|What Used To Be? by Steve Nelson|
As he drove slowly over rugged, mountain passes and through the lush, green forests, his mind kept reflecting back to the times they had traveled this road together. Each turn brought back memories of warm, summer days and cool, fall evenings, when the forest seemed to come alive with vibrant colors rich in hues of yellow, orange, and deepest reds. He remembered how they had stopped by the gently flowing river to drink of its cool, clear waters and breathe in deeply the clean mountain air. It had always brought peace to his soul and joy to his heart, but this time, on that snowy winter’s day, he was alone.
As he thought back to those perfect days, it almost seemed unreal that she was not by his side. How could life go on without her warm smile and loving embrace? He remembered how her eyes would sparkle and shine with each turn in the road—how just being together was their own special treasure, like opening a present and finding exactly what you had been wanting all your life. Now, the light of love that once shone from an overflowing heart was quickly fading. It was about to be quenched, never to burn again.
Stopping along the side of the road, he walked to the river’s edge, hoping that just one smell of the evergreens would somehow change the course of time. Maybe, just maybe, if he could skip a stone to the other side, he would recapture a happy moment, and all this would be only a nightmare that would end. Picking up several rough, jagged stones, he knew it was no use. Reliving the memories would not change the course of time. He had to face the truth. No matter how perfect he might skip a stone, it would, like his future, sink out of sight, never to be seen again.
Returning to his car, he decided he must press on. Perhaps once he arrived at the old, log hotel, things would be better. Maybe if he ordered their favorite meal, everything would be all right. He could almost smell the grilled cheese and hear sizzling fries cooking as he parked near the store. By this time, he was nearly famished. He could use the comfort of salty fries and melted cheese to block the memories, if only for a while.
At this altitude, the snow was already piling high around the windows and doors, and as he pushed on the massive oak door, it seemed very difficult, like even it was saying, “You’re not welcome. Don’t come in; no one wants you.” Once inside, no savory smells drifted his way; no one sat at the counter; and no laughter filled the usually busy room. Looking over to the dinner area, he saw the disappointing sign, “Closed.”
“How can I help you?” came a voice from behind the counter.
“I have a reservation,” he replied.
“Ok, just fill out the card.” No smiles, no warm welcomes, just cold formal stares. It was as if they, too, were waiting for him to leave so they could close for the evening and forget their unhappy lives. Once inside the room, dingy, white walls greeted him on all sides, They seemed dark and foreboding, pressing in on each other and closing him in their four-walled prison house of isolation and despair. No dinner, no television, no phone, and no one with whom to share his dreams. It was as if winter’s cold, snowy blast was going to bury him in an avalanche with no way out and nowhere to turn, not even for a moment’s relief from the dungeon of despair.
He had to talk to her. Maybe, just maybe, if he could hear her voice, everything would be all right. Perhaps she would have changed her mind. Maybe she’d ask him to come home, to forget the broken dreams, to rebuild their nearly shattered lives.
As he retraced his steps through the drifts of snow, he prayed the phone outside the lodge would at least let him make that one important call. Picking up the receiver, he felt its icy cold surface next to his ear, adding only injury to the words that did not say what his heart longed to hear.
He could not bear to stay a moment longer in that room. Not another soul checked in to the hotel—once a paradise and secluded mountain hideaway. If only there were other voices to break the deafening silence, he might be able to stay. How could a place that once seemed so quaint and charming now feel like a dark and dreary hole that was about to swallow him up and leave him without a hope or prayer? Quickly loading his luggage back into the car, he began to drive the long miles back to what he hoped would be some form of civilization. He longed to just hear voices, or laughter, ringing in the night’s air.
The sun was setting as he rounded the crest of the last mountain peak. Now, again, the waves of sorrow beat upon his already broken heart. He tried to press on, but now he could barely see through his tear-strained eyes. Why God? Why don’t you care? Where are you when I need you most? He wanted to give up, but something seemed to hold him back. He pulled over to the side of the road and knew he couldn’t go on. He could feel himself losing control, and every ounce of strength he could muster wouldn’t be enough to keep him from going over the edge. Great sobs of agony burst from his breaking heart. No matter how he tried, it was no use. Nothing was able to stop the continuous waves of sorrow from sweeping over his mind, each one crashing down on his unprepared heart. It was almost more than he could bear. All of his hopes and dreams seemed to be slipping through his hands as the world he knew—the one they had shared—was about to end.
He felt his mind start to drift in and out of reality. How could he face a world that was so dark and empty? Life without her was just too difficult to comprehend. After what seemed like hours, the sun’s rays quickly faded from view; night was upon him, and the darkness began to shut him in, holding him in its relentless grasp, refusing to set him free to live again.
He still can’t remember exactly what happened but, somehow, at that darkest moment when it seemed nothing could change the course that was destroying his life, Someone was reaching out to keep him from losing everything. As he cried out to God, God’s heart ached for him, for “Not a sigh is breathed, not a pain felt, not a grief pierces the soul, but the throb vibrates to the Father’s heart.” (The Desire of Ages. Page 356)
It would be many days before he would travel that winding road again, but coming back would never be as hard as it was that lonely winter day. They say, “Time heals all wounds.” However, he found that while time may ease the painful memories, only love can heal a broken heart. The One who brought him through his darkest hour also found a way to restore what had nearly been lost. The next trip down memory lane would be with her by his side, as they would once again travel unexplored roadways and dine on grilled cheese and salty fries.
[END OF STORY]
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