I am alone.
I walk along a shadowed path, a dark Lenten journey into self-consideration.
Night has fallen early; I can barely see the way ahead. I stumble and fall, many times, for I am weak and unsure of my way. Where should I turn?
The black forest closes around me, tall trees of sins surround me: mighty redwoods of past transgressions on the left, massive oaks of inaction on the right.
Suddenly my feet step onto a metal sidewalk that carries me into the darkness. It slowly descends, a one-way escalator, a monstrous, mechanical movement machine, pulling me down into a deep chasm.
Like a giant indoor shopping mall, each level I pass has dozens of window displays. But instead of stores fronts, each display is a large video screen with film adaptations of my life, scenes in which I take no pride.
I am George McFly in Back to the Future—cowardly, intimidated by aggressive people and insecure about my writing.
I am Peter Banning in Hook—so consumed by my job that I forget who I am and what’s most important in life. So focused on finances, I yell at my children when things are not going right.
Lower and lower I glide to the levels below.
I am Lester Burnham in American Beauty—restless and easily distracted by a lustful imagination. Faced with familiar temptations, I covet an irresponsible future.
I am Rhett Butler in Gone with the Wind—prideful and boastful, I care more about what happens to me than others. I walk away instead of dealing with matters most important.
Deeper into the darkness I descend.
I am Peter in The Passion of the Christ—bragging that I will follow Our Lord wherever he goes. However, when faced with trouble and perhaps my own mortality, I deny His existence three times.
I am Michael Corleone in The Godfather—first an innocent family member, then a good soldier. With moderate success, I am tempted by the power and feel the overwhelming need to control every situation, no matter the cost.
Lower and lower the steps descend to the bottom level. A sign hangs over the entrance to Hades: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
I am Christy Nielsen in What Dreams May Come. I have died in a car accident, like my children before me. All three deaths were terrible accidents, yet my Annie blames herself for each of them. She takes her own life and ends up in Hell.
Yet Hell is not fire and brimstone. The real Hell is your life gone badly, in its worst possible state. You must spend eternity living that life, without knowing kindness, peace or love.
I must find Annie in this blackest corner of Hell and convince her that she was wrong about her life. I cross a sea of faces—helpless souls crying for help. Thousands of bodies, floating in the dark water, claw at my boat.
Upon reaching the shore, I walk past beached ocean liners, the steel ships broken and smoldering, their passengers trapped by flames and unbreakable chains.
Against all odds, I find Annie, my soul mate, and remind her of our love. I convince her that I will remain with her always, no matter the outcome. Her eyes open wide with recognition and her heart fills with gladness. She is lifted up and disappears to our peaceful corner of heaven.
Yet I remain, for my sins weigh heavily upon my heart.
Softly, clearly, the sweet melody and powerful words of Rory Cooney’s song come to mind: Change our hearts, this time, your Word says it can be. Change our minds, this time, your life could make us free. We are the people your call set apart, Lord this time, change our hearts.
I acknowledge my past sins and open my sorrowful heart to God, begging for His forgiveness.
There in a dark corner, away from everything else, a light softly glows. I look and see it coming from a cave of freshly hewn rock. The stone that once covered the opening has been rolled away.
As I step inside, I see the end of a tree, a giant log rising upward toward the heavens. I step onto the timber and climb, my feet steadied by the nails pounded into the trunk.
The timber rises higher and higher, but it does not fall. It is supported by another timber that crosses underneath and holds it up. The light from above guides me home.
I feel alive again with hope, for all is forgiven. By the strength of this cross I am free.
I rise above the darkness to see the sun rise over a mountain of joy. It illuminates the world and out shines the midnight stars.
I am alone…no more.
First published in the March 20, 2009 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© Christopher Fenoglio