Some stories are timeless. No matter the form or medium, we never tire of the telling. It was in my mind to attempt a reimagining of one such tale.
Truth is unchanging and eternal, but the distance between pride and love is great. To narrow the gap requires a dangerous grace and a mercy that is reckless…
I could see him from far away.
Call it a sixth sense or a father’s love…I knew what he was feeling. All those long nights when he was lost in whatever pleasure crossed his path, I felt the pain of the next day, and the growing panic that still it wasn’t enough. I felt the emptiness even as he filled the days with the best his dwindling money could buy.
I couldn’t blame him. Had I not done the very same? No one remembers this reckless fool and deeds done in the dark. Or if they did, they kept it to themselves for reasons only known to themselves and the Creator.
So when he left, I waited.
I was angry at first, slighted by his assault on my ‘dignity.’ Words formed in my mind as he took his leave, but not the words my heart screamed in the dark nights long after. I replayed the exchange over and over, and in my dreams the words were soft and persuasive and he never left and my spirit never died.
And so I waited.
When he returned, the wind brought news of his coming.
Even before I saw, I could smell him as he grew near. The stench of travel was there, yes. But mixed in was the stale perfume of the woman he had used even on the night before his return. Despair seeks comfort in the intimate, and even false pleasure knows the loyalty of endings. But love is expensive, and with no money he was turned out unwashed and unloved.
Overpowering even this was the smell of cheap wine and refuse that passed for food. I had fallen low in my day, but had he been forced to steal even the meals of swine?
He was closer now. Yes…the remains of slop and shit still clung to him, his clothes drenched in sweat. The stink of fear clung to him worse than all, triggering memories of my own lavish fears and failures.
Would he love me? Or did he return to mock my fatherly wrath? A thousand questions flashed through my mind as I recalled the judgement I received at the hands of those who loved me. My heart still bled from those wounds.
Bitterness rose in the back of my throat as I saw him. Pride and anger waged war with my longing for him. I could see that he had nothing. All of it gone. Wasted…
I knew he could see me by now, but he looked down, staring at the stones beneath his feet.
A cry escaped my lips and he stopped. And then he looked up and into my eyes…
The waiting was over. I ran the remaining distance and grabbed him and kissed him, my tears washing away the stink and the shit and the fear, both his and mine.
“For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:24 ESV)