The Rest of Eternity
A man’s soul is the most precious thing ever to be entrusted to him, Henry Franklin thought to himself as he stared at the world outside. Through eyes tired with age, he watched rain drops collect on the window of his hospital room. Tiny beads of water, diamond like, glistened in the traces of winter sunlight. Tears from heaven, he thought, wiping his eyes still damp from tears of his own.
He wondered why this hadn’t occurred to him earlier in life; and why he hadn’t taken better care of his soul. He had been a good man. Anyone would tell you that, anyone who had known him over the years. Most who had known Henry though, were gone; and the empty bed next to his, was a painful reminder.
He only knew the man with whom he shared the little hospital room, for a few weeks; but it was long enough for them to become friends. Henry was easy to be friends with and so was Paul.
Paul passed sometime in the night. Everyone saw it coming but Henry. He should have, thinking back. If he had, he would have said goodbye. It was too late now. He was alone, with his thoughts, and his memories, and Paul’s questions for which he had no answers.
“Have you ever given your life and heart to the Lord?” Paul asked him one afternoon, out of the blue, as the two of them watched afternoon shadows take over the walls of the little room. The room was already quiet, and when Paul asked his question, it became even more quiet.
Henry had been to church. Not sure if that would satisfy the question Paul asked, the question he hoped would go away – it didn’t.
He was a good father and husband, he told himself, still hoping Paul’s question would go away – it didn’t. Now, even after Paul was gone, the question lingered.
Henry believed in God, but he didn’t have time for Him, and he didn’t put too much stock in religion, or going to church or praying. He had enough of that growing up: prayer meetings, Sunday school, revivals, and homecomings. So when Paul asked Henry to say the Sinner’s Prayer, and open his heart and let Jesus in, Henry went along. He couldn’t let his new friend down.
So, with eyes closed and head bowed he prayed for forgiveness. He didn’t mean it, though, and was pretty sure Paul could tell even though he never let on that he could.
What would the Lord want with me anyway? was the question that kept running through Henry’s mind as he waited for all the praying and forgiveness to be over, and Paul to turn loose his hands. Paul insisted they hold hands, when they prayed that afternoon. Only three days ago, it seemed longer Henry thought as he looked at his hands, worn thin by time and work. He made a good life for himself.
The question was still running through his mind. What would the Lord want with me? It was the same question, he asked when his wife got saved and tried to get him to join her at the altar. He remembered the song that was playing that afternoon and the tug of the Holy Spirit, and how he almost stepped out and made his way to the front of the church.
What difference does it make now? he asked his shadow, now his only companion as he listened to the evening sounds of the hospital growing quiet, like it always did after the evening meal. Today it had been meatloaf and potatoes, fruit punch and a cookie. Henry hardly touched his. He wasn’t hungry and hadn’t been in a long time, not since his wife passed away. She made the best meatloaf.
He remembered until it hurt too much; then he closed his eyes and waited for sleep to come. When sleep finally came, well after midnight, it only lasted a few minutes until he was awakened by the sound of a soft voice.
In the glow of medical equipment which pushed back a little of the darkness that had over taken the room, Henry made out the figure of a man. He took the seat by Henry’s bed and with eyes staring, soft as his voice, he looked into Henry’s eyes and into his heart.
Henry tried to wake up from another dream brought on by his medication.
It was after midnight, his clock said so, and no visitors were allowed into the rooms after midnight. Still, the man sat eyes fixed on Henry’s. When he pushed the nurse pager, and no one came, then he knew it was a dream. The nurses always came running when he paged them. After all, he was Henry Franklin.
Maybe I’m dead? Henry thought as he put on his glasses to get a better look at the little lines dancing across the heart monitor that sometime kept him company.
“No. You are actually more alive than you have ever been,” the visitor said, voice now familiar and soft as the face Henry almost recognized. It was a face he had seen a million times, but wasn’t sure of when and where.
The room filled with silence, which Henry listened too as he closed his eyes hoping, when he opened, them the stranger would be gone – he wasn’t.
If he’s an angel, he is missing wings, Henry thought before he could stop himself. There are no such things as angels.
“Yes, there are, but I am not an angel. You know who I am,” the visitor said looking even more deeply into eyes now filling with tears. They were the same kind of tears Henry cried that afternoon as he sat all alone watching the rain gather on the window of his hospital room.
They were the same kind of tears that he cried when he repeated the Bible verse Paul taught him, about God so loving the world that he gave his only Son.
For me? Henry asked, thoughts wandering as he closed his eyes again, tears making their way down his cheeks.
“For you,” the visitor said now standing to leave.
“But I am an old man with nothing to give, my life is almost over,” Henry pleaded, this time out loud.
“Your life has only begun,” the visitor answered.
“I have so little time left to give you,” Henry said hoping not to get a reply.
“You have the rest of eternity,” the visitor said, and even after he disappeared, though the door which he gently closed, Henry could still feel his presence, and hear his voice, and see the softness of the face he had seen a million times.
“You have the rest of eternity,” Henry whispered to himself, with his heart at peace and eyes closing as he as he waited for the morning sun.
This is a work of fiction for everyone.
Edward Reed 2019