By Charles Towne
The old doctor woke with a start.
He had not had one of the dreams for some time. It was a fact he couldn’t remember the last one but then that didn’t really mean much, there were a lot of things he was forgetting these days.
He did not want to get out of bed. The bed was warm and he knew that the fire had died. Well, perhaps there were still a few hot coals from which he could coax a fire.
Reluctantly he rolled over and forced himself into a sitting position, pulling the blankets around his frail shoulders as he did so.
He sat there hunched, hugging himself.
“Cold, damnably cold!” he said aloud.
His voice surprising him. It didn’t sound like his voice but he knew it was his.
“Doddering old fool, now you have started talking to yourself!” These words he spoke aloud just to prove that he could do it.
“Couldn’t you get someone else to do it, someone younger? This he thought for he wouldn’t dare say the words aloud even though God and he had carried on some pretty spirited conversations in the past.
One of those discourses had taken place when his wife had died several years before.
Oh yes, he had told the Almighty what he thought about that one. “I need her!” He said. “Bring her back, damn it. It isn’t fair. We planned to grow old together.”
He and God had carried out some really frustrating conversations over that one. Frustrating because they were usually one-sided. But he did get answers. They weren’t always the answers that he wanted but they did bring him peace.
Once in a dream, he saw his wife. That is not to say that he didn’t see her at other times, in other dreams, only in that dream it was different.
That was the dream that he clung to like a mental talisman for in that dream God showed him what he had to look forward to.
In that dream his wife did not come to him, no, he was taken to her and allowed to see just enough. In that dream, he had seen his wife as she had been when they first met.
She was a vibrant, youthful woman of great beauty, truly one of the glories of creation.
In that dream, if it was, in fact, a dream, she had looked at him and held her hands out to him as though inviting him to join her.
“Oh, I wish I could my darling, but this is a dream and when I awake you will be gone. Oh my dearest, I would much rather be with you.”
As the dream faded she had smiled at him and the smile excited him as nothing had in a long time.
That smile was special because it was the way that she had smiled whenever she had a beautiful surprise, like when she told him that she was pregnant that first time. Or when she told him that he had a son!
That glorious smile always told him that something wonderful was going to happen.
After that dream, he knew that whatever he had to endure in this life was a small price to pay for what awaited him because he knew that she would be there.
“Oh, this is not good.” He exclaimed when he saw that the fire would have to be rekindled from scratch.
“Couldn’t you kindle just a small fire for me! I have to walk a long distance and it is a task that you have called me to do.”
Grumbling and grousing this way he kindled the fire. Thus he began to prepare for the journey ahead.
It seems that within some people there is a spark that if nurtured and fed becomes a flower of flame, inspiring and warming the hearts of all humankind.
The boy, now twelve years old, was one of those special, preordained ones. It almost seemed as though, while yet in his mother’s womb, he had been kissed by an angel.
He had fallen sick with a fever the week before, and now his parents were fearful that this thing that threatened to consume their son would indeed take his life.
The boy’s father, concerned for his son’s life had ridden to summon the local doctor. He had ridden through the blizzard, fighting gale force winds the entire way to the closest town some dozen miles distant to no avail.
He had arrived in the town only to discover that the doctor had been called to another homestead some twenty miles farther away to attend to a difficult birthing. Not only that but due to the bad weather he was not expected back for at least another day. Thus it was that the boy’s father returned, alone and forlorn, with little hope.
But mysterious forces were already at work.
Now if the players were only willing.
It always invariably comes down to that, the players must be willing.
The old doctor some thirty miles away had dreamed of the boy, and in that dream was revealed the lad’s destiny. He was told of the boy’s illness, but more than that he was shown that the knowledge and the means to heal the lad was his and his alone.
As he began preparing for what was ahead he was well aware that it would be a long and difficult journey. He was also aware of the danger, but that did not matter, for you see, he was accustomed to obeying, to following his dreams
The previous summer the old doctor had given his horse to a neighbor in great need.
It seemed that that was the way of it, always someone in greater need than he.
As a result of this generosity he possessed little more than the clothes on his back but then, he needed little more.
Thus it was that he began walking those thirty miles to where the boy lay dying.
The cold was like a living thing when the old man set out on that overcast winter day. But he was driven with a dogged determination, and the knowledge that he alone could help the boy.
The hours passed slowly. Although he was dressed warmly the cold gnawed and chewed with the persistence of a dog worrying a bone.
Within two hours of leaving his fireside, it had begun to snow. The snow fell in hard flurries, obliterating the trail.
“Look, I am out here because you have told me to go but now I am confused. I have lost the trail so you are going to have to lead me.”
From that point on the old man did only one thing, he continually placed one foot in front of the other knowing that his God would guide him through the storm.
After several hours of slogging through the wet snow, he knew that his toes were frostbitten but he continued on, for the boy was destined for greatness and the old man knew that he was an instrument in God’s hands.
It took the old doctor nearly two days to walk those thirty, cold, miserable miles, tramping through knee-deep snow most of the way. He was in his eighties and agility as well as youth had abandoned him long before therefore the task was almost beyond him.
Three times his path had forced him to cross shallow, ice glutted streams, once soaking himself to the waist in the near-freezing water. He continued on, forcing himself to put one foot woodenly in front of the other.
Sometimes he sang softly to himself, always keeping the bag dry. Carefully wrapped within the bag were the healing potions needed to cure the boy, to enable him to fulfill his destiny.
Finally, miraculously, there in front of him was the place where the boy lay dying. A golden glow from a coal oil lamp lit the windows of the little cabin.
It would be warm in there. He anticipated that, the warmth. It seemed that he had been cold for an awfully long time.
He was chilled to the bone, numb with the cold. He also anticipated the pain for he knew that he would at the very least lose some of his toes to the frostbite, but first, he must tend to the boy.
Staggering as he stepped up onto the porch, he fell to his knees due to the fact that he no longer had feeling in his feet.
Rising, he knocked on the door. Nothing. He knocked again, harder than before.
There were heavy footsteps on the other side of the door.
Golden Light washed over the old doctor from the lamp inside the room as the door was pulled open. He could see a fire burning brightly in the fireplace on the far wall. It looked so inviting.
The boy’s father stared at the slight, snow-covered figure in front of him. The surprise on his face at having a visitor call so late hanged to an expression of anger.
“Get away from here, damn you, get away I say!” He reached to the wall inside the room and pulled forth a shotgun, waving it threateningly.
The old doctor was so cold that when he spoke he was shivering uncontrollably, and the boy’s father did not understand his words.
“What’s wrong with you, are you drunk? Go on with you, get away from here!” He shouted angrily, gesturing with the shotgun as he did so.
Summoning strength from an inner reserve the old man spoke calmly and slowly, trying to make the boy’s father understand that he was there to help. He had to make the man understand. Thus it was that he opened the bag that he carried and reached inside to remove some of the herbs.
If the boy’s father saw the medicines certainly he would then understand.
Watching closely, the boy’s father was alarmed when he saw what he perceived as the beginning of a threatening move on the part of the stranger.
Expecting the hand to come forth from the bag grasping some sort of weapon he deliberately pointed the shotgun and pulled the trigger.
The old man was surprised, but really, why should he be?
He lay in the deep snow on his back looking up at the man who had shot him. He felt no pain and no longer did he feel the terrible cold, only a great sadness.
“I am sorry you misunderstood, my friend. The Great Spirit sent me to heal your son. It is too bad.”
With that, he closed his eyes and died.
As his spirit passed he was surrounded by a bright light. It was peaceful, he had never felt such peace, and so very beautiful!
And then he saw her.
She was standing with her arms outstretched toward him, welcoming him. That glorious smile was upon her face.
As he began running toward her he felt like a young man again, no, he WAS a young man again! As they joined and held each other they were each joyfully laughing.
Suddenly, she stopped laughing, though that wonderful surprise smile was yet upon her face as she was looking at something behind him.
Puzzled, he turned. It had been so many years since the white man’s disease known as smallpox had taken their son and daughter.
Oh, how painful that had been.
But now it was made right, for walking toward them was the two of them, their son and their daughter.
They were a family again, and the sound of their laughter was the most beautiful music he had ever heard.
“What is it Caleb?” the boy’s mother questioned anxiously. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing, nothing’s wrong now honey. It was an Indian, nothing but a damned thieving Indian. But I reckon his thieving days are over!”
“Oh Caleb, I am so glad you are here to protect us. What would have happened if you had been gone?” She put her arms around her husband and she felt safe.
And what of the boy? What good could he have done? For you see that was his destiny, to be a leader, to help his people, all people.
Within hours of that fateful, fatal shotgun blast that knelled the old medicine man’s passing the boy also died.
As surely as if you were to snuff out two candles, the old medicine man died and along with him the boy that was destined for greatness died. Two flames guttered and died. Because of ignorance they died.
O Holy one, help us to see greatness and goodness in all men. Help us to see the beautiful potential within each of your children. Help us to help and never hinder your plans. In Jesus’ Holy and magnificent name I ask this, Amen
Charles Towne is first and foremost a Christian. An octogenarian, author, journalist, wildlife photographer, naturalist, caregiver, and survivor, his life has been and continues to be, a never-ending adventure filled with possibilities never imagined. He has adopted the philosophy that to Live fully, laugh uproariously, love passionately, and learn like there is no tomorrow, is a formula for a long and joy-filled life.