Rune Rofke - Glenn Emery
“What did you mean -- exactly -- when you said the lord told you to come to Athens?” Pete asked.
Pete and I had been prying aged boards of siding from an abandoned house on a country lane. The air was hot and muggy, the sky was overcast. Rain was imminent. We were both sweating profusely, and the truck that Pete had borrowed was already sagging beneath the weight. We had only a small section left on one side of the house to pry off. This wood -- vintage tongue-and-groove boards -- had already become the flooring in Pete’s new attic bedroom. We had come back to salvage the rest so Pete could use it on other jobs.
“I meant exactly that,” I said. “The lord told me to come here.” I liked Pete a lot. He was more than a friend. He was like an older brother. I could tell him anything. Almost anything. But now he was zeroing in on the hard questions that I was extremely hesitant to answer.
“You mean like ‘told’ you like I’m talking to you now?”
“No. It was through another person. He conveyed the message through another person.”
“A friend of mine.”
Pete was clearly not satisfied with my evasive answers, even though I answered him truthfully. He knew I was hiding something. But since we both were right and he was the inquisitor, the burden was on him to flush me out.
“If this other person, your friend, wasn’t around, could the lord have told you this in person?”
“You mean you can see the lord?”
“Sure. I’ve seen him many times.”
“In New York, mostly. Once I saw him in Dallas.”
Pete had quit working, quit banging on boards with a hammer, and was perched on one of the bare floor joists, one of the few remnants of what once had been a home with a family and a history and a thousand stories. At the present, Pete was interested in only one story about this remote place -- the one unfolding right now.
“I think you’re in some weird religious group and afraid to tell us,” he said finally. “I’ve seen about ’em on TV.”
Now it was my turn to quit working. If Pete had asked that as a question instead of stating it as a fact, I would have had no choice but to answer. But he didn’t. It hung in the warm air like the sticky humidity, and every bit as uncomfortable.
I had dreaded this moment ever since I had come to Athens, especially after meeting this group of charismatic Christians I was now a part of. I knew I had to tell them everything, but I knew the outcome would be bad -- unless they had a chance to know me first. But since Pete with his hammer had nailed me, fair and square, I figured it was time to ’fess up. If anyone was going to guess my identity, I’d prefer it were Pete.
“If I told you everything, in plain English, black and white, would you be happy?” I asked.
“It’s not a question of my happiness,” he said. “Everyone wants to know who you are. You’re too good to be real. You’re like Jesus performing miracles or something. You waltz into our lives and everything is hunky-dory. It’s weird. Nobody is like that. There’s got to be something more here that we don’t know about. Who are you?”
I prayed harder at that moment than any other time in my life, begging God to provide me with the right words to a question I did not want to answer.
“You’re right,” I said after a long silence. I set down my hammer and positioned myself on the joist across from him. “You’re my best friend here, Pete, and I would do anything for you. I don’t want to keep anything from you. But it’s more complicated than that. I wish it wasn’t, but it is.” I paused a moment and let the words form in my mind.
“When I first met you folks, I knew exactly who you were and what you were about. I saw some people on the green witnessing, and I purposely put myself in their path because I knew the game. I did not intend to deceive anyone. I was simply having a little fun, because I know how to say all the right things. To me it’s not dishonest because I believe those things too, but my understanding of what those things mean is much different. And that’s what I came to Athens to talk about. I wanted to explain some things that I think the right people would find very interesting.”
Pete just listened.
“Things got out of control, and that was my fault. I ended up over at the dinner and I thought that would be the end of it. And the next thing I knew Phil was offering me a place to stay. This for me was terrible. I didn’t want to hide who I am. But there was a problem. The more I got to know you folks, the more I began to feel that you were the people I had come to Athens to meet. And if I told you who I was, you wouldn’t listen to me and I would have failed before I could even get started.
“You don’t need to believe me, but I want you to know this has been agony for me. And if anyone had ever asked me directly, as you have done just now, then I would have had no choice but to tell the truth because I won’t lie. But you are correct, I wasn’t telling all of the truth either, and that has been my great sorrow. I knew as soon as I did, our relationship would end, and I didn’t want that.
“It wasn’t the house to live in or the meals, although those things were very important to me. But I could have stayed any number of places. I would have survived. I stayed because I wanted to be part of your community.
“The thing is, I’ve changed my mind about going back to Indianapolis. I don’t want to be part of that any more. I want to stay here in Athens. Being here has been some of the happiest I’ve ever been, perhaps in my entire life, and the reason is you. You’ve made me feel loved and wanted and appreciated. I don’t want to leave.
“But I know I can’t stay here like this. You deserve to know who I am. And my hope, my prayer, is that you’ll forgive me for not being totally truthful and allow me to stay and be part of your community. I believe everything you do. Even if that doesn’t seem possible, it is the God’s honest truth.
“I would like a chance to put all my cards on the table and then you guys can decide whether I stay or go. If you send me away, I wouldn’t blame you. You have every right. But, Pete, I’m asking you, man to man, friend to friend, to listen to me. You’ve come to know me better than anyone. You know what kind of person I am. You know I am a decent, moral, hard-working person who would not intentionally hurt anyone. So something must have made me certain of how I would be received if I were totally honest. It wasn’t what I wanted to do. It’s what I had to do to even get here to have this conversation with you. Otherwise we’d have never met. I value your friendship and I would have counted it a tragic loss in my life had we not met.”
I tried to read Pete’s face for some reaction, but he was revealing nothing.
“Next Friday is the end of my forty days in Athens,” I said. “After that I go home. If you arrange to have a farewell dinner for me Friday night, I will explain to everyone who I am and why I’m here. After I reveal everything, if you want me to stay I will stay. And if you want me to go I will go. I don’t really have anything else to add.”
Pete sensed my vulnerability. He knew he had found the mark. And after a long period of utter quiet between us, with nothing to listen to but the drizzling rain failing gently on the woods around us, he said the most Christian thing he could have said: “It doesn’t matter to me what group you belong to. I already know you’re a good person.”
We both sat there for a minute, listening to the rain. “Perhaps you’re right,” he said. “People are funny and it doesn’t take much for good people to find fault in each other. There’s too many things that divide us. If you felt you couldn’t be truthful with us, perhaps that’s as much our fault as yours. Maybe we need to be a little more open and tolerant of folks who happen to think slightly different. Ain’t no sin to have a contrary opinion, especially when it comes to religion. God knows there’s plenty of wars been fought over that.”
It was starting to rain a little harder. My heart was sinking through the open joists and into the damp ground. My secret was being buried in this place. Whether there would be a resurrection for me would become clear enough on Friday.
“I know you’re with the Unification Church,” Pete said. “I know you think Rev. Moon is the second coming. I’ve known it for some time. I don’t agree with you, but I admit some of the things you said during our little discussions have caused me to think hard on these things, and I agree some of what you said makes sense. You have a rare logic and I find it stimulating. So maybe you do know what you’re talking about. I don’t know.
“I will keep your secret and I will let you break the news yourself in your own fashion. I will ask Katie and Boo to prepare you a farewell meal -- a Last Supper, I guess -- and then you can see if it made any difference whether you told us in the beginning or in the end.”
Pete seemed sad. I think he was hoping his suspicions would have turned out not to be true, and now that he did know, he was disappointed.
“I hope it goes well for you,” he said as we got back in the truck. “I’d like you to stay too. But I wouldn’t get my hopes up.”