The Flaming Gate

It was a sunny, spring day, the weatherman told me – about twenty degrees Celsius, gentle wind, partly cloudy. I watched Thomas, with key in hand, paining over which door to open. The weather helps me remember the scene. I remember he took a deep breath of the fresh spring air and slowly exhaled. From what I could tell, it seemed he knew a little bit of something about what lay behind each closed door, and he seemed confident. Yet there was a hint of atmosphere around him to the contrary.

I took a sip from a cherry-colored coffee mug. I love coffee. Sometimes I wonder if my intense watching is of the form of David’s from his rooftop. But then again, I am content and not seeking a place where I am free to condescend.

Thomas rubbed his fingers through his hair. It’s strange; I don’t remember the color of his hair. Usually I am more intent on observing and not just seeing, but that day I guess I was a little more content with just seeing. I do, however, remember the color of his eyes. They were dark brown and very peaceful to look into.

A familiar passerby stopped to have a chat with Thomas.

“Good morning, Thomas! What brings you to the doors today?”

“Happy morning, Greg! I was given this key the other day,” Thomas replied, raising a gold, cross-shaped key in the air.

“Well, why don’t you go ahead and see which door it opens?”

“That’s the thing. I tried both doors and the key opens both. So, I don’t know which door to take.”

Greg was slightly taken aback. “That’s unusual,” he said. “No use staring at it though. You see that man over there at the coffee shop? The one with the cherry-colored coffee mug?”

“I see him,” Thomas answered. “Who is he?”

“He’s an ordinary man – just like his father was – but he’s gone through a dilemma like yours before. He was given a key that seemed to open every door he tried. A dangerous key, I think, but a fellow with wise advice and a caring heart.”

Thomas looked at the man with a steady eye.

“Don’t just stare, son. Go ahead and introduce yourself.”

“Yes, I think I will. Thanks, Greg. Have a good rest of your day!”

“You’re welcome! You, too! And remember, sometimes in situations like this, no door is the wrong one.”

Thomas, who had begun walking towards the man with the cherry-colored coffee mug, gave a solemn, respectful nod to Greg and continued on his way.

“Hello, sir! My name is Thomas.”

“Hello, Thomas. My name is Caleb. I see you know Greg Williams? He’s a good friend of mine.”

“I do! We have been acquainted for some while ever since the power outage last year. He fixed part of the line on our house. How do you know him?”

“We grew up together in the same church. His family moved away because his father was offered another job, but he ended up moving back here after graduating college, and so our friendship continued even stronger,” Caleb said, smiling. Good, old memories always made him smile.

Thomas smiled back and then grew more solemn, remembering why he had come to meet this man initially.

“Is there something you would like to ask me?”

“Well, yes. And I’m sorry to interrupt you.”

“No worries at all. Seriously, I am glad to answer any questions.”

“Thanks. I appreciate that. I was given a key the other day that opens both doors, and I’m not sure which one to choose. Greg told me that you would be able to offer me some advice.”

“You have been blessed, Thomas. Some have to wait many years before they receive an ordinary key. Yet you are also being challenged. However, I think it is right to think of challenge as a blessing.” Caleb paused, looking into Thomas’s young eyes. “I presume you know a little something about what lies beyond each door?”

“I do know a few things from some others I have talked to,” Thomas replied.

“Good. I am glad. The advice I have, then, is to pray for growth in the path you choose you to take. Then go to the doors and choose one. It is no fault to not choose a door, but it is a mistake to leave both of them shut.”

Thomas made a short grunt while nodding his head. “That is helpful advice. Thank you, Caleb. If there is anything you ever need, please let me know.”

“You are welcome. And thank you. I will. The LORD be with you!”

“And also with you,” Thomas replied, being much more confident now than he was before.

I watched Thomas as he walked back to the doors, and as he bowed in his head in prayer. It was that same advice I gave him that another gave me many years ago. It seemed to give him the same peace of mind that it did me, and I was and am very glad for that.

Thomas looked at each door for a few seconds, and then chose one. It’s funny; I can’t remember for sure whether he went in to the left one or the right one first. Yes, he went into both. But I haven’t gotten that far yet.

Thomas slid the key into the door, turned it and gently pushed the door open. I squinted my eyes to get a better look. It looked dark and cold on the other side, and I could see a vicious wind galloping through the trees. I was slightly taken aback when I saw snow on the ground. But it wasn’t that peaceful, first snow – the kind that everyone loves because it is so bright, quiet and peaceful. Rather, the snow was icy, and the weather, noisy and dark, very dark. Thomas stopped in the middle of the door, his body halfway into the cold world and halfway into the street he would have called home.

I remember when I went through my first door. It was a frightful experience going through the door, but my mind and muscles, and even the weather on the other side seemed to calm once I had actually made it through.

For Thomas, and even for me, it seemed as though the weather represented the battle of the mind more than anything else. I was shocked to see Thomas take a step back out of the door and then take off running north. But then I realized that he was wearing shorts and a short-sleeved shirt. “He’ll be back,” I thought. And I was right. Within a few minutes or so he came sprinting down the street in full winter garb. All the time the storm on the other side of the door raged dreadfully.

He waved at me before entering through the door again. I waved back and offered up a prayer for him. This time he did not hesitate, but ran straight through the door, and it shut as soon he was through.

“There he goes,” I thought. “Off on an adventure.”

The street was quiet and it was about midday. My coffee cup was empty, so I rose from the table to bring it back to the counter. I then proceeded to walk south on the street toward my home, where my wife was catching up with her younger sister on the phone. It is a beautiful thing to hear woman talk. Yet I don’t understand, and maybe never will, why it takes woman so long to catch up. When I see my brother our conversation is like,

“Hey how’s life been?”

“It’s been going well. God is good,” and after about ten or twenty minutes we both go and do something together if we are together, or we say goodbye until next time. Maybe it’s that they are better at talking than men are. But, I digress.

Remember I said I was shocked to see Thomas run down the street away from the door? Well, it would have looked like I was mildly surprised compared to what I imagine myself looking like after I heard that door blast back open, and saw Thomas come stumbling back into the warm, spring day covered with ice and snow. He looked completely out of place. It was like a fish had somehow made it onto warm sand and was trying to swim on it while the ocean in front of him had completely frozen over. Well, maybe not quite like that. But it was definitely out of the ordinary. I made haste to run to him and shouted,

“Thomas! What are you doing?! What’s wrong?!”

But he did not answer. He was trying to pull the door closed. The storm was howling more than it was before. As I grabbed the door handle with him to help him I looked into his eyes. The peace that had been present before had fled, and they were wet with tears. We managed to pull the door shut, and as soon as we had done so, Thomas pulled out his key and rushed toward the other. He slid the key, turned the lock, and pushed the door open as he had done before.

It was strange to be so close to him as he opened the door. I felt as he very much looked – out of place. What was I doing there? I looked into the world that lay before this opened doorway. It looked green and warm and peaceful, like that of the spring day we were experiencing, but then suddenly dark clouds appeared and a threatening wind like that of the other door developed. Thomas rushed into the open world, and from what I could tell, he was running towards a large tree for shelter from the icy snowstorm that had begun. I lost sight of him in the storm and saw the door beginning to close, and the key was still in the door. He had forgotten to take it with him. I thrust my body into the crack of the doorway still open and felt the door slam against my chest. My heart beat faster, and I could feel my naked right arm, which was exposed to the cold, being covered with ice. What was I doing there?

“Thomas!” I shouted again. “Thomas! You forgot the key!”

I wondered if it was me that was making the storm rage so fiercely now. Did he really need the key? I remembered that I needed my key for many other doors than the first one I entered through and recalled the same for others that I had talked to. “Thomas!” I screamed. “Thomas! Come back! You forgot your key!” But it seemed that there was no hope for his return. The storm thundered on.

My whole body began to feel cold and the adrenaline I had felt just a few minutes before seemed to be wearing off. But then I saw a light in the midst of the darkness of that world. It shined down from the heavens, and I could see Thomas underneath it. It seemed that he was on his knees in prayer, bitterly crying out to God. My spirit groaned in unison, and as swiftly as the storm had come it vanished and left in its wake a calm sunny day. My body began to thaw, and I could see Thomas quickly running towards me.

“Caleb!” He shouted. “Give me the key!”

It had frozen in my left hand, but the ice had melted now, and still using my body to keep the door open, I stretched out my hand towards him, gesturing him to take the key. He swiftly took it, yanked open the door, picked me up, and carried me back onto the street. He set me down in-between the two doors and then proceeded to lock both of them. After doing so, he came and sat down next to me on that dusty street.

“You saved my life, Caleb. Thank you,” Thomas spoke calmly. Tears were still dripping from his eyes. He buried his face in his hands. “I wasn’t ready yet,” he said. “I thought I was, but I must actively wait a little longer. When I entered the first door, I made it a few hundred feet to a massive, iron gate. There was a large lock on it, and I slid my key into it. It fit perfectly, but I was not strong enough to turn the lock. My fingers began to freeze, and so I panicked and ran back. The only reason I was able to find the door is because it was lit with a pure, white light. I thought I had chosen the wrong door so I moved to enter the other door. But that door led to the same place. As soon as I opened it, I saw that strong, iron gate. This time it was surrounded by fire and my heart melted within me. There is nowhere else to go except through this door, I thought. And so I ran to find shelter at the only place of refuge I saw, a mighty tree in full blossom with flowers and fruit, and with birds nesting in its branches. I knelt down and cried out to God for mercy. I didn’t hear any voice, but I felt His presence all around. The gate continued to burn and the storm raged on, but I could see the large lock on the gate melting in the flames. It was as if God was telling me that I needed to wait a little longer and he would open the gate when the time was ripe. And then I saw you holding out the key to me, and knew that it was back to the open gate of this world that I must run.

Caleb looked over at Thomas and saw again the peace in his eyes that he had seen before.

“God is good,” Caleb declared. “So. Very. Good.”

And then we parted ways. And I walked home. It could take longer than twenty minutes to catch up with my brother.

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