He greeted the old man with a nod when he sat close to him in the pew. They greeted each other often in church, nearly every week for years now, although for one reason or another they had never exchanged more than a kind greeting and a warm smile.
The church was quiet this time when they greeted one another. They sat arms length away, close enough for men to sit comfortably near one another, together in their own space.
The priest gave a sermon about death and we all sat in attention. We were all aware that the old man had lost his wife several months ago and as I sat behind the two men I watched the old man gently lean towards the middle aged man who, in turn, scooted over to comfort him in his grief as the old man lay his head on the middle aged mans shoulder. I was surprised to see this gesture, the closeness, but the gentleness of hearts in this church never surprised me. So I said silent prayers for the two men, the old man for his loss, the middle aged man for the strength to comfort, and we continued to to listen to the word of God, in our own worlds, together.
Had I been listening a bit harder I might have heard the exhale of the old man followed by the deep breath of the man comforting him. If we had seen them from the front I am certain I would have seen the old man slowly close his eyes indefinitely while the middle aged mans eyes widened in surprise. We hadn’t yet recognize the true beauty of the moment, the moment the old man let go of his life, the moment his soul gracefully headed home to join his wife, in a church filled with love, as the last word from a sermon about death echoed into silence, and perhaps in the old mans ears eternally.
The man sat still with the old man in silence. The small congregation, unaware it was now one member less, exited the church when the sermon ended, the hum of agreement of how powerful the sermon was quieted as they left.
But no one was more aware of the sermons poignancy than the man who remained behind sitting with the old man. Perhaps the priest had just recognized the moment and moved closer to pray with the men or perhaps he was aware of the old mans passing as it happened, but he sat beside the middle aged man and I watched from the back of the church, somewhat hidden from view, as they locked eyes and lowered their heads in prayer.
And the three men sat together and I saw the beauty of life, of love, of loss, of patience and support all blossom like the most beautiful flower that ever grew in the garden of life. And as the three sat with grace, like the father, the son and the Holy Spirit, the church bells rang through time.