On the Road To …
by Nigel Gordon
Jethro Lambert was happy and content. He was happy that, as he turned fifty, life had worked out very much as he had expected. He was content in knowing that he was doing the Lord's work, and doing it well. Few, he understood, were ever happy in their chosen occupation, but Jethro certainly was. Ever since that day he dropped out of college it seemed that the Lord had had work for him to do and had put him on the path to do it.
First, the Lord guided him to the used auto lot where he had learnt how to sell: after six months of living on a pittance of a retainer one either learned to sell or one got another job. Jethro was on that car lot for over six years and made good money. In fact, so good was his income that Brother Malcolm had targeted him as a potential donor for the church, a move which showed a profound failure of character assessment on the part of Brother Malcolm.
The moment Brother Malcolm sat down with Jethro and explained the church's need for regular income from donations, Jethro fully appreciated the situation and the potential that arose from it. In fact he appreciated it far better than Brother Malcolm -- who, it must be said, suffered from the disadvantage of truly believing the teachings of Christ -- had ever envisioned. The good Brother was overjoyed when Jethro not only decided that he should join the church management but also offered his services to manage the fundraising on behalf of that somewhat impoverished establishment. Brother Malcolm was less happy about the situation when, some eighteen months later, the congregation decided to remove him as pastor and put Jethro in his place.
Don't misunderstand things here, Jethro was not an opportunist walking in and taking over what he could see was a money-making opportunity. Jethro believed in the Lord. He had been brought up to believe in the Lord, that belief having been impressed upon his person by either his father's strap or his mother's hair brush, whenever his actions as a child had put him at odds with his parents' understanding of the Lord's words.
Yes, Jethro fully believed in the Lord, and he knew the temptations that Satan could set before man -- especially a man such as himself. That was why he dropped out of college and ended up selling used cars. Satan had looked upon him and seen one who was devoted to the Lord, so had set out to entice him. Of course, Satan had also seen his weakness: that aspect of his nature which tormented Jethro; the evil within himself which was so unspeakable.
Jethro fully understood that his feelings and desires were a weakness given him by the Lord so that Satan could test him and Jethro could show his true commitment to the Lord by rejecting Satan's temptations.
Oh, he had lusted after boys before. All the way through high school he had looked on their bodies and lusted for them, but he had known that this was lust and, as his father's belt and mother's brush had taught him, lust could be denied and controlled. It could be stamped down and hammered into the ground by the power of chastity and the determination to be true to the words of the Lord.
Satan, though, had been very clever. He had come to Jethro, not with the temptation of lust, but with something stronger and far more dangerous. Satan had tempted Jethro with the promise of love -- a love that Jethro knew was unnatural and against the teachings of the Lord -- but a love nonetheless that promised to embrace and consume him with emotions that he had never felt before, and he prayed he would never feel again.
It was the start of his second year at college. He was sitting in the cafeteria trying to get some enthusiasm together for the sandwich he was eating, swilled down by what he thought must be some of the worst coffee in the state, when he became aware of a presence by his table.
"Excuse me, is this seat taken?"
Jethro had indicated that it wasn't.
The presence sat himself at the table. "It's a bit crowded in here today."
At that Jethro looked up from the textbook he was reading in preparation for his next class, and looked round the cafeteria. Usually it was fairly empty, especially at that time, but that day it was crowded.
He turned to the presence that had seated himself at the table. That was when Satan sprang his trap. Before him was one of the most beautiful people that Jethro had ever seen. Hair as black as a raven's wing cascaded down the man's back. Jethro had always despised long hair; it was so totally un-American, but on that guy it just seemed right. The dark frame of hair highlighted a strong tanned face from which shone a pair of strikingly green eyes.
"Hi, I'm David, David Cains," the presence spoke, holding out a hand.
Jethro took the hand and shook it, not so much from a desire to be polite, but because it gave him an excuse to touch the person who was now sitting across the table from him. "Jethro, Jethro Lambert."
For the next quarter of an hour the two of them chatted away over their sandwiches and coffee until it was time to go to their respective classes. During that time Jethro learned that David was a second year pre-med student, though it was his first year at Jethro's college as he had transferred at the end of his first year. That explained why Jethro had never seen David around before. He was certain that he would have remembered somebody with such outstanding good looks.
Jethro also learned that David was of Swedish and Native American descent, his grandmother having been a full blood Crow from Montana, which explained his complexion and his eyes. The most important thing to Jethro, though, was the fact that he arranged to meet up with David after classes that afternoon to 'show him round the place'.
Jethro did show David the place, ending with the two of them in a downtown diner having burgers and fries.
On the face of it there was little in common between the two young men. Jethro was way into sports, a subject David knew little about and had little interest in. David, on the other hand, was heavily into classic English Rock -- in particular a band called Queen, whose existence had completely passed Jethro by. The differences between the two were even more apparent when it came to religion, with Jethro deeply committed to the Baptist tradition and Christian view, whilst David, if pushed, might just about admit to being Buddhist, an atheist Buddhist at that.
Despite these differences the two became firm friends and in the weeks and months that followed that initial meeting could be found in each other's company whenever they were not in class or studying. The fact that they had very different backgrounds made no difference to them. It was clear from the start that David came from a wealthy background and, although Jethro's parents were not poor, they were by no means favoured with spare funds. As a result Jethro had to limit his expenditure as much as possible and was highly dependent on the small scholarship that he had manage to obtain, whilst David seem to have unlimited funds.
Jethro's need to be frugal had resulted in his moving off campus to a single room apartment way across town. The accommodation was not ideal and the travel to and from campus was taking up time which he resented, so when David suggested that he should move into his apartment, which was just off campus, Jethro jumped at the chance.
David's apartment had been bought by his parents, initially for David to use, but with the intent that his younger brother would join him when he arrived at the university. As David's father said, it was a good long-term investment; there would always be students needing somewhere to live, and once David had finished with it a place this close to the campus would be easy to let. The apartment had two decent sized bedrooms, one having been intended for David and one for his brother. Unfortunately -- or from Jethro's perspective, fortunately -- parental foresight had not taken into account the fact that David's brother's passion was music, a discipline he was quite good at. Good enough, in fact, for him to be offered a place and a scholarship at the Paris Conservatoire, an offer he had promptly accepted. So there would be no demand for the second bedroom.
Life for the two young men seemed ideal, at least till it all fell apart early in February.
It had been snowing constantly for two -- nearly three -- days and there was a substantial build-up of snow everywhere. Even in town the snow crews were having difficulty keeping the roads open; out of town it was almost impossible to move around. The advice was 'stay where you are', which is exactly what Jethro did. Unfortunately David was not there when the snow started, having gone home for the weekend to attend a family function
Having been stuck in the apartment all weekend Jethro braved the conditions outside to go to the supermarket a short distance down the road. Normally it would have taken him about five minutes to walk. On this occasion it took him nearly half an hour to get to there, only to find the store was closed. Fortunately, the small Italian bakery a few doors away was open -- one advantage of the family living on the premises -- and it had fresh bread.
Jethro took another half hour to get back to the apartment, where he found the answering machine light flashing. The message was from David to tell him that he was on his way back and should be there in about six hours. Jethro immediately phoned David's parents, hoping that he would catch David, only to be informed that David had already left.
Throughout the rest of the morning Jethro kept hoping that David would stop somewhere and phone him so that he could warn him about the weather conditions. But no call came, and as it got later and later in the day Jethro became more and more concerned for David. By mid-afternoon Jethro started to experience real worry, which turned to panic as darkness fell. He kept telling himself that David would be sensible and find shelter at a motel or somewhere, even as something inside told him that David would try to get back to be with him.
It was just after eight in the evening when Jethro heard a scraping noise at the door. He ran to it and jerked it open. A forlorn-looking David, who had been trying to get his key into the lock, fell forward to be caught by Jethro. "Good God, man, what's happened?"
"Had to abandon the car just after I left the interstate. Walked here."
"That's ten miles!" Jethro pulled David into the hall and pushed the door shut.
"I know. It's taken me three hours."
"You're frozen. Let's get you out of these things, and warmed up; a warm shower first." Jethro guided David through the apartment to his room and sat him on the bed. "Get out of those clothes , while I go and run the shower."
He left David there and went across the hall to the bathroom. When he returned he found David struggling with the buttons of his parka.
"Here, let me." Jethro undid the buttons for him, then pulled the parka off David. As he did he noticed that the fine windblown snow had penetrated inside the parker and soaked David's sweater and shirt. Slowly and carefully he helped David disrobe.
There was no shame or embarrassment about nudity between the two men. They both slept in the nude and often saw each other nude in the morning as they went to the bathroom for their morning ablutions. That night was different, though. Jethro suddenly became very aware of David's body as he undressed him. It was an awareness that awoke feelings within Jethro that he could not remember having before.
With care, Jethro assisted the naked David across the hall and into the bathroom, guiding him under the warm water of the shower. Once he was certain that David was starting to recover, Jethro left him and went to the kitchen to warm up some soup in the microwave. He had just poured the soup into a mug when he heard shower stop. Thinking David would need something to wear, Jethro went to his room and grabbed his bathrobe, which he seldom wore, and took it through to the bathroom. David was drying himself, or at least trying to; he still looked pretty much whacked, and half asleep on his feet.
Jethro took the towel from him and gave David a good rub down with it, then put the bathrobe on him and guided him back into the lounge, putting him on the sofa before handing him the mug of hot soup.
Jethro sat next to him. "What possessed you to drive through this weather?"
"I wanted to get home."
"You were at home."
"No I wasn't," David mumbled.
"What do you mean, you weren't? You went home to your parents' for a family function."
"Yes, I went to my parents', but that is not home, it's just some place I lived. This is home now. This is where I feel I belong, where I want to be."
"Why?" Jethro asked, although in many ways it was a pointless question. The apartment was where he felt he belonged; where he wanted to be. His parents, when they wrote or phoned, usually complained that he had not been home lately, even though it was only a couple of hours away. Jethro always cited the fact that he had to work to pay his way through college, so had little or no time available to make trips back to visit his parents. The couple of times he had thought of going up to see them the idea of leaving David alone in the apartment had changed his mind. Somehow he felt he really needed to be there when David was there.
David looked at Jethro. "Because you're here."
The answer hit Jethro with a power that smashed the walls that he had built about himself. He knew how he felt about David, but he had kept those thoughts at bay by insisting that David had no such feelings for him. Now David had let him know that he felt the same. That was something that Jethro had not been prepared for.
At that moment David leaned back and rested against Jethro, exhaustion having got the better of him. Jethro put his arm around David. "Come on, we'd better get you to bed." He helped David stand, and guided him to his room. Jethro pulled back the covers and placed David into the bed, before tucking him in.
David looked up at him. "Thanks Jethro, it's good to be home with you."
"It's nice to have you here. I missed you while you were away."
"I know, I missed you too. That's why I was so determined to get back. I didn't want to be away from you longer than I had to."
Jethro sat down on the edge of the bed and looked at David, whose green eyes seemed to sparkle more than ever. It was as if they were calling him, pulling him in. Jethro leaned slightly forward and David rose slightly in his bed, putting his hand up and around Jethro's neck, drawing him down. The two men kissed.
Once they separated, Jethro stood and once more tucked David into bed. "You need sleep, I'll see you in the morning."
With that he turned and left the room, making his way to his own bedroom, where he threw himself down upon his bed, confused and not knowing what to do. He realised that he loved David; that he not only loved him, but wanted him -- wanted him in ways which were unnatural, forbidden and against the teachings of the Lord. Jethro was lost in a world of his own anguish. He knew he was being tempted by Satan... not with lust, which he could have fought against, but with love, and he knew he had already lost, for no matter what, he loved David.
Some three hours later, after a lot of prayer and anguish, Jethro rose and dressed in the warmest clothing he could find. He sat briefly at the breakfast bar in the kitchen to write a note to David:
Last night I found that I loved you, loved you more than I could have imagined it was possible to love anyone. This is a temptation I must resist and one I do not think I could resist if I stayed here with you or even stayed at college, where we would no doubt meet.
The very love I have for you would lead me into temptations of the flesh and I am certain we would both seek carnal pleasure in each other's bodies. Such pleasures are unnatural and an abomination before the Lord. To give way to such desire would be condemning not just me to the torments of Hell but would also condemn you to that fate. This I cannot cause to be.
Goodbye David, one day you will be a great doctor, I pray that the Lord will be with you and will guide you.
All my love
By time he left the building the warm front that had been promised had arrived; the snow had turned to a fine drizzle and the wind had dropped. Jethro made his way downtown to a Baptist Mission which he knew, that ran a night mission for the lost and lonely in the city. He sheltered there for a couple of hours until it was light, when he moved on to the bus station and got a ticket for the first Greyhound Bus out. He had decided against going home to his family as he knew that would be the first place David would look for him.
It was sheer chance that, having got off the bus for a rest break -- the driver had said they would be there for half an hour -- Jethro had taken a short walk to stretch his legs.
Next to the bus stop was a car lot, and the owner was just putting up a 'staff wanted' notice.
Jethro stopped and spoke to him. Ten minutes later he had got the job, got his bag off the bus, and started to look for accommodation in the small town he did not even know the name of.
Jethro found a single room apartment not far from the car lot, at a rent he could just afford. He settled down and started to rebuild his life. The first step was to find a way to finish college, which he did via online study with a nearby community college. He also threw himself into the study of the Bible and did a distance learning course in theology.
He, of course, joined the local church, and it was there that he met Martha. A small quiet woman a year older than himself, an active member of the congregation, she took it on herself to introduce this newcomer to the town and its ways. Ten months later he asked her to marry him. She accepted.
In many ways Martha and Jethro suited each other. Neither made demands but each was considerate of the other. They did their duty to the Lord and had two sons, after which they decided that the pleasures of the body were not worth the hassle of having to share a bed, and Martha moved into her own room.
When Jethro became the minister of the church Martha was in her element. As wife to the minister she was here, there and everywhere: organizing, visiting and doing all the things the wife of the minister was expected to do. On the whole the pair of them had a good twenty five years together, even with their disappointment in their sons, both of whom rejected the truth of the Lord and went off on their own way to damnation.
There were one or two in town who commented on the waywardness of their sons, but on the whole the town was sympathetic to the Lamberts. As Mrs Hadley the shopkeeper stated, 'they done right by their sons, it was their sons who done wrong by them.' Those around Mrs Hadley nodded in sympathy for had not her own son done wrong by her, flaunting his deprived ways and going off with an older man as soon as he was eighteen? They also knew well, for Mrs Hadley had informed them, that the Lord had shown his anger and struck down her son with the plague he had sent to the homosexuals.
The minister and his wife made a fine pair and they were valued in the community. It was appreciated that Brother Jethro could give a fine sermon and would preach against the abominations and sins that could drive man from the way of the Lord. It was also appreciated that, even when confronted by those who were such abominations and had fallen into sin, Brother Jethro would seek to bring them back to the way of the Lord -- and where they refused to accept such redemption, he would, as a good minister, seek to protect his flock by driving those abominations from their midst. In the eyes of the church the minister and his wife were a godly pair. It was, therefore, a shock when they were told that Martha had cancer and that it was terminal.
The community gave the minister and his wife all the support they could during the time that followed; the women arranging a rota to clean and cook. During those months they saw the minister's devotion to his wife. When he was not out on his parish duties he would either be praying, reading from the bible or at his wife's bedside, giving her comfort.
It was during one of these bedside sessions that Martha spoke to her husband. "Jethro, I know you have always treated me with love and respect, and you have been the best husband I could have wished for, but I have also known -- known since the start -- that you did not love me."
Jethro went to speak, but Martha used her little strength to raise her hand to his lips. "No, listen. You had love for me, and you gave me love, but you were never in love with me, as I was never in love with you. I pray that when I am gone you may find someone to be in love with.
"Will you take my ashes and scatter them at Whitetop? My grandparents had a place near there and I grew up in the country round there. I would like to go back."
Jethro nodded in assent. He had been to Whitetop with Martha when they were first courting, and had met her grandparents.
So it was that some six weeks later he was driving through falling, a casket of ashes on the seat beside him. Although the snowfall was light and not causing any major problems on the road, it was slowing down the traffic. Jethro was some four hours behind the schedule he had set himself and now faced having to complete the final part of his journey in the dark.
The satnav announced that he should turn off the interstate onto the eleven and then onto the fifty eight. He did so, his headlights catching a sign informing him he was now on the Jeb Stuart Highway. The snow was coming down quite a bit heavier and driving conditions were not the best. Jethro decided to keep a lookout for a motel where he could stop for the night. There would be no problem if he delayed completing his journey until the following morning.
Suddenly, a pair of headlights appeared around a bend, their beams dazzling Jethro. A scream of "Oh Jesus" escaped him as the oncoming truck smashed into his car. Then there was blackness.
The darkness was complete and totally enveloping, yet Jethro sensed there was somebody or something present within it. He wondered if this was the afterlife.
"No it's not," came the response to the unspoken question.
"So, I'm not dead?" Jethro asked.
"That is an issue yet to be decided."
"What do you mean? I'm either dead or I'm not dead."
"Well," the voice said, "haven't you heard the term hovering between life and death?"
"That's where you are."
"So," Jethro asked, "why are you here?"
"You called me."
This surprised Jethro, he could not recall calling anyone. The last thing he remembered was seeing the headlights coming towards him and saying 'Oh Jesus', it couldn't be, could it? "You're Jesus?"
"I is who I is."
The words reverberated through the darkness, which faded to a thin haze, within which was a brightness.
"Why now? Why come to me now? Where were you when Martha was dying?"
"So you have come to me now that I am dying?"
"No, I am here because you have need of me."
"And why, Lord, do I have need of you?"
The haze that surrounded Jethro was suddenly pierced by an intense light.
"You have forsaken me and left the path of my teachings."
"When Lord? I have always followed your ways and your teachings. When did I forsake you?"
"When James Lee was beaten by his father and cast out into the streets by his parents, did you offer him comfort? Did you give him shelter?"
"No Lord, he was an abomination and would not turn from the path of evil."
"So Jethro, you sin again, being prideful that you know the truth in all things. For this reason you let a sixteen-year-old boy wander in the winter darkness without comfort or hope."
"But Lord he sinned, he lusted for the body of a boy and had sexual knowledge of that boy."
"For this you allowed him to be driven from your town, from your community?"
"He was a sinner and had no place in the community of the righteous."
"Did I not say 'I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me'?"
"But surely Lord, those were deserving people, not sinners?"
"Did I not say 'I was in prison and you came to visit me'? There is no mention of innocence or guilt, just that I had need and it was answered. Did not James have need?"
"But Lord, in Leviticus it is stated that man shall not lie with man as with a woman. And didn't you strike down Sodom and Gomorrah for that sin?"
"Did not my coming give you a new law, a law of love? Even if this were not so, the words of Leviticus do not say that man shall not lie with man but that they shall not lie with man as with a woman. To take a man and treat him as if he were a woman is disrespectful both to the man and to the woman.
"Yes, in my anger I smote Sodom and Gomorrah, for they gave harm to those who were my messengers and who were protected by guest rights. The people of the two cities neglected the hospitality that should have been shown to guests, and did harm to those who were my messengers. For that I punished them.
"Surely if I was to condemn the love of one man for another I would not have raised David to be King of Israel, for did not David say that he loved Jonathan more than any woman? Yet I looked upon David and he was blessed in my eyes."
"Yes, Lord, but how are we to treat those who are in sin?"
"It is not for you to judge, for you cannot see into the heart and soul of men. You need to act out of compassion in all things, for if you do not then you are like one of the righteous who said they did not see me. 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me'."
"There was no harm, Lord. We heard that James got to New York."
"Yes, because one who was passing saw him huddled by the side of the road and stopped and gave him aid. She took him to a place of comfort and then arranged for him to go to a place of safety. She, who is a follower of the Buddha, did for James what those who would claim to follow me would not."
"But, Lord, are we not to keep and enforce your laws?"
"Did I not say you should love me with all your heart and all you mind and that you should love your neighbour as yourself? And is it not written that God is love?"
"Yes, Lord, but in Leviticus…"
"Did I not say that there were no greater commandments than those?"
"Yet you rejected those commandments. Even when love was offered to you, you rejected it. You knew you loved, yet you walked away from it, putting your 'righteousness' above love. Know that in rejecting love you reject me, for I am love. I am love in all its forms. Wherever there is love there is compassion and wherever there is compassion there am I."
"But, Lord…" The light that had been filling the space faded away and Jethro found himself lost and in darkness. In that darkness Jethro became aware of an emptiness inside him, an emptiness that had been clawing at him ever since he had walked out of David's apartment so many years earlier. Grief and misery welled up within him. In his agony he called upon the name of the Lord.
Somewhere, the beep, beep, beep of a monitor gradually entered into his consciousness. He sensed, deep inside his being, that he was going to live, though that was not his desire.
Jethro knew -- he knew -- that he had failed to be who he should have been. What's more, he had not even understood what he should have been. Because of this he had spurned the gifts of the Lord and walked away from the Lord's path. He had spoken hate when he should have spoken love. He had shown disdain when he should have shown compassion. He had been arrogant in his pride that he was doing the Lord's work when he should have been humble and seeking the Lord's forgiveness.
Jethro knew that he was going to live... and that life would be empty and full of pain, for he had rejected the love that had been offered to him. In his rejection of love he had built himself a fortress of deceit in which to hide. That fortress was no more; Jethro would have to face a life in which his lack of love was laid bare for him to see and to understand.
A hand took hold of his wrist and held it for a moment. Jethro attempted to open his eyes but they would not open. He asked for water but his voice would not form the words he wanted. Somehow, whoever was there ascertained his needs and a damp sponge was put to his lips. He tried to speak. A hand touched his mouth; "Rest, the doctor will be here shortly."
Jethro tried to open his eyes but they just wanted to stay closed. He wished he could go back to wherever he had been and not wake up, but he knew that was not to be.
There was movement; somebody had come close to him.
"Jethro," a voice that he seemed to know him called to him. "Jethro, can you hear me?"
Jethro moved his head a bit to nod.
"Good. You were in a car wreck, and pretty badly hurt, but you're going to be OK."
The voice sounded familiar to Jethro; he wanted to see who was speaking. Slowly he opened his eyes. A pair of sparkling green eyes framed by long black hair looked back at him. For a moment he could not believe what he saw.
"David, I'm sorry…"
"Don't try to talk, you've had a ventilator tube down your throat for four days. We only took it out this morning and you will be very sore."
David did an examination and seemed happy with what he found. He informed Jethro that he had been in a coma for four days. A specialist would be along later to do some further tests; David himself would be back the following morning.
The specialist arrived about an hour later and, after doing some general tests, pronounced that she was happy with Jethro's progress. Unless anything unexpected happened Dr Cains would be looking after him.
David returned the next day and did a quick check on Jethro, but refused to get into a conversation.
"Jethro, I know there is a lot you want to ask, and I think there is something you want to say. At the moment I have a heavy round to deal with. Once I have got that out of the way and dealt with my work, I'll be back to see you."
It was late afternoon when David returned. He came into the room and seated himself by the side of the bed, taking Jethro's hand. "I thought you weren't going to make it, but somehow you did."
"David, what happened?"
"You were in a head-on collision. A drunk driver was speeding. He had just passed a patrol doing well over a hundred when he lost control on the bend, crossed over and went into you head-on. It was a miracle you were not killed immediately."
"David, I'm sorry. I should not have walked out on you like I did, but…"
"I know, you couldn't cope with who you were."
"But I should have. In leaving you I turned my back on love."
"So you really did love me?" David asked.
"I don't think I ever stopped. I just denied it."
"I looked for you."
"I thought you might. Did you find anyone?"
"Yes, but he was not you. He died last year."
"David, do you think…"
"Do you think we could try again?"
"But... what about your God?"
"Well, after my crash he came to me and I found out that I was wrong about him. I had been taught to hate, when I should have been acting out of love. God is love."
"What's so funny?"
"Do you know where you crashed?"
"Just after I left the interstate."
"Yes... on the road to Damascus!"