~ The Wrong Path ~
"Time to forgive...?" The words stumbled and resounded through Laurie's soul as though it were a drunken sailor lost in wild seas, crashing into open wounds and raw nerves, causing her to privately groan and curse vehemently. No matter who this trader character was, and no matter what he could and could not do, Laurie knew there was no way on earth he could alter her heart and enable her to forgive Philip for what he did.
Struggling to cast aside images of her ex-partner and the woman who instantly became the cause of their broken relationship, Laurie shook her head, damned if she'd allow sorrow to overtake her; allowing anger to strengthen her reserve, and becoming even more determined to see Carol to wherever it was she needed to be. Forgiveness would not be welcomed to walk with her...
"Do you have family...?" Carol now asked.
Forcing herself to look beyond the temper calling for her to come and play, Laurie nodded. "My parents and two younger sisters."
"You've never lost anyone to death - in your immediate family, I mean?"
Without being able to see where Carol was heading with this conversation, Laurie glanced at the group that seemed to be forever growing, and shook her head. "No, thankfully."
"It's a painful experience."
"I'm sure it must be."
Lost in thought, Carol stared at the road ahead and nodded. "It is... My husband went on before me, seventeen years last October, and I still miss him." With an evocative smile, she added, "Sometimes I still sense his presence. At times I've felt like he was in the other room, smoking his pipe and reading his paper." Leaning a little closer to Laurie and the emotion being stirred within her soul, Carol lightly added, "Sometimes I can even smell that stinky old pipe and that tobacco which I hated at the time, but miss so desperately now.
"My daughter was only thirty-three when she died." Carol's pain seemed to increase at this point; the twitching of the muscles in her arm revealing the growing tension in her body as it remained hooked in Laurie's. "Her baby was yet to be born."
"I'm so sorry, Carol..."
"I will see them soon." With a tear and quivering lower lip, Carol forced a smile. "But I go knowing it's my time to leave. You could say the train has pulled into the station and I have my ticket ready, purchased and paid in full by the Trader. But you, Laurie... it's not your time. Don't take somebody else's seat... ok...?"
As anger fell away, anxiety rushed to take its place, instantly making it more difficult for Laurie to breathe. "How did you know...?"
"That you planned to suicide tonight?"
Not planned, Laurie instantly responded, privately: Plan...
"I recognised your footprints. That's what drew me to you. You see, I walked that path once, too. When your child dies, the pain you suffer is like no other; it's as though someone has violently ripped out a chunk of your heart and replaced it with an awareness of hell, where you're tormented day and night... And, oh, the weeping and gnashing of teeth that takes place. I wanted that to end. I thought it would never end. I'd heard of hell, and thought of what it would be like, but... oh," she groaned, clutching her heart, "that was hell. I was in it...
"I am still reminded of it from time to time. But I couldn't do it in the end. Suicide, I mean. I walked that path, wanting to escape that pain, wanting to be with my little girl... Oh, Lord," she groaned, "how I wanted it... I still want it... but, at the time, I arrived at a crossroads in that path and knew I had a choice. Suddenly I knew it was possible to find the strength to live again, or I could just go and leave my husband and our other children behind. It was the thought of putting someone else through the hell I was experiencing that stopped me. How, in the name of love, in the name of all that is good, could I willingly put another soul through such hell? I couldn't... So I stayed. That's what love does, doesn't it? It sacrifices itself for the sake of others..."
Carol inhaled deeply at that point, not noting the silent tears rolling down her cheeks, or those of her companions. "It wasn't easy, Laurie. I struggled for so long; cried so many tears; fell upon my knees begging for mercy from a God I never really knew, umpteen times. I thought the pain would never end. But you know what got me through, Laurie...?"
Wiping at her tears, Laurie shook her head.
"Love... Love got me through. My love for my husband, my love for my children, and their love for me. I found that if I reached beyond myself, reached beyond this internal hell, and gave of my heart to others - be it through helping them where they needed it, offering a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, or whatever the need was at the time, which I had the power to help them with - rather than locked my heart away, love strengthened me. Love carried me through."
As emotions mixed and jagged crawled their way through Laurie's soul, Carol held on to Laurie a little tighter and declared, "You see, the greater our ability to feel pain, and the more in tune we are with the brokenness of ourselves, others, and this world, the greater our ability to know love. Your heartache is not the end of life, Laurie. It is the ground upon which greater love can stand. Love carries us through. Love lifts us up, heals our wounds, and enables us to keep going. It's when we give up on love, when we believe it has forsaken us, that we want this life to end. But love has the power to rise again. It possesses the power to heal. It reaches deep within and strengthens us... I don't mean romantic love, my dear. That will often fail us. I mean a love that knows no end; a love that understands when we don't, that forgives when we can't, that holds on when we so want to let go...
"Where I go now, I go because it is my time. Finally, my number has been called," she smiled, jovial in the face of everyone's tears. In her next breath, sobriety returned. "Love carried me here, Laurie. Love came and found me in the depths of my brokenness and carried me to where I am today. It did not give up, though I wanted to so many times. It did not forsake me, though I turned my back on it often. You could say love came and took my place.
"I was broken, wounded and felt as though death would be my only comfort. My heart was lost. But love came to take my place. In exchange for my brokenness, I was given hope. In exchange for my heart," she ground out through passionate emotion, pressing her clenched fist to her chest, "I was given a greater awareness of true love. In exchange of the death that came to consume me, I was given life. In exchange for hell," she said, waving a hand in the direction they were travelling, "heaven...
"And now, love comes to take me home. Soon, I will be in the arms of my husband and daughter once more. I will meet my grandson for the very first time. And I will ache no more... but, at the moment, while I am so grateful for what lies ahead of me, of the joy I am soon to embrace for an eternity, knowing hell will never come near me again, I ache over those I leave behind - for the pain they are yet to feel. But I also go knowing that, in their pain, love will not only revive them, but strengthen them if they will let it - and I so pray they will - and, one day, they will be with me again.
"Laurie," Carol threw out as she stopped everyone in their footsteps, turning to Laurie with her desperate plea, "if you leave now, you will know great peace, joy and love in the presence of the Trader, far more than even the happiest and most blessed person alive can feel on this earth, but you won't leave behind as much love as you would when your assigned time to go arrives. Wait, Laurie... wait for your number to be called, then you can go knowing that you loved as much as you possibly could've on this planet, and the hearts of those you leave behind - though broken for a time - will have their hearts, and the depths of their love, enlarged by yours. Bless your loved ones with this; don't deprive them of love."
With a shaky hand, Carol touched Laurie's tear-stained cheek, drawing a deep, guttural sob from the depths of the younger woman's soul. "Be loved, Laurie... and love others, knowing that the pain will pass..."