The Silver Lining - Writer's-Challenge
A journey to mark the new direction of her life
Lightening streaked across the shroud of grey thunderclouds. Potent yet silent. Strange how that white bolt of electricity made no sound, powerful as it was to permanently mark anything in its wake… But then came the thunder. Ending the quiet with a deafening crash. The wind thrust its way through the trees as raindrops began a steady patter across the red tiled terrace beneath her feet.
This was her favourite place - a sprawling terrace that was elevated a few stories above the busy streets of Chennai. It afforded a measure of privacy. It was a place to get away from the noise and pollution that pervaded the city during the day. And whenever there was a thunderstorm, the stunning force of nature entirely eclipsed the drab everyday life of the city, creating a momentary drama that pushed everything else out of her mind. And it was helping to calm down her tumultuous thoughts now.
He had passed away last week. A man who had seemed larger than life. She had never thought he would die. He was too vital, a force to reckon with in the small community where she had grown up. Her grandfather, who had been a father figure to her and taught her the things that fathers teach their children because her own parents had not lived long enough to teach her. He had taught her to aim high, to pursue her dreams, to have faith and not fear the future. And now he was gone. Permanently removed from earthly existence to a place from which he would never return.
The funeral at the small church in her home town had seemed surreal. She had come back to her college in Chennai just that day. The waiting at the train station had been dismal. In the past, he had always come to see her off. Today, she was alone and as she paced the platform, a multitude of thoughts filled her mind.
Her time in this small town was over. She knew that she would never return to what had been her childhood home, except to tie up the loose ends and then move on with her life. She would cross the bridge to the other side and leave this town and all that it had meant behind her forever.
The train thundered into the station and Juliana got in. As the landscape flashed by, each scene was tinged with his memory. She had made this trip many times before and he had always been there to receive her and drive her back home.
Today, she acknowledged for the first time that it would never be so again. His death was a milestone that marked a new phase in the journey of her life. Staring at the railway tracks as the train rounded a curve; the sight struck her as a metaphor of what lay ahead in life. She could not see everything up ahead but she would take it a step at a time.
The train seemed to take an interminably long time to reach Chennai. Her mind still swirled with thoughts and memories as she went back to her little studio apartment. She unpacked, slept for an hour and then went up to the terrace to try to sort things out in her mind.
Things would change. She had to think about the future that now seemed filled with strange unknowns. The prospect of being left behind deprived of his encouraging presence, vaguely frightened her. But more than that, a feeling of disbelief over the whole episode still persisted like a foggy mist over her mind, blurring everything else.
“Jules, what are you doing? Getting yourself wet in the rain?” It was Cathy, her neighbour in the building and a good friend. She stood under the elevator room, which was perched atop the building. It was a small covered space supported by pillars. “Nothing much... Just watching the rain... I like to feel the raindrops on my skin. It’s only a light drizzle…” Jules replied with a wry smile.
Cathy had brought up two steaming cups of coffee and handed one to her. They stood side by side, sipping the coffee in companionable silence, watching the raindrops falling from the skies.
The warmth of the coffee was comforting as was Cathy’s camaraderie. “I’m sorry about your grandfather’s passing,” Cathy said. Cathy had heard a lot about him over the months that they had known each other. Jules shrugged. “I guess it was his time to go. Everybody dies at some point in time. At least I got to celebrate my eighteenth birthday with him,” she said.
Jules told her about the funeral. Many people had turned up for the service at the church and the burial at the cemetery. There had been many people, many speeches… Some words had been clichéd, typical eulogies.
But there were others who had spoken about what he had meant to them. Children who had grown up in the home that he had started along with his wife. Children from poor families who had no one to help them in their early years, now grown up and doing well, passing on the faith they had been given… They had told their stories of how he had helped them, provided for them, helped them go to school and encouraged them to dream big and achieve their dreams.
Jules remembered their words. "I am a school teacher today because Mr. Reuben had faith in me," said a young man, the son of a businessman, who had been born out of wedlock. His father had put the little boy into the home because he did not want to be stigmatized by a caste-based society.
A young woman born of an interreligious marriage spoke of how her relatives had thrown her out at the age of seven when her parents died. "I became a nurse because Mr. R thought I had the potential," she said. "He gave me the opportunity to reach for my dream."
The irony was that fate had played him a difficult hand during his childhood. His father had died. His mother had become poor. And he had been put in a home for children. His prospects for an education or a better life seemed bleak.
But that didn’t stop him. He just wouldn’t allow the consequent difficulties to defeat him. Instead, he would climb up into the hills every day for a time of quietness, to pray and find strength. And he had pushed himself. A scholarship winning student and star athlete who won accolades for his school and college, he had gone on to become more successful than his wildest dreams.
He had crossed the oceans for higher studies and received a doctorate from a prestigious university at a time when such opportunities were not as easily available as they are now. And despite the advice of well-meaning friends, he had decided to leave the land of opportunity and come back to his small town in South India.
He believed with all his heart that he had to give back to the community. He had been given much and he had to pass it on. He’d married his high school sweetheart and had gone on to become a self-made man, a leader in his community and a pillar of strength to hundreds of children and young people in his later years. Despite herself, Jules smiled as the reminiscences gave her the strength she needed.
“That was a life well lived. His life was filled with much more significance and accomplishments than most people I know,” Jules said. “He just kept going and it didn’t matter what odds he faced. He had a faith that sustained him and he just kept going no matter what. And more than that, he passed on that driving faith and energy to everyone he came in contact with. And if you were around him, you couldn’t help but catch his enthusiasm to be positive about everything.”
A faint hope began to rise and grow inside Jules. She was his flesh and blood. There was no need to be worried about the future.
He had been a living example of overcoming the odds and rising above the circumstances and she would follow in his footsteps. “He finished well, you know. I’m sure he had no regrets looking back over his life. That’s the most important part.”
“…And he has gone to a better place. You know he would want you to follow your purpose. Now, it’s your turn to follow the dream and live your life,” Cathy added.
The words came like a revelation. Faith and hope would strengthen Jules as they had sustained her grandfather through whatever lay ahead in the journey of life.
Somewhere in the depths of her soul, that truth had surfaced past the grief. As they stood there talking, the rain stopped.
The sun began to come out and Jules saw the silver lining forming behind the clouds.
Another silver lining began to form in her heart.
I hope this story encourages anyone who might be feeling a little bleak as you read this right now! Just remember that difficult times don't last forever. I wish you the best on your own life's journeys.