I was raised Catholic, as my parents had been, and their parents before them. When it came time for me to wed, it was no surprise to anyone that Danijela was also Catholic, most of those in Croatia are, and we both knew our children would follow in our footsteps. Who would know that one day could change what it had taken centuries to create, but it did, and on the day I buried my wife and our children I turned my back on my Church, my Faith, and my God. How could I continue to believe in someone who would steal so much from so many?
I told myself I didn't care, I told myself that I didn't miss the sense of belonging the Church gave me. Mostly though, I focused on the hate I felt toward God for taking my family away from me, because if I was doing that, I could almost ignore the emptiness that I was left with. Almost, that's the key word you see, because no matter how much I wished it away, no matter how far away I ran, or how much I tried to change my life, that emptiness was always just that small black and white photograph away.
You can only ignore things for so long before they start to eat you alive. Like a poison, they rot you from the inside, souring you to everything and everyone. I'd gotten like that, wandering through my life as if even I was only an observer to it. Never , letting anyone get too close for fear they would see something I didn't want them to see, never letting them know how I really felt. I couldn't stay in one place for too long, because if I did that it meant talking about myself, and if I did that it meant having to endure their looks of pity, or worse.
You know, it's funny, if you tell a lie long enough, you can almost start to believe it yourself, or at least I wanted to think so, and maybe it might have worked if only fate hadn't intervened. I say fate, some would say God himself decided to take action, and so he sent to me the man who would act as God's voice, the man who saw through my lies even as I continued to tell them. I'll never know what it was about Bishop Stewart that made him able to see in me what others seemed unable to see. How, in those few months he touched my life, he was able to heal wounds to my heart and soul that had been festering for almost nine years. Most importantly though, I'll never know how this man, this servant of God, was able to not only lift the mantle of guilt that I had carried since that day I'd lost my family, but why he would offer to take that burden upon himself.
I'm not going to lie and claim that Bishop Stewart hearing my confession that morning allowed me to achieve some miraculous religious experience. I'm not going to say that suddenly my world was all bright and beautiful again because of what happened in the wee hours of that morning. No, it wasn't anything like that, but, he did allow me to begin the journey back, a journey that had it's ups and downs, and still does, but, now, I'm no longer taking this journey alone, I no longer feel like I've been abandoned.
If I need any stronger proof than that, I need only to look back on those days I spent as prisoner to the MaiMai in the Congo. In the weeks before going to the Congo my life had been spiraling out of control, a relationship I'd been very committed to had fallen apart, I was drinking too much, sleeping around, living fast. Sure, I could lie and say I was going to the Congo for all the right reasons, but, in truth, I was back to running away, and maybe too, I was hoping death might find me, I know there were at least two times I taunted it before it very nearly found me. It didn't find me though, it took others, including one who was attempting to argue for my life to be spared, and again I found myself wondering why? After Patrique was shot though, I was sure my luck had run out, it was only a matter of time as one by one those kneeling near me were drug to a near-by tent to meet their deaths.
I'm not exactly sure when I realized that except for Chance and her mother, I was the last one there, and for the first time in eleven years I struggled back to my knees. It was in his hands now, and when it was over I would finally be reunited with Danijela and our children. I could hear the music, the choir of angels, and even if I couldn't see them , if I couldn't see him, I felt his presence. For the first time in eleven years I found my voice, the words to the prayers came as easily as if they had been offered minutes before instead of years. I truly believe it was his hand working through Sakima that allowed my life to be spared that day, for her to risk her life and the life of her daughter, to plead for mine to be spared, how do I ever repay that?
In the end I know the answer, though I may not have at the time. My life is so different now, with Abby, and Joe I have again what I lost all those years ago, and while we may be struggling, we aren't willing to give up fighting to keep our marriage alive. Abby isn't Catholic, she did agree to allow Joe to be baptized as one, and while I'm not as devoted as I once was, I am finding that more and more I find comfort in visits to the church, or in my prayers. The hate I carried for so long is gone, and with that I've found a peace that I had forgotten existed. I do believe that God is watching over me, that he's watching over all of us, and in that too I find comfort. It's hard to express how it feels to know I'm no longer alone, to wake-up and realize that the emptiness I've known for so long is no more. I love my wife and son, and for the first time in seventeen years I can honestly say I'm happy and looking forward to all that life has in store for us.