Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Table

John reached over and caressed his mother's hand. Their eyes met and reflected the teardrop that slipped off her cheek and onto the wooden tabletop. She traced it with a look as it mournfully fell, and then lovingly wiped it with the sleeve of her garment allowing her fingers to linger for a moment on the smooth wood. 

Her touch remembered her first born son who had hewn the timber and finished it to a mellow surface. It wasn't the first major piece of furniture he accomplished on his own, but rather a special birthday gift to honor her and show his love. She remembered that day and a small smile skipped across her lips. It seemed fitting somehow that it was a table; a place where they shared meals and laughter, played games, and talked of life and the future. Now, there was only an empty chair and memories. 

Raising him had not been easy. There were challenges. It wasn't that he was disobedient. On the contrary, he was a good son; bright and wise, with a mind and spirit that seemed to capture something mystical; a part of him that lay just beyond her reach. He spent a great deal of time communing with strangers and she could not understand what seemed like more than a need to be the center of attention. At times he would wander off, spending an even greater amount of time alone, while she was left to worrying, and wondering what he was about. However, she understood his need to be alone. Much like him she, herself would take early morning walks in the beautiful grove, just over the hill, to reflect and meditate. It was her time to mull over the responsibilities of motherhood, and seek direction in raising her other, more raucous, boys. 

Her sniffle drew her back to the table and she returned the caress of her sweet son, John. Patting his cheek she rose and went about the preparations. Today there was double the reason to celebrate. It was Christmas and her late son's birthday all rolled into one. This was the first Christmas-Birthday since his death and though he would not be there in body to enjoy the festivities, she knew he would be there in spirit, living on in her heart forever. 

She went to the cubbyhole in the back of the pantry where she removed a package wrapped in  handwoven linen. Inside were three small treasure chests; each one a different size and color, and each boasting its own humbly elegant design. The tallest was covered in a type of red velvet and resembled a small tower with jewels for windows and a lid that opened on a tiny silver hinge. A rectangular, ivory coffer, intricately hand carved, with a cover trimmed and hinged with gold was the smallest of the set. The medium sized one was an octagonal shape. Rich purple fabric set off the red tassels that hung from each angle by tiny sapphires, and a cover that could be lifted by grasping a jeweled handle. These three would be the centerpiece on her beautiful table this Christmas and because they held sentimental value, perhaps for the rest of her Christmases to come.

As a base for the trio, she laid her handiwork across the table. It was dainty and delicate, spun from the finest filament available; a project she had been working on for the past year to busy her hands and detour the sorrow that drove into her heart on a daily basis. The thread was a special gift from her husband, who knew her love for needlework, and shared her loss of a son. The setting of pottery plates seemed to clash with the elegant treasure chests and fragile covering upon the humble table but the contradiction spoke volumes about the character of her firstborn. 

The setting was almost finished. There was just one more thing to do. She arranged the chairs and in her mind determined that her husband would be seated at the foot the table and an empty chair would hold the place of honor. She would sit to the left. 

Heading to her room she opened the wardrobe, pushed a few things out of the way, and uncovered the dress. She hugged it to herself and drunk in the stained scent. All the pain and passion came rushing back and a heart-wrenching wail escaped her throat. It was the dress she wore that day, the day he died. She could not bring herself to part with it, nor could she bring herself to wash the blood from it. Feeling weak from the excruciating scenes that flashed her memory, she stumbled back to the table and draped the dress over the chair. Then she crashed to her knees and remembered.

"She gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. In the same region there were some  shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord..."

Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. There at the empty chair, she whispered her thanks for the son of her youth, the Hope and Savior of the world, and the God of her heart. 

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies..."
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