice in those day for the church to transfer those monsters from parsh to parish rather than dealing with them.
An epiphany is like a spotlight on whatever situation we may find ourselves facing. Good or bad, it shows us the path we can take, or where we can find solace in the storm.
It’s amazing how the words or actions of one person can really screw up one’s faith. For me, it was learning that, despite everything I believed to be true and all the “good works” I did, I was destined for hell simply because of something in which I have no say.
Your post was beautiful, and I understand the need for occasionally exploring every possibility.
Your writing is a beautiful epiphany – an absolutely profound story. Thanks, once again.
I also felt this was hopeful, there are so many people out there who we may meet just by chance who can make an impression
Paisley – I’m so glad you liked it!
David – I know. It’s terrifying. Sometimes I can’t bear to think about it.
Karen – I know what you mean. It just doesn’t seem right.
TR – it’s my pleasure. The feeling is mutual. Your blog is brilliant!
Crafty Green – it’s strange, but it’s the people I’ve met by chance who have made the biggest impression on me. I am so thankful for all of them.
“that a single act of kindness can make all the difference,”
very true, seemingly simple.
Meleah – it is true, isn’t it? So many people have helped me just with a smile.
“I wondered what it would be like, the slam of the body as it hit the water. How far down would the body go before it resurfaced? Would up or down look the same in the black of night? Would there be fear or elation? Or just an endless deepening of silence?”
I failed once at knowing when someone was at their wit’s end.
Having so many children go through a local kinder, and being President of the Committee quite a few times, I got to know the aging Kindergarten Assistant very well. I was still there when she retired but she didn’t take to retirement very well.
I feared something was wrong but couldn’t put words to it. Her daughter was disinterested. I maintained contact as best I could but she increasingly shied away.
Out of the blue she wrote me a note thanking me of my efforts in keeping in touch with her, and for my concern for her wellbeing. She assured me that she was starting to feel better and everything was okay.
About 3 or 4 weeks after the note she jumped off a local bridge into a river and died.
She couldn’t swim… At her age it would have been a struggle to climb the bridge’s railing… I then realised that she was creating space between her and I with that note, so that she could prepare for taking her own life. I spent many hours thinking the questions in your paragraph and and many others… I kept trying to see her last moments through her eyes. I was devastated.
I haven’t shed a tear for her in maybe 10 years now… until today that is.
I want to thank you for this post Selma… As sad as these things are, we must continue to visit them so that we may do better for others.
Angry – what a sad story. I am so sorry if my post made you relive a painful memory. You know, it wasn’t your fault she took her own life but I understand the guilt surrounding suicide because my best friend committed suicide at 21 and I blamed myself for almost ten years afterwards. I agree with you, painful as it can be we must face these things and talk about them. It helps us to cope. Thank you so much for sharing your story.