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 Dying to Live

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Anthony van

PostSubject: Dying to Live   Fri Sep 08, 2017 5:54 pm

Chapter 11


Ryan and Penny both smiled easily. Ryan had dark curly hair and rugged good looks with a face full of angles and dimples. In contrast Penny had an elegant classical oval face with a smooth complexion like an air brushed picture of a model. Her short, glossy black hair gave her a teenager look. Both were dressed in jeans and tee shirts. Following introductions, the night was friendly and informal. Penny had obviously gone to some effort to produce a delicious meal of roast beef, roasted potatoes and pumpkin with ample servings of beans and carrots. They drank apple cider with their meal and ate a delectable lemon meringue pie for dessert.

            All through the meal the conversation was light and amiable. Penny explained that the food was normal fare for a country girl. Talk started with her country origins and then linked to each family. There was some understanding of Ari’s family situation expressed by Ryan. His parents had also divorced and by his late teenage years he was tired of their continued fighting. He then explained how, after a year on the streets, he had found faith in Jesus. It was at a charity kitchen where he often got meals. Gus, a man in his thirties, talked to him and told him that it’s never too late to start again. Over a number of weeks he shared the gospel and then offered to get him a job with a Christian friend, just working as a storeman.

            Ryan related the episode, “By the time I’d become a Christian myself, and worked my way up in the company, I knew God’s hand was on me. When I decided to go to Bible College and I met Penny, I knew I was getting special blessing.” He beamed at Penny. For a moment their eyes talked to each other and Ari felt like he was intruding.

Penny restarted the conversation. “So is there anyone special in your life Ari?”

Caught off guard, Ari had trouble sounding coherent. “Ah, well, I guess there’s a girl I think about a lot, but I don’t know if she thinks about me. In fact, we’ve had a few disagreements and we’re probably going different ways.” ‘At least that’s what she said,’ he thought to himself. Ari felt like biting his tongue. Why was he being so candid to people that he hardly knew? He decided they had a talent. It was demonstrated quite extensively that evening. Later, while sitting in a comfortable armchair and drinking coffee, he talked about his family, his schooling and his various jobs. He then described in detail the sequence of events that had led to his presence there. Both Ryan and Penny were intrigued by his terrifying experiences. The contrived accidents and consequences of the connivance on those involved appalled them.

            “Can’t you just go to the police?” Penny asked.

“The police are already involved. They hope I’ll identify some people at the funeral.”

“I’d offer to do your funeral, but I only do real ones.” Ryan half joked. “I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but I think it’s a mistake. People will get hurt and grieve over you. That’s not something you want your friends to go through.”

            Ari slumped in his seat, “I was feeling bad enough about this already Ryan. I don’t think I can get out of it since the police are involved with surveillance; and, on the positive side, with McLeish’s lot thinking I’m dead I’ll have a bit of breathing space.”

Ryan leaned forward on the couch, “I don’t think the police care enough about the personal emotions of everyone for them to decide whether this is a good course of action. And besides, fear is never a good motivation for a rational response.”

“I don’t know if this is helping Ari much Ryan,” Penny observed.

He looked across at her and acknowledged her point, “Sorry Ari... I should keep my opinions to myself.”

            Ari looked at Ryan and saw the care in his eyes. “No, you’re right. But strange as it might seem, I think I got the idea from the Bible. At least it solidified the idea in my mind.” 

“The Bible?”

Ari told his story about reading the Gideon Bible in hospital. How some verses from Romans six had jumped out at him.

Ryan understood how those words could be an influence to have others consider him dead, but he wasn’t going to leave it at that.

            “Do you know what that passage is really saying?”

Ari looked at him wordlessly. In a way he was curious about why death was so important to Christians. Ryan went on.

“Every human on earth has a nature that leads to rebellion against God. The natural consequence of that rebellion is death... the last verse of that chapter says, ‘the wages of sin is death.’ But Jesus died in place of everyone, so that if they accept his death on their behalf their debt has been paid, so ‘the gift of God is eternal life.’ That’s what Christians believe. Does that make sense?”

Ari nodded.

“So the passage describes that if you want to make the most of your Christian life, consider that you did die, and that the life you have is a gift... one that you can live for God’s purposes. So death, for a Christian, is what they regard as having happened to the selfish nature. Sadly, it’s not actually dead, in other places the writer says put it to death... consider yourselves ‘crucified with Christ.’ With you Ari, your experiences give you an opportunity to reflect about dying. It might have a similar effect. You could have died. Will the life you now live be different? Do you want it to be different?”

            Things had very quickly become heavy for Ari. It was as if Ryan knew of his dissatisfaction with his life; of his loneliness. He raised his head to look to Penny for support, but she had slipped out. He thought about the words that persisted in his mind, ‘What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of?’ Could he have a faith like his Gran? He looked at Ryan.

“You don’t know what an arrogant person I can be. How full of myself, how condescending to others. How could I become a Christian?”

Ryan smiled, “That’s the first step... recognise your faults, your need, and the rest... well you have to believe that Jesus died for you and accept Him by faith. Don’t wait till you understand it all, because understanding and knowledge comes with knowing Jesus.”

“You make it sound easy, but to me it’s a hard thing to do. I have all these doubts... in many ways it seems so silly.”

“Well, that’s the thing. Are you willing to do the hard thing... to appear a bit silly, so that you find the Truth and are set free?”

            Ari’s lack of reaction didn’t deter Ryan. He went to his bookshelf and grabbed a thin booklet. “It’s the Gospel of John,” he said as he handed it to Ari. “Why don’t you read it and tell me what you think? You know even his disciples struggled to work out what it was all about.”

            Then the subject changed. Ryan, thinking he had made his point, decided that it was time for a lighter topic. They spent a little time talking about journalism and how Ari thought he would try and get back into writing for a paper. He shared some of his experiences of working as a speechwriter and by the time they had turned to talking about sports, Penny came in with another drink and cakes. She sat next to Ryan on the couch and he just naturally put an arm around her. It occurred to Ari then that they were two people with a shared life and common goals. What a thing to have!

            Yawning, Ari checked his watch and saw that it was past ten. He raised his bruised body, flinching from a twinge in his neck, then thanked Ryan and Penny for their hospitality and excused himself. Ari knocked back an offer from Ryan to assist him to the flat, insisting that he needed the practice. After more effort than he’d bargained for, Ari fumbled with the key and laboured indoors.

His night was restless. He’d started reading the small booklet that Ryan had given him. The sentences coiled around in his mind. A Word who was with God... was God ... and the Light of life ... the Word was made flesh ... Grace and Truth came through Jesus Christ... Nicodemas, the truth seeker. He was the truth seeker. What’s the verdict? Condemned or not condemned... was it light or darkness? Ari tossed and turned. ‘Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light.’ But they won’t find me in the dark, he thought.

            As he finally submerged into a fitful sleep, tendrils of spiralling blackness enfolded around Ari. His dreams were dark and ominous. Waking clammy and shaking in the dark of the early morning, Ari listened to hear what could have awakened him. Jumping rigid with tension at the unearthly scream of caterwauling cats, Ari gradually relaxed when he heard the fierce explosive battle move away from beneath his window and suddenly evaporate as one of the culprits fled. Getting up, he hopped into the other room, the security lights from the church casting a faint orange radiance around the room. Finding his way to the refrigerator, he opened the door and blinked at the unexpected brightness of the fridge light. Milk, that’s what he needed... something to help him sleep. After pouring a glass of milk he switched on the light and, shivering in his sweat soaked tee shirt, took it off and located a dry one to wear. He sat down and read more of the Gospel of John. There were Samaritans and miracles of healing and arguments with religious leaders and miracles of feeding and walking on water, and lots of teaching. Ari read about the Good Shepherd, and about the raising of Lazarus. What would it be like to witness something like that? Would he be convinced or would he still be sceptical, trying to identify the trickery, choosing anything rather than believe the truth!

            There it was again, "You are going to have the light just a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, before darkness overtakes you. The man who walks in the dark does not know where he is going. Put your trust in the light while you have it, so that you may become sons of light." He knew he wanted to be in the light but his doubts, his pride, and his fear of failing to measure up held him back.

            Back into bed he glanced up at the digital clock radio above his head. The time; 3:17 said accusingly ‘LI:E’ from his inverted perspective. That was something he would have to sort out. It disturbed him that he was contemplating a changed direction at the same time his grand deceit was being orchestrated. He buried his head in his pillow and the remainder of the night passed sluggishly by as his head swam and he dwelt on the disconcerting notion that he had forgotten something. Because of the disrupted night Ari slept late that morning. He staggered drunkenly from bed, absentmindedly placing weight on his encased leg and almost collapsing from the numbing sensation. Grasping hold of his crutches, he managed to bumble around the kitchenette and get his breakfast. The frustrating tedium of trying to sponge his body to a modicum of cleanliness, getting dressed and trying to clean up took most of the morning.

            A knock at the door signalled the arrival of Pastor Ryan. His sprightly greeting and amiable mannerism defused Ari’s defensive reluctance to interact with ‘God’s man’.

“Hi Ari, we were wondering if you needed washing done or some help in the flat.”

“Thanks Ryan, no, I think I’m coping.”

“Hey, we have a bit of a study group tonight at our place. Why don’t you come?” Ryan was standing in the doorway making as if he was holding the doorposts apart.

“Er, probably not a great idea at the moment,” Ari had a facial cringe, “I’m supposed to be dead, remember.”

“Yes,” he replied thoughtfully, “I had forgotten.” The pastor moved inside and made himself comfortable at the table. “You look a bit ragged,” he commented.

“Yeah, I didn’t get much sleep.”
”Do you want to talk about it?”

Ari took a deep breath, “There are some things I would like to talk about.”

            That simple sentence began a quiet talk, which became a deep discussion, which eventually developed into an intense personal unloading by Ari. Ryan heard of the hurt that Ari felt from his parent’s rejection and his distrust of people and their theories. He listened and listened as Ari shared his fears and doubts and growing dislike of himself.

            Penny came in with some toasted cheese sandwiches and hot chocolate. “I figured you guys were having a deep and meaningful,” she said as she put the food on the table, “so I thought you’d want something to eat.” She gave a knowing smile to her husband who grinned back at her, and then she spun around and left. Ryan shared his appreciation of Penny with Ari, saying that he felt complete with her. During the afternoon Ari heard much about faith and heard explanations for his questions about what he had been reading.

            When the pastor eventually left, Ari knew several new things. He had made a new friend in Ryan; there was a lot about the friendship offered by Christians that had to be admired. Secondly, he had a lot to learn about the teachings of Jesus. Thirdly, he knew that his pride was a huge impediment to taking on board, by faith, all he’d heard. Ari also was now aware that a number of Pastor Eddington’s study group had been praying for him for some time. He had said that one particular girl, Justine, from another church often mentioned Ari’s name for prayer. Ryan had been particularly poker faced when he mentioned it, as if it was no business of his, but Ari was convinced that he understood these matters well. This information meant that he now had a nagging conscience about concocting this death scenario. He knew he would feel bad about it on Thursday.

            Reece dropped in early before the study and helped Ari prepare something to eat. While they were chewing on Reece’s overly sweet stir fry (owing to an artistic splash of plum sauce that proved excessive), Ari shared something of his time with Ryan. Both agreed on the likeability of Ryan and Penny and how easy it was to warm to their open friendliness and honesty.

“So what’s different with you, now that you’re a Christian?” Ari asked out of the blue.

Reece had his head down and stared momentarily at the remaining chicken and vegetables on his plate. “I wish I could say I’m a much better person, and I’m always happy, and understand what it’s all about… but I can’t. To tell you the truth, I sometimes feel I’m a bigger failure than ever… especially when others seem to have it all together.” 

Ari appreciated his friend’s candour. “So… you feel worse?”

Reece had a lop-sided grin, “I guess what I mean is that now I realise how selfish and wrong I was, and that I’ve got a long way to go. But it’s okay because Ryan tells me I’m just a baby and I’ve got a lot of growing to do.”

“Yeah, I read about that… being ‘born again’… really freaked me out when I read it at first. But I think I get the gist of it… especially after talking to Ryan.”

“So, if you’re asking what’s different, I guess I’d have to say I’m heading in a different direction.”

Reece said some more, but Ari harked back to someone else telling him they were going in different directions.

            “Sorry, what was that?” Ari awoke from his reverie.

“I said I have to rush off. I have to pick up Jen. Don’t worry about the dishes. I’ll come back later and do them.”
”Don’t be silly. I can manage. I’m not totally incapacitated. I’ll probably be asleep when you finish anyway.”

Reece made his way to the door, “Well, if the lights are on I’ll drop in for a coffee. See yer later.”

Before Ari could reply, he was gone.

            Sheer stubbornness drove Ari to wash the dinner dishes. Not willing to hop with a few dishes at a time to the sink, he pivoted between the bench and the table, transferring everything to the bench. Then he did the same in the kitchenette, moving the things to the sink. By the time he had finished his good left leg ached from taking his weight continuously. He hopped to the lounge area and collapsed into an armchair. Unable to find a remote control for the television he grumbled with the effort and turned it on manually. Watching some obscure documentary for a short time, Ari soon dozed off, wondering if he should check out who turned up at the meeting.

            The thud on the door made him jump, and fear coursed through his mind as he tried to place his surroundings. The news was on the TV and there was a further rattle at the door.

“It’s Reece, I’ve come for my coffee,” he chuckled.

Ari soon was awake enough to remember where he was, and let Reece in. He was surprised at how late it was. Reece shared something of the night’s discussion though he didn’t let on about the doleful mood of some of those who attended when they spoke about Ari’s ‘demise’.

As they drank their hot coffees, Ari remembered his real concern—the conviction of those responsible for Collette’s death.

“Did you remember about the laptop computer?” he asked Reece.

Reece shook his head, his mouth full of a cookie, “Mm, sorry, I forgot all about it. I’ll try and get one tomorrow. Wait a minute, why don’t you use one of the church computers. I’m sure Ryan will let you use one for a short while.”

“You think so?” He looked dubiously at his friend.

“I’m pretty sure... anyway, let me know if you still need a laptop and, if I’m game, I’ll try and borrow one from work.” Seeing Ari’s quizzical expression and splayed hands movement response to his enigmatic reference to being ‘game’, Reece went on to explain. “My boss is very finicky about work equipment and, believe me, it’s not worth the trouble if I can avoid it.” Then peering over his cup he light-heartedly commented, “By the way that body language was very expressive... you sure you’re not Italian?”

Ari threw a cookie crumb at him.
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