Chapel Of Hope

The elderly man lay motionless in his bed with the side bars raised. Rheumy eyes stared at the ceiling panels in the quiet hospital room on the ninth floor. He knew it was the wee hours of morning and the hospital was in Atlanta, he just didn’t know why he was here or even who he was.

He had heard the nurses talking and knew they called him “John Doe” for lack of a better name and he suspected he wasn’t physically sick only mentally. Struggling to stay awake, so he could try to piece the puzzle of his identity together, was getting hard to do as sleep crept forward. As leaden eyes closed he caught a flash of remembrance of a big house filled with people at a birthday party. Who were these people and why didn’t he remember his name?

Watching the grandchildren run and play brought happiness to the old man. He had worked hard all his life and had built a small fortune for his two sons and their children. Some reported him to be a miser but Ed Barnes knew better. He never spent his money foolishly and taught his sons the value of a dollar. No Sir, “Nothing in life is free,” he told his sons numerous times during their childhood.

Ed worked hard, long hours to make his fortune and the price he paid was great. His wife, Anna, was neglected and grew more unhappy and withdrawn as the years sped by. His two sons passed from childhood into adulthood not knowing their father or benefiting from his wealth. Ed was too frugal with his money and his family lived as if on state assistance. Anna died, when in her early fifties, never understanding Ed’s love for her or his reasons for being so stingy. The sons grew into manhood, isolated from their father, unaware of his plans for their lives.

Jason, Ed’s eldest son, was having a party for his son’s tenth birthday. The large house was filled with friends and co-workers of Jason’s and his wife, Allison. Ed had been invited to the party reluctantly and at the last moment. Poor Ed didn’t realize (or want to admit) he was not welcome in his children’s lives. They never forgave him for neglecting their mother and them or for withholding money for everyday necessities.

Ed was passing by an open window when he overheard his two sons discussing “knocking off the creep.” He listened amused as his sons concocted ways to kill someone without being caught. Knowing they must be kidding around, (for who would plan someone’s murder) he laughed quietly as they became more animated with their scenario. Only when Jason said, “After he’s met his justice we’ll spend every penny the old creep kept from us” did he realize they were discussing him! With tears stinging his eyes and a sob caught in his throat, Ed stumbled to his car. He drove away from his sons and grandchildren, and was racked with pain and guilt as he finally realized his life of hard work was futile.

As the car slowed down on the highway, Ed looked at the gas gauge and saw it was on empty. He took off his jacket, threw it in the car and started walking the lonely stretch of road. Eyes red from crying and a heart filled with pain were his only companions as he slowly made his way through the crisp evening air. How long he had trudged onward he wasn’t sure nor did he notice as the sun slowly peeked over the horizon. Anna suddenly appeared before him and scolded him for the emotional abuse of fifteen years past. Ed tried to make her understand the goals he worked for and the plans he had. Her only response was a look of reproach and her parting words of, “Your fortune is wasted when you have no one to share it with.” Ed begged her for another chance and screamed for her to come back to him. As he moved swiftly toward her disappearing outline, the sharp pain descended upon his chest.

From far away he heard the intercom calling Dr. Richardson and his nostrils twitched at the scent of ammonia drifting into his room. It must be early morning he thought, as he listened to the hospital corridors come alive. Slowly looking around he became aware of another patient in the room. The distinguished elderly man was quietly observing Ed and he smiled a hello to him. Ed grunted back and rudely turned his face away from the stranger. The man introduced himself as Ben Weaver and began talking, oblivious to Ed’s rudeness. Not wanting to be bothered, Ed ignored Ben’s conversation and pretended to sleep. Only when Ben mentioned Jason and Alex, Ed’s youngest son, did Ed sit up and pay attention. Ben informed Ed that he talked in his sleep and had mentioned these names along with the name of  Anna. Ed was sure he knew them personally but was still unable to place them in his life.

As a doctor and policeman entered the hospital room Ed watched their faces closely as he asked, “Who am I?” As the policeman patiently informed Ed of his being found collapsed on a small road with no identification, Ed’s eyes filled with fear. Dr. Beechum calmed Ed’s fear and told him they would help him recover his memory and he was just suffering from exhaustion. Both were confident Ed would remember his life when he had rested and they assured him his family would come forward and inquire of his disappearance. After they left the room, Ed lay back in his bed and quietly asked Ben what he had said in his sleep. Ben chuckled as he recalled the one phrase Ed had repeated many times. Ben quoted Ed as saying, “I’m not a creep, I’m your father!” Even in his disoriented state, Ed winced as the words were spoken.

Morning flowed into evening as Ed lay in his bed listening to and watching the hospital routine. Slowly he came to realize he was all alone and he could spend the rest of his life in this state. He didn’t think he was a bad person or at least he hoped he wasn’t. Where was his family or did he even have a family? Why didn’t he have a wallet on him or some identification? Who were these people, Jason, Alex and Anna? Why didn’t they come for him?

As night approached, Ed climbed from his bed and peered out the door of his room. The hall was empty of nurses and doctors and he could see an elevator at a distance. Slipping into a hospital robe, Ed slowly walked to the elevator and pushed the button for the first floor. As he descended from the elevator, he looked around and asked a passing volunteer where the chapel was. He walked timidly to the altar of the chapel, bent on creaking knees and, in a frightened voice, started talking to God. So many years had passed since he spoke to God or even entered a church. As tears flowed freely down his cheeks, Ed poured out his inner feelings and the love he felt for his sons and wife. He never meant them harm or neglect and he thought he was making a good future for them. Ed saw money as a protective shield for his family, not a barrier between them. How many hours had passed he was unsure, as he unburdened himself to the one who knew the true man. Ed needed to speak of his strife and heartfelt grief so he could move forward in his quest to make peace with himself. After hours of spoken and silent meditation, Ed slowly rose from his kneeling position and walked back to the elevator. He pressed the button to the ninth floor and slowly exited when it arrived on his floor. Walking to the nurses station he announced in a clear calm voice, “My name is Ed Barnes and I’m from Bonaire, Georgia.” As the nurses perplexed expression turned to understanding, he requested they contact his sons Jason and Alex.

Entering his room Ed spoke a quiet hello to Ben as he took off his robe and slipped into bed. Stating a silent thank you to God, he fell asleep and dreamed of happy times with his Anna and two young sons. Understanding and love filled his sleeping hours as he relived his past with a greater awareness of perfecting the future.

Early morning brought forth a refreshed and changed Ed. He said a cheery “good morning” to Ben and looked forward to meeting his sons. As the doorway filled with the presence of two tall, slender men, Ed looked at each and for the first time in his life said to them, “I love you both dearly and I regret any sorrow I brought in your lives.” He walked toward both men and embraced them with love and asked for their forgiveness. As the three men stood together and hugged, they all cried for the past they couldn’t correct and for the future they would mold.

Checking out of the hospital with his sons at either side, Ed informed the nurse of his appreciation for the hospital chapel. Frowning slightly the nurse hesitantly answered, “Our hospital chapel was destroyed in a fire and won’t be rebuilt until spring of next year.”