The bells of the Madeline Cathedral blew on the wind, lamenting the air with a minuet of song. The hour was now three in the afternoon, the day bright and dazzling with sunlight. As the bells sang their song, the music of birds began as if an unseen conductor had signaled the start of an epic carol. Today seemed quite like any other warm August day. It was quiet, relaxing and free of any annoyances.
Temple Johnson, a young man of only seventy three, walked slowly up Fifth Avenue on his way to get the afternoon paper from the local grocer. This was a normal thing for Temple; he never missed an afternoon walk. Come rain or come shine, as Lydia always said. The old man carried with him a boyish walk as he whistled in harmony with the chirping birds and the tolling bells. He kept his head low never thinking that today would be any different from any other day.
Suddenly, something caught his aging eyes. Normally nothing would absorb his attention away from his own thoughts, but just then the bird’s song stopped and the wind stood still. The afternoon, with great notice, had changed. A cold breeze blew over Temple’s body and he gave a shudder. Cold breezes do that to old men, but it wasn’t the cold that quaked Temple’s bones this time. The something that had caught his eye for that incredible moment had now taken shape in the shadows of the too early twilight.
Temple didn’t bother being polite, granted seventy three years of politeness can become wearisome work for an old man. No, Temple simply cleared his throat and demanded to know who was before him. There was no reply just an ever increasing darkness as the sun dipped slowly into the earth covering his path in blackness.
“What’s going on?” Temple shouted, scared of the silence, scared of the darkness that had enveloped his walk at three in the afternoon. Then without expecting the shadow to answer Temple stepped back determined to turn and run away. He knew he wouldn’t make it far, his last few attempts at acrobatics had proved that with his latest hip replacement, but he had to try.
“Going so soon, Temple?” a voice, like a hushed wind, asked.
Bravely the old man stood and faced the shadow attempting his quaking voice he repeated his first question asking who the creature before him was.
“Today I am a shadow, tomorrow perhaps I’ll be something else. Few ever notice me, but you have seen me before.”
“What do you want?”
“I have come for you Temple.” The shadow whispered.
“Come for me?” Temple began to shake even more. “Why? Who are you? No, no go away! Leave me alone!”
“Temple your time has come,” said the shadow in no more than a sigh. “Do not be afraid, you knew it would happen one day. You knew when I took Lydia. You knew then Temple, you saw me.”
“No! No! You leave her out of this! It’s not my time, you hear me? Not my time!”
Regretfully, tears began to fall down the hollow cheeks of Temple’s face. Fear had gone, he wasn’t afraid to go, when one gets to be past seventy and they’ve lost everyone else they love the fear evaporates, he just wasn’t ready. Lydia had gone when she wasn’t ready either. She hadn’t even picked up the clothes from the drycleaners. She had simply just gone without a goodbye to anyone. She hadn’t even said goodbye to him!
“She was ready Temple,” the shadow said, as if reading the old man’s thoughts. Temple closed his eyes and nodded. Yes, yes, the shadow was right. She had been sick for so long and the pain, well she couldn’t bear it any longer. Temple knew this.
“But why me?” Temple asked, “Why now? I am not like her I am not ready. I need time.”
There was a brief moment of silence, and then the shadow spoke.
“Time is not something I can give. Time is what you make out of life. And you have made plenty out of yours. If I even had the time to give what would you do with it? Bask in another afternoon? Read another paper, magazine or book? Would an hour or two hours be sufficient for you? When would you be ready Temple? Tonight, tomorrow? Perhaps time is not the answer. How many have gone with me that have had less time then you?”
“What is the point of living if it just gets taken away from you?” Temple demanded.
“Oh Temple,” sighed the shadow, “So many years and you do not have the answer for yourself?”
A calming silence fell over Temple.
“What is the answer then?” the old man asked, now whispering himself.
“The point is, Temple, that you lived. Life, what a remarkable thing it is, so exquisite and rare and yet so abundant.”
Temple thought for a moment of the life he had lived; the glorious years from his childhood until he became an adult. He dwelt for only a second on his life at school and then what seemed an eternity on his life with Lydia. He thought of their wedding day to the day she died. He thought of the lonely days without her by his side, telling him to finish the dishes in the sink and picking his socks up off the floor. He missed every heart-wrenching moment of her. Temple looked at the shadow before him and saw a face take shape in the once nothingness. It was her, Lydia, his love, that had come to take him with her. Death smiled reassuringly at the man and Temple reached out his hand. With a sudden illumination the crescendo of afternoon sun lit the clear, blue August sky. The birds regained their melodious song and the tolling from the Madeline Cathedral rang out its last and final bell.