Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Busted Headlight

The sun shone through the windshield and blinded Brady as he drove east toward work. It was Tuesday, the first Tuesday in November of 2001. The traffic was heavier than usual and the sun was temporarily in that place on the horizon where if he put his car’s sun visor down it would be too shallow to block the sun and if he used his hand for a shield he couldn’t see what was in front of him.

As he tried to maneuver in the traffic staring straight into the bright Texas sun he felt his cell phone vibrate. The phone was buried deep in his pocket since he wasn’t expecting anyone to be calling that early in the day and as he shifted to his left hip digging with his right hand into the pocket he silently cursed the phone and the sun at the same time.

A rock from the dump truck in front of him clattered off his hood, doing no damage as everyone was now traveling no more than 10 miles per hour, still Brady had found a third item to silently curse.

Hello? “Brady, this is Calvin.” It was odd that Calvin would call him on a Tuesday morning, they were brothers but not close and they spoke rarely, usually on holidays when the family gathered. Calvin was not big on small talk and went straight into his message. “Dad had a heart attack this morning. It doesn’t look good, at least that’s what mom said, I’ll have to call you back when I know more.”

Brady struggled with Calvin’s message, the sun in his eyes and traffic that was beginning to speed up once again. It was a moment of detachment like he had experienced on other random occasions. He felt a sense of not belonging to the conversation, a feeling that what he was being told wasn’t real. If something isn’t real could he really be expected to pay heed? He had no words to give back to his older brother.

“Brady, are you still there?” asked his brother. “Yes, yes I’m here, what should I do?”
“Wait for me to call you back” Calvin said. Calvin lived in the same town as their parents, a rural farming community 200 miles from the city where Brady worked and lived. Calvin continued, “They took him to Mother Francis Hospital and I’m going there now. I’ll call you when I know something, no need to come here immediately if everything turns out OK.”

Brady drove on through the thick traffic. His thoughts shifted from his everyday commute to a piece of cerebral real estate unfamiliar to him, a version of thinking he didn’t care for, this idea of parents failing in health without notice.

He knew immediately that he would head for the small chapel in downtown Fort Worth that was like a familiar old friend. His spirituality took him there often. He didn’t really need an excuse or specific reason to be there. It was located in the heart of downtown, walking distance from his office and he often spent his lunches there, contemplating the quiet and solitude, sitting in the padded pews, staring at the crucifix on the wall and then dipping into silent prayer about his life.

Brady slid into the pew. The chapel was empty, not unusual for an early Tuesday morning. The room was warm and comfortable despite the cold weather outdoors and Brady took off his coat and settled into a long prayer for his father. When he was finished he opened his eyes and stared at the candles on the altar. Neither candle was lit; there was one on the left side of a huge open bible and a companion candle in its matching stand on the right side, a large crucifix was centered on the wall, hanging above the altar.

Brady reflected on the time when he was six years old. The family had taken the long trip across Texas to visit his grandparents over 300 miles away and he and Calvin were playing with BB guns in the front yard of their grandparent’s rural house. Calvin had dared Brady to try and hit the headlights of their dad’s car. Neither expected a BB to shatter the headlight, but that is what had happened, pieces of its glass spilling across the dirt and then Calvin had said Brady would have to tell their dad it was his fault and that Calvin had nothing to do with it. Brady remembered the innocence mixed with fear he had felt at that moment. He knew he messed up but he figured he didn’t really mean to break it. It was the same innocence and fear that gripped his stomach now.

Hid dad, after he had been told the story of the shattered headlight, had picked Brady up in his arms and said “I know, I was watching you through the window and I could also hear everything you boys were saying, and one of the things that is most important here is that you told me the truth. Now I have time to go into town and get a new headlight and we won’t be driving through the night with only one.” His dad had reached into his pocket, taken out a dollar bill and placed it in Brady’s hand. He told him that was his reward for being truthful. He had taken Calvin into another room and paddled the devil out of his behind for his lack of truthfulness. This was how Brady had learned the rewards of telling the truth.

Brady’s thoughts were interrupted by a priest who had entered the chancel area through a door adjacent to the altar. He was carrying one of those long golden rods that are used to light candles. Brady didn’t know what the instrument was called.

The priest walked to the candle on the left and lit it, its flickering gathering momentum as the flame took hold of the wick. When it was burning steadily he moved in front of the large bible until he was in front of the candle on the right side. He placed the lighting instrument over the candle and held it there a long while. Finally when the candle appeared to be burning he moved back toward the door. But then the candle flickered and went dim just as he was stepping away. The priest moved back toward the candle and once again spent a long time attempting to reignite the wick. After a moment he turned and saw Brady sitting alone in the chapel seven pews back from where he stood at the altar.

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry” he said, “I thought I was alone it’s so early. This candle doesn’t seem to want to burn this morning. I’ll leave it for now and come back later when you are finished.” Brady’s eyes met the priest’s eyes and for an unusual amount of time, at least it seemed to Brady, they looked at one another and said nothing at all. The priest finally smiled, bowed from the waist in a deferential way, as the Japanese often will do, and walked back through the door leaving the candle unlit.

Brady stared at the candles. One burned brightly. The other was just as riveting in its reluctance to shine its own light. And in that instant, in the quietness of the chapel, in the face of the kind priest, but most importantly in the message now made clear through the candles, Brady knew that his father was gone and that his mother would need him now.

He opened the heavy chapel doors to a bright and cold November day. He dug down into his pocket for his phone and called Calvin. He didn’t make Calvin tell him, he just quickly told him that he already knew and would be there soon.

As Brady drove toward his mother’s home that evening he took some solace in finding stretches of highway in rural Texas where he could alternate the headlights on his car between dim and bright over and over again finding some small piece of understanding in having two headlights that showed him the way home.


Molly said...

Rick, when I reached the end I had tears in my eyes. This has happened to me more than once as I have read your writing, filled with the wisdom of living.
I'm hooked, and appreciative.

Seven said...

Thanks Molly for your kind words.
I have lived a lot; the wisdom is open to discussion, but I'm flattered you think so.