CHAPTER III: The Handshake

“Paul! They’re coming! Grab your rifle and get down here!” Paul looked out the window. In the distance, he could see a black truck quickly approaching, leaving a streaking dust cloud in its wake. He opened up his closet, unlocked his safe, and grabbed his assault rifle. After putting on his protection vest and loading his magazine, he bolted down stairs and into the kitchen where his brother Peter stood fully suited and armed.

“I called Dad. He has Audrey, Naomi and Mom with him, but he’s not coming back. He is headed to the airport. He said he just found out when they were at the Karim’s palace about five minutes ago. We have to either take the Humvee and get to the airport or hold down the fort here.”

Paul stood still – deep in thought. He had day-dreamed about something like this happening. But he never thought that it would happen to them. The reality of the situation didn’t feel real. But it was.

“Paul, we don’t have all day! A little input would be nice. It is only a matter of minutes before they break down our gate.”

A bullet hit the front window of the house, shattering the glass pane. Glass shards scattered across the wood floor in the living room. Peter and Paul were then relieved to hear Mustafa and Abdullah firing back at the intruders from the upstairs bedroom.

Abdullah shouted down the stairs, “Peter! Paul!” There are too many to hold off! You have to get out of here!”

The gate came down with a loud crash, and more shattering of glass followed shortly after.

“Were taking the Humvee, Abdullah!” Peter shouted. “Come on! Get down here!”

“There is no way any of us are getting out alive if we don’t put up some return fire! You guys must leave now! God forbid we fail our sworn duty to protect you and your family. This is our last stand. Go!”

The words pierced Paul’s soul. He had grown up with these warriors, and learned so much from them. Now they would give their lives for him and Peter.

“Paul! You heard them. Let’s go.”

The deafening sound of gunshots continued to pierce the air. Peter and Paul entered the garage and jumped into the Humvee. The garage was at the front of the house and the only way out of the walled pavilion surrounding the house would be through the back gate. So far it was clear. Peter opened the garage door and accelerated out towards the back gate.

A rocket pierced the air. The streak of smoke from the rocket led straight to a skinny looking ISIS soldier standing up in what appeared to be a U.S. Humvee. The rocket exploded, hitting the near the front of the garage as soon as it had opened. Peter had accelerated fast enough to avoid a direct collision with the rocket, but the blast blew the Humvee off course and flipped it around to a stop. A few other black trucks with gunners mounted on the back were readily approaching the halted Humvee. Paul saw a few of the soldiers stumble and fall as bullets pierced their bodies. He looked up at the house through the Humvee windshield to see Abdullah firing through the right bedroom window at the approaching trucks. And then he saw Abdullah dive away from a window as another rocket hit the top portion of the house. It had missed the window by a couple of feet. Mustafa was on the bottom floor now, firing out at the left side of the house.

Paul, still in shock from the explosion, his head having slammed against the window of the Humvee, finally returned to a steady, conscious state. He quickly glanced over at Peter, who appeared unconscious. Bullets ricocheted of the Humvee walls.

“Peter! Wake up! We have to get out of here!” Paul shook Peter’s shoulder vigorously. Peter’s eyes finally opened, and within seconds he had slammed on the gas and they were moving again towards the back of the house. They dodged a truck coming straight their way, and made it around the house, only to find that the other gate was blocked by at least three other trucks with mounted gunners on the back and soldiers setting up a road barricade.

“Paul . . . there’s no leaving now,” Peter said gravely, as he turned the Humvee’s direction back towards the house. “We have only to pray hard and hold fort,” he said while backing the Humvee up towards the back door of the house.

“There’s Mustafa holding the door for us! Let’s go!” Paul and Peter jumped out of the Humvee and sprinted towards the open door, but it was too late. The ISIS soldiers had launched yet another rocket at the back door of the house.

“Get down!” Mustafa shouted at them. BOOM! The rocket hit, and shrapnel burst out in all directions. The blast of the rocket and the shrapnel threw Peter and Paul to the ground, their ears ringing, damaged from the loud noise. And then, for a moment, the world seemed to turn quiet, as the dust and smoke expanded spherically outwards from the point of impact, embracing Peter and Paul, shielding them from the sight of the ISIS soldiers.

Paul lifted his face up off of the patio pavement and turned to see Peter gazing into his eyes. He could see Peter’s tears. Paul’s spirit groaned.

“I’m sorry, Paul. I should have acted faster. I’m the older brother,” Peter groaned, as if struggling to speak. That was when Paul saw that a piece of shrapnel had pierced his lung.

“Peter! No, it’s not your fault! Peter, just hang on!”

The gunfire initiated again, but Paul ignored it, as Peter had stretched out his hand towards Paul. Paul grabbed it with strength. Their two bodies lay on the ground, embraced with dust, shrapnel, smoke, and blood. The fingers of the brothers squeezed tight – a firm, unshaken grasp. The fingers turned red. No smell. No other sight. And Peter’s spirit departed.

* * * * *

“Ah, no. This just doesn’t work,” Thomas said, as he folded and put aside the past few pages he had typed and written out. Paul and Peter’s story would be of no use. In the grand scheme of the plot their story didn’t fit. He had thought it would, but the story had begun to take a slightly different path than he had originally intended. He sighed. “Writing is hard work, and it seems that as soon as you’ve struck an idea and you think its gold, it turns out to be fool’s gold.”

It was early Saturday morning, and the smell of bacon had traveled up to his room from the kitchen. “Man, I love my mother,” Thomas said to himself quietly, while thinking of the day when these current days would be past. From every moment up to the current, it felt as if his life had gone by so fast. He was nineteen years old – still in the prime of his youthful strength. Yet he considered how fast the years would add up, and wondered if his writing was just a purposeless, time-wasting fancy.

He didn’t believe that it was, but sometimes it felt like it.

“But what is it that I actually want from this? What is it that I hope to achieve?”

His life goals and dreams were to finish his education, find a good job, marry a prudent, godly woman, and to simply serve God and give his life in service of others. As of right now, his world was full of future expectation, and often he needed reminding to just enjoy the present time. In these things, Thomas did not stand out as unique or worthy or worthy of compliment, other than that he struggled to have a mind that looked forward, beyond merely the next mountain to climb or storm to face.

“So it is that I hope to gain from this. I hope that it will bring fulfillment and will bring me closer achieving my goals. But it’s not all about my wants, either. My life has just as much to do with my neighbor as it has to do with me. So I hope to bless my neighbor through these words. A temptation here, I know, is to worship the words I write, and to consider them as of more importance than anything else – for example, than spending time with others or reading the words of others. Thomas thought about his mother, and in the middle of these contemplations, as was Thomas’ pattern of writing, he wrote about something other than the story in front of him.

“I know my mother will be happy to see me married, but I also know the, or at least think I can imagine, the pain she will feel that will accompany what may feel to be an empty nest. I know she savors her time with her children. When I think about things like that, I feel like trying to slow time down. I love my Mom and Dad now like I never have before. For me, leaving this beautiful home will feel like the end of my childhood and the real beginning of my adult life. And for them, I think, it will feel like the completion of a period of life – the ending of such a bittersweet age. I think about what is would be like to be my parents. What would or will I be like when I see my sons leaving home and my daughters betrothed? Surely I would look back and think of how fast time has flown by. I will remember the peaceful moments and the chaotic moments, or at least some of them. I may remember when I wished that things would change quickly, and I will more than likely wonder why I ever wished such things.

Fierce passion for the future seems to stunt the growth of the present time. Will we spend our lives constantly asking, “What’s next?” Will we ever be content to enjoy the present as if it were the current culmination of our entire lives? Does an old man wish only to see the grave?

We can’t slow or speed time, but we can choose to be grateful. We can prepare for the time to come and choose to enjoy each sunrise and sunset. We can choose to enjoy the transition from the womb to the world, from crawling to walking, from childhood to adulthood, from singleness to marriage, from little things and small tasks to big things and weighty responsibilities.

What is the joy in fulfillment if it only took a single step to run the race? What is the joy of marriage without knowing from where you have come? What is the joy of winning a battle against an enemy that you don’t know why you fought? What is resurrection without the cross? Yet we look ahead because, as the scriptures say, greater things are coming. But the cross was painful! Are we then to enjoy those painful moments? By no means! Yet we can live those moments with glory and strength, seeing their hidden beauty and concealed purpose. But we cannot live those moments gloriously if all we do as they occur is wish that they were over.

Look forward with joyous expectation. Live knowing that you have been called, placed, and by God’s grace are fulfilling your purpose. Live with all of your might now and tomorrow, not just when a desired time comes. But live with your might then, too. Fulfillment truly comes when you live every moment to the fullest. If you want to live a life of fulfillment, then, as the word seems to suggest, fill every moment full with what God has given you. Fill other people’s lives with your love and presence. Fill your own life by seeking Christ, by looking to the cross and the resurrection that awaits, and by looking to the grave and the eternal life that God has promised.

Enjoy life with the bride of your youth, as the scriptures command. Work mightily for God and others. You have been called. Be faithful. Don’t save your joy for later. Spend your love now. As the scriptures exhort, throw off the weight of sin that clings so close, and run the race with endurance, looking forward to the promised prize.

Finally, don’t ever forget from where you have come. Take time to remember God’s goodness and faithfulness. You have come from nothing to eternal life, from dust to glory, from birth to death and new life, from being children to instructing children, from being married to giving in marriage, from hating to loving, from burying others to yourself being buried, from mourning for the loss of others to meeting Jesus Christ face to face, from the start of your old life to the beginning of your new life with and in Christ. Christ has done this for you. Christ has done this for us. Surely God is good! Praise the LORD!”

“I am thankful that God is the ultimate author. If I were the god of my own story, I imagine it may be that a period of 10,000 hours would be as one day and 10,000 days as one year. Well, maybe a little better than that. It seems sometimes as though we are the gods of our own lives and stories. In the sense that I can control what happens to my characters, I do not think it sacrilegious to say that I am a very finite god, but to say that I am god of my own, non-fictional story compares to unforgivable blasphemy. Even if it were possible, the thought of being one’s own god should be frightening beyond all measure, because we are so inclined to selfish behavior. What I have written so far may be confusing. In the sense that we have free will, we are gods or leaders of our own actions. But we are not gods, because we do not have power to control any of that which is outside ourselves. We may think that we do, but we do not.”

“So what do I learn from this,” Thomas asked himself while coursing his right hand through his trimmed dark hair. His eyes were brown, and when he wasn’t smiling his lips bent slightly downward on either side, so that a stranger might think his plain expression mad or angry. He had faint dark bags under both of his eyes that made him look older than his age.

“The handshake needs to be experiences by Samuel. It has to come true in his life. The whole dream needs to be experienced personally by Samuel. I suppose the whole dream idea doesn’t make much sense at all, but as it is, it adds more to the story if it is Thomas who feels the handshake, rather than merely observing it. So, as Grandpa Paul would say, ‘Keep on keeping on.’” Samuel rubbed his eyes, opened up his writing journal, and re-started chapter III.

* * * * *

“Ah man! I missed that four because I was too slow,” Alethia said as she continued to flip a deck of colored cards numbered one through ten. Then all of a sudden the room sounded as a room filled with cubicles would sound if everyone slapped their desk.

“Dutch Blitz!” Rachel shouted above the noise, and the scramble to get another card out quickly ended.

“You guys are way faster than I remember. You must have been practicing,” David said.

Samuel looked around the room, smiling – he saw the Christmas tree in all its decorated splendor, the smell of lamb, and potatoes, and bacon and beans, and many other delicious foods stilled graced the air. It was the day after Christmas, and the rest of the extended family, who had been present to celebrate earlier, were now gone. Samuel looked at his sisters and brother. His sisters were so beautiful, with their long, smooth brown hair, and their stunning, smooth faces. Samuel cherished this time with his siblings, and he knew they did, too.

“Alright,” Alethia announced, “the final scores are 65, 43, 27, and 8, with Rachel first, followed by me and Samuel, and lastly, poor David.” They all laughed, and mainly because of David’s low score.

“Hey if you hadn’t blitzed so fast the first round, then I would not have gone negative,” David said, pleading innocence.

“True,” Rachel spoke, smiling, “so you need to re-learn your former skills.”

“Hey there is still a full pot of coffee,” Alethia said, “Do you guys want some? The night is still young.”

They all happily agreed to have some coffee, and once it was poured, they all sat down on the couches surrounding the Christmas tree. David grew somewhat pensive, and some of his former joyous features had now turned somewhat sorrowful.

“Hey guys,” David said. “I have something to say that I need to just get out. It has been weighing on my mind for the past few days now, and I think you guys should know.” His three siblings looked at him, wondering and guessing at what he might say. Each of them knew what he was about to say.

“I got another call three days ago. The tour is five years long.” The faces of the other siblings now grew solemn as well.

“God will protect you, David. I know He will,” Samuel said.

Suddenly the vision of that family room vanished away, and a new stream of images began to play. It was a busy afternoon at arrival Terminal 1 in O’Hare airport. A steady stream of cars passed by and a steady stream of people said goodbye to their loved ones. Samuel grabbed David’s U.S. Marine suitcase out of the trunk of the Nissan Sentra they had driven to the airport.

The New Year had arrived, and it was time for David to return to his duties as a Lance Corporal in Baghdad. David and Samuel’s eyes met, and tears began to stream down both of their cheeks. David had just hugged his parents, mother, and sisters, and now came another hug as precious as all of the rest. He loved his younger brother so much, and every time he looked into his eyes so many amazing childhood memories came to his remembrance. The two brothers met in a loving embrace, and held each for what seemed too short a time. How could one embrace represent all those years of brotherhood? Each pulled away from each other after a time, and then they grabbed each other’s hand in a firm handshake. It was a frim, unshaken grasp, as if the two brothers were knowingly hugging for the last time. The fingers squeezed tight and turned red. They would now go their separate ways. David began to walk towards the entrance doors of the terminal. Before he entered he took one last look towards the vehicle and kissed his family goodbye.

* * * * *

“He’s in cardiac arrest!” We’ve got to defib’ him!” A paramedic shouted to his co-worker, who scrambled back towards the emergency truck and skillfully prepared to use the defibrillator. A few others quickly put Samuel on the stretcher and then drove it towards the truck.

“We’ve got to get him out of here now!” The same paramedic shouted to the driver of another emergency vehicle that had just arrived on the scene. “The girls are still in there, though, and they need help!”

“We’ll take care of it! You have your hands full! Get out of here!”

The sirens of the ambulance began to roar, and the flashing vehicle soon disappeared in the distance.

Rachel and Aletheia, still very conscious, were helped out of the vehicle. They had both been sitting on the left side of the vehicle, and so did not experience the brunt of the collision. Yet, having their bodies slammed against the airbags, they were quite shaken up and felt sore.

“Can you walk? Do you feel pain in your neck?” The emergency workers cycled through a list of questions.

“We’re going to take you to the hospital to get you checked out. Your brother is on his way there right now. Do you have someone you can call? Parents? Relatives? Anyone?” An EMT asked gently.

Tears streamed from both of the young woman’s eyes. “Oh, I left my phone in the car. It’s in the cup holder. I’ll go get it.”

“No, just rest. I will get it for you.” The EMT said as he jogged over to the totaled car.

Rachel looked into her sister’s eyes. Aletheia was staring into the distance, at the crowd of vehicles now stopped or finding some way to turn around and take a different route to their destination. Her mind was at the hospital, watching Samuel’s face as doctors and nurses surrounded him.

“He might not make it, Rachel,” she said. “He might be gone!” She cried out softly.

Rachel took her sister firm into her arms and whispered into her ear, “He might be, Alethia. But if he is, we will see him again.”

Rachel could see the driver of the truck being questioned by the EMTs if he was alright. In addition, a few police officers were waiting in turn to ask their own round of questions. It was clear who was at fault. She saw tears streaming down the man’s face, and her soul felt burdened to comfort him.

Within an hour, the road was busy again with incessant traffic, as if nothing had ever happened. Red-light. Stop. Green-light. Go.

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