Rune Rofke - Glenn Emery

Sylvia and Elwood

May 1980

“Sylvia! Come here!”

I had been going door to door in my Home Church. It was really the first time I had been out to try to cover all 360 homes in my area. That was Father’s magic number: 360. A full circle. I had mapped out 360 homes and now I was going to start the process of adopting these people as my family, of becoming their mini messiah, and restoring this one tiny section of Indianapolis for heaven.

I had been having mediocre results all morning. Some elderly people were glad I had come to visit, but everyone else was not interested, negative, or not home. The door I had just knocked on was a simple green ranch with a nice yard and a few large shade trees. It was just like a million others I had fundraised at over the years. I wasn’t expecting anything.

An elderly man had answered the door. Even stooped with age, he was still tall. And I could easily see that for most of his life he had been very handsome. Those days were gone, but the spirit of a vibrant younger man greeted me behind the veneer of years.

I introduced myself, explained I was a missionary who lived in the neighborhood and I was going house to house to let people know I was in the area and could help them with yard work or chores or anything else they might need. It was truthful as far as it went. Of course I had an ulterior motive; I wanted to teach people the Divine Principle and help them understand that the Second Coming had taken place, that Christ was alive on the Earth, and that his name was Sun Myung Moon. But getting to that point would take a long time and much work. I had to start by letting them get to know me. I knew no other way to achieve this lofty goal.

“Sylvia!” But she was already there. A mere wisp of a woman, but still lucid.

“Elwood, let him in! Let him in!” I thought her enthusiasm a bit odd, but I was glad to be welcomed into someone's home for a change, rather than having the door shut in my face.

Elwood opened the storm door and Sylvia reached across the threshold and took my hand and gently guided me inside. Her waif-like hand was so soft and frail, and she was so tiny, especially next to her husband.

The living room was dim. All the shades were drawn to keep out the bright daylight, but there was no feeling of disease or death around them, which for me was a relief. Old people were often so busy dying that I couldn’t stand to be around them very long. Sylvia and Elwood, however, though very old, perhaps the oldest people I had met, were still very much alive.

Sylvia looked at me and teared up. “It’s you. You’ve come! Elwood, it’s him!”

I glanced at both. I was thoroughly confused. But Sylvia was beaming, and because Sylvia was smiling, Elwood was too.

“I knew you’d come,” she said. “I’ve been dreaming about a doctor coming, and now you’re here.” She turned to her husband. “Elwood. He’s here!”

I felt there had been a terrible mistake. They mistook me for a physician. I felt so badly, but I had to correct the misperception. “I’m so sorry,” I said. “I’m not a doctor. I’m afraid you have me confused with someone else.”

The smile briefly left Sylvia’s face, and Elwood closely studied her to see what she would do. Clearly, in this moment at least, he took his cues from her. Whatever she said was the law.

Sylvia looked into my eyes, then held both my hands. “No. I’m not mistaken.” And she started sobbing.

Elwood never took his eyes off her. If she said the word, he’d throw me out. No questions asked. Her wish was his command. I stood there like a mute, not sure what I was supposed to say or do.

Sylvia quickly regained her composure and invited me to sit in the darkened living room. “Elwood, ice tea for our guest.” For being so old, Elwood moved surprisingly quick. I could hear him in the kitchen, ice cubes tinkling into glasses, liquid being poured.

“My dear…” Sylvia started, but then stopped. “I’m sorry. Tell me your name again?”


“Glenn. Beautiful.” It was as though she were tasting it on her tongue. “My dear, I’ve been expecting you. I’ve been dreaming of a young doctor who would come and make me well again.”

She watched my face for reaction. She could see I was confused. Elwood returned with a small tray with three glasses of ice tea. He was at the age where every movement was shaky, and I don’t know how he managed to bring them from the kitchen without spilling. But he set them on a small table and offered me one. Still, he was watching Sylvia closely. When no further signals were forthcoming, he sat down too.

In fairly short order I learned that Sylvia and Elwood were in their nineties, that they married young and never had any children. As a young woman Sylvia had once lived in France. She loved all things about it: food, language, culture. "I'm a Francophile," she said proudly.

But a few years ago something had happened to Sylvia. A nerve disorder in her face erupted that caused intense, constant pain. “It’s like a red-hot poker on the side of my face all the time,” she cried. She traced a bony finger from her right ear along her translucent jaw to her chin, wincing with pain. Elwood’s face registered the unspeakable agony of seeing the love of his life suffer and being unable to do anything.

Sylvia tearfully recounted how countless tests and X-rays and CAT scans had failed to find the cause of her pain. She had become addicted to narcotics to deal with the unrelenting torment, but they hardly helped. So as a last resort, the doctors had suggested surgery to sever the nerve to her jaw. Out of desperation, she agreed.

Tears filled her eyes. “They cut the wrong nerve. Now it hurts twice as much as before. Ooohhhh!” Her thin voice registered pure pain, and Elwood and I both felt helpless to do anything. Her suffering was awful to witness.

I don’t know why, but I reached over and with the back of my fingers I laid them gently on her cheek. It was on fire. “Ooohhh!” she whimpered. I held my hand there for a few seconds and I felt the heat begin to flow into my hand. Frightened, I pulled away.

In that instant I had a disturbing revelation. I don't know if this was literally true -- logically it didn't seem possible -- but I felt if I were to touch her right now, I would absorb all of her pain. She would be healed. I didn't feel it had anything to do with me, because I certainly didn't have any sort of healing powers. It was her. She had absolute faith that I could, that I had come to heal her.

I didn't exactly believe it, but I believed it enough to ask myself if I was willing to take the chance. Anybody else might have said of course, but for me it wasn't that simple. I knew that if by some miracle I were able to heal her simply by laying my hand on her cheek, then her affliction would become my problem. Not necessarily the same kind of problem, but something equally bad.

That is the nature of miracles. The indemnity transfers from one person to another. One person gets well, and the other person gets hell. When Jesus performed miracles, he did it to convince the simple-minded people of that time who he was. But he paid a terrible price. Miracles don’t come free. Someone pays the freight. It’s the law. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Now it could be that her agony was nothing more than what I would consider a minor annoyance. Perhaps she simply had a very low threshold of pain. In that case, the affliction for me might be nothing more than a head cold or stiff neck. That wouldn't be so bad. I could easily handle that.

But what if the source of her pain were actually something big and serious? If I took it from her, it could give me cancer, or debilitating migraines, or God only knows what. Sylvia might be better, but for me it could be very, very bad.

I probably couldn't have actually healed her if I had wanted to. But I couldn’t take the risk. I had definitely felt negative energy begin to flow into my fingers when I touched her. I couldn't take the chance that I might be about to complete some spiritual circuit that would allow Sylvia's painful condition to flow into me.

It seemed cold and heartless, but I forced myself to be rational. She was old and her suffering would be relatively short-lived. If I did this thing and by some miracle it worked, even out of the purest empathy, I might pay for it for the rest of my life, which could be a very long time. It was too high a price. I had to find another way.

“Tell me about Paris.”

For the next hour we traveled back in time to when she was carefree and pain-free and strolling down the Champ-Elysees as the prettiest girl in the whole of France. She temporarily forgot about her burning jaw. It was the best I could do for her.

Elwood looked at me. His lips moved silently. “Thank you.”

For the next several weeks I visited them every chance I could. Some days were better than others. When Sylvia had a migraine, I did yard work, mowed the lawn, raked out the ivy, cleaned out gutters and helped Elwood. Anything that wouldn't disturb Sylvia. On days when she was up and about, we would sit in the living room and talk about France and she would once again become young and vivacious and beautiful and her life was perfect. I didn't even try to witness to them. I didn't need to. My presence was enough.

One day Sylvia was in an especially good mood. She mentioned she’d like to get the kitchen painted. I surveyed the small room and estimated it would take only a few hours. I told her I could do it on Saturday. We discussed it further and they wanted to pay me. I refused, of course, but I told them if they bought the paint, I’d be back on Saturday to do it. I told them two gallons was enough and not to buy more.

I returned on Saturday. There were two gallons of what Carl would call “canary shit yellow.” It was obscenely bright, but remarkably close to what was already on the walls. As always, Sylvia knew exactly what she wanted, and the men in her life made it happen and rejoiced in making her happy.

Sylvia was down with a migraine and in bed. Elwood suggested I come back another day, but I assured him I could do the job quickly and quietly and wouldn't make a mess. I said when she gets up, the kitchen will be a bright, fresh shade of yellow, like Provence, and she will be happy. Elwood agreed and left me to the task.

I started clearing the kitchen counters. Sylvia’s medications were there, dozens of them. I looked at the labels. All were heavy-duty opiates: Demerol, Percodan, even Dilaudid among them. I held them in my hands, felt their energy, and pondered the possibilities. I could take one from each bottle and it would never be missed. I could get high any time I wanted for months if I rationed them. I mulled it over. It was tempting.

Then I thought about Sylvia and her severe, depressing pain. These narcotics could not erase it. Even heroin itself might not be enough. The only thing that would ease her suffering would be if I healed her -- if I could even do that -- and I was not willing to try.

Yet I would be willing to steal an old woman’s painkillers? If I were to do that, and I really wanted to, maybe I shouldn’t even be alive. A chill came over me, that same icy blanket I've felt whenever Satan was near. I quickly put all the prescriptions in a small box and placed them on the dining room table, where Elwood could see them. If the fox were to get weak and try to sneak an egg, Elwood would be there to guard the hen house. At least I hoped so.

I set to work painting the kitchen and forgot about the drugs. A few hours later I was finished. It was as bright as a French sunrise. I quietly called Elwood to come look. He was very pleased. Sylvia would be thrilled.

Elwood just turned 92. He still drove an old Belair and he wanted to treat me to lunch at Waffle House. Afterward he insisted on taking me home, even though I would have preferred to walk. I knew it was because he wanted to pay me back somehow. So I let him drive me. Along the way, to make conversation, I casually mentioned how he and Sylvia were the most wonderful and welcoming people I’d met, that not everyone seemed to like having me in the neighborhood.

This infuriated Elwood, which certainly wasn’t my intention. Now I was sorry I had said anything, or at least I wish I hadn’t said it like that.

For 20 minutes Elwood drove up and down the streets and made me point out every house where someone had been mean to me. He has this hard look on his face like he was going to come back and kick their ass. He was so serious and upset about it. He took my persecution very personally. He wanted to protect me, because Sylvia needed me.

I did a lot of quick talking to assure him everything was all right and he didn't need to worry. No one was going to hurt me.

I hope. 

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