Something happened to Donny as he was sitting there just after the Gloria was sung. That most perfect musical bliss that is: "Oh Lord God...Heavenly King!" in the sung service. He felt a wave of heat and wind like a strong sweet smelling breath from on high, push past him, flushing his cheeks and filling his lungs with a coolness and his mind with a clarity hardly to be understood or described. It was as if, the dark clouds that stood between he and his horizon suddenly cleared away for Father Sun to shine upon his goal...and perhaps, more importantly, his path. After years of muddling through life, depending on others, and feeling sorry for himself, he now knew what he was supposed to do. And as the realization that the big mystery was still out there for him to find - the mystery of his wife's death (why did she not tell him? where did she go?) and the mystery of normal people and why they suddenly burst into a flaming nothingness and ash? And the mystery of why, when the soul and the mind want to stop, the body keeps ticking along all shone bright before him. He had already taken the first step, responding to the postcards he received daily. But now came understanding. If there was a God who really cared, perhaps He was simply waiting for him to make the first step before clearing the way.
As he and Ms. Davis exited the church, leaving the warmth if the sanctuary, that had become almost oppressive, and stepping into the cold blast of air that intially brought them comfort before turning bitter again, he stopped walking, looked directly into her eyes and said,
"I am going to Little Rock, Ms. Davis. I do not know why. I just feel like there are answers there."
"I know," Ms. Davis answered, "I'll make arrangements for you tomorrow morning."
Arrangements were made, as she promised, and by Monday night Donny was on a plane heading west. He left Boston, and through a quirk in the airline industry, flew to Chicago O'Hare where he had to switch planes, which required him to walk across a flight line, between aircraft and hangars, to another terminal. From Chicago he flew to Atlanta, where, again, he had to change planes, requiring him to ride a train from one terminal to the next. But, perhaps, in an instance of divine intervention, his connecting flight was on time, he boarded the plane for a direct flight to Little Rock National Airport. If you have ever flown a certain airline into or out of Atlanta, you will appreciate the fact that Donny was able to arrive and depart on his scheduled time. To this day, I avoid Atlanta because I am not fond of long lines and over-night-sleeps-at-the-gate experiences.
By midnight Central Standard Time, Donny touched down in the Queen City of the Mid-South, picked up his rental car and by 1:00AM he had checked into his hotel on Shackleford Road.
"He would sleep in a little and then head downtown to the Post Office to scope out the PO Box" he said to himself, hoping, beyond hope to see who opened it. The excitement at the prospect of identifying the anonymous sender was not strong enough to keep him awake after his long journey. He drifted off to sleep.
On his way out the following afternoon he noticed a Copeland's restaurant just down the road from his hotel and he stopped at this welcome sight for lunch. A long time, New Orleans fixture, Copeland's had expanded its territory to include Little Rock and Donny, who in times past had tried to close down memories from his past, readily took his seat at the table and remembered the anniversary dinners he and Clara had at their Copeland's in the Crescent City. "The cheese grits are to die for," he remembered Clara saying.
Hospital Row, as its called, is Interstate 630 which connects the Chenal Parkway Financial District and the southwest Loop I430 with I30 which runs from Dallas to Little Rock, dead-ending into I40 heading east-west from coast to coast. Fort Smith lies to the West, Memphis to the East. Both two+ hours away. Past Baptist Hospital, St. Vincent's, University Medical Center (University of Arkansas Medical Center, and Children's Hospital, Donny drove, staying in the right hand lane. His map showed that he would need to exit on Broadway, turn left across the bridge spanning the Interstate, then a right on Capitol. Within a few minutes he had arrived at the main post office. He mistakenly pulled into the dock/receiving area and did not realize it until he saw a van from Arkansas Children's Hospital and the good looking, young looking, 50 something year old courier hop out of the cab and signal him back to the front. Donny's second clue was the battery of white post office trucks lined up against the dock being loaded from within. A quick u-turn and Donny was in the front lot at the main entrance. He took a book out of his pack and took up residence in the lobby which housed the banks of Post Office Boxes- and waited.
It was at least an hour before he realized that he had not identified The PO Box he needed to keep an eye on and that he had probably wasted a day. He straightened his legs, stiff from sitting on the tile floor, as he stood and made his way up one bank of boxes and another until he located the box, 1302A, repositioned himself so he could see if anyone accessed it, without it looking like he could see who accessed it. He waited and then he waited some more. When the post office closed, Donny closed his book and headed back to the hotel. With the 5:00PM rush "hour", he made it back to his room in 35 minutes. Rush Hour in Little Rock is a generic term which has no basis in reality as even at its busiest, one can make it across town in less than a half and hour. But Rush Half-and Hour sounds stupid.
Tuesday was much the same. Wednesday like wise. Thursday again. Surprisingly no one stopped to ask him what he was doing there every day, much to Donny's relief. By Friday, Donny had realized that in flying from Boston to Little Rock, that he had passed his return letter making its way by truck down the interstates through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. And then it dawned on him, that his mystery pen-pal probably only checks the box once a week. What if they check it once a month? Was he going to sit in the lobby of the post office for a whole month?
His wait continued through Friday and then on Saturday. It was mid morning and a rush of people entered the lobby all at once. Each one checking PO Boxes, standing in line to mail packages, or buying stamps. Donny was lost in the crowd. He drew his knees up to his chest and stared at Box 1302A intently. Suddenly, what he had been waiting for happened. A youngish, 30-something woman, brunette, chunky build, short, wearing a pea-coat and dark framed horn-rimmed glasses pulled a key out of her coat pocket and opened the box. It was, of course, empty because Donny's letter had not yet arrived. Donny, struggled with whether or not to rise to his feet and rush over to her to introduce himself, for just a moment. The delay made the decision moot as the crowd pressed against him, it was all he could do to stand and by the time he did, the young woman had closed and locked the box and had rushed out to the parking lot. By the time Donny made it outside she had gone. He had his chance and he missed it. Donny decided to head back to the hotel to try again Monday. Surely, at any rate, his letter would arrive any day, and he would be there to see her pick it up.
The following week, again, was uneventful. The odd patron would sigh in disgust as they stepped over or around Donny seated there in the lobby reading his book - obviously assuming he was a homeless man. His scruffy look led to this perception even if he had not been eating bologna sandwiches whilst seated on a hard tile floor in the post office. Monday and Tuesday passed. Wednesday, Donny awoke in hope. There was no reason for this. Wednesday would most likely be just like the last week of days and he most likely would have to wait until another Saturday morning came along to see the mystery woman again. But this time he would be ready he told himself. Maybe that was the reason for this hope, that spurred him on.
Alas, it was not Saturday of even Friday that she showed up again. It was 7:00 AM Thursday morning. Donny had just arrived to see the young woman, again bundled in a pea-coat, leaving the lobby of the post office in a hurry. It was incidentally, this same Thursday morning that Donny's letter had caught up to him and had just been placed in PO Box 1302 A. The woman held this letter in her gloved hand as she trotted down the side walk and around the building to the loading dock where she had illegally parked her '91 Saturn coupe. She ran past the large truck that had just been unloaded - the one that carried Donny's letter from Boston, hopped in her car and turned the key. The tempermental old car did not start at first. But a second and third try as Donny rounded the building in pursuit of her, the starter cranked and the engine turned over. Just as the car started, the driver of the Post Office 18 wheeler lurched his truck into gear as he began the next leg of his journey - probably to Dallas. As the woman pulled out ahead of the truck, she looked into her rear view mirror and witnessed Donny clearing the building, sprinting across the lot, and running into its path.
Donny lay in a pool of his own blood littered with the broken glass of the truck's left headlight.
Epilogue- the Language of God
The Aleph, the first letter of the alpha bet, as you can see, is an intricate design, and drawn open on all sides. Top, Bottom, Left, and Right, there is access, if you will, to the center of the letter. And in Hebrew thought, Aleph being the beginning of the AlphaBet, Aleph is also considered the beginning of all things. When Christ says I am the Alpha and the Omega in the Greek of the New Testament, He is saying "I am the Aleph and the Yom" in the Hebrew.
The Bet, as you can see, is more austere than its predecessor, the Aleph. And closed on three sides. This, in Hebrew thought, demonstrates only one way to the center of Bet, it also signifies the House. Bet Israel, then is the House of Israel. So, one can deduce, the Bet shows only one way into the center or the core of the House, the second letter of the alphabet.
Jewish thought, throughout the centuries, has asked the question. With Aleph being the beginning of all things, why would G-d not start His Holy Scriptures with this letter rather than start it with the second letter as He has done?
The Rabbinical answer? Perhaps G-d, Blessed Be He, did not mean for the beginning of all things to be open on all sides for His creation to see. He started His Holy Scriptures with the Bet because it is only open on one side. Reading the Bet as the first letter in the scriptures, then means, that anything preceding the Bet is to remain closed off. The only access to the House of G-d is the one way in, that is the side open to the rest of His Word.
It is here, we leave Donny, the shell that housed his soul, his mind, his curiosity, his deep love for truth, his wife, for answers. For too long he had probed the depths of what happened before that first letter in the Scriptures. What came before was not open to him. Perhaps, he approached something similar to the truth of what IS and the post cards, the stranger who sent them, and the 18-wheeler, were all God's way to remind Donny, that the beginnings of this universe were not open to him. He had only be content with the Bet and what happens after. To probe too deeply into the Aleph of what IS had always been forbidden.
Perhaps those that disappeared in flame and ash had approached something, a purpose, a desire, or an emotion, that gave them a glimpse into the eternal, the Face of God, and to take another step, or to stare into Glory for too long was forbidden and Poof! they were gone.
Sadly readers, we too, must be content with what comes next and not probe to deeply into what is past, and dare not to tread into what came before....