Eugene was in the Gallery at Whit’s End busy repairing the Thomas Jefferson portrait. It had given him trouble for a couple of days but now he believed that he had finally found the solution.
As he worked his mind kept going back to the events of the last several days — thinking about everything that had happened. On the journey back from Chicago to Odyssey he and Katrina had not said a single word either during the car ride from Dr. Field’s office or the subsequent flight back home — both still processing the heartbreaking news. Before arriving at the airport Katrina had stopped crying and just sat silently as they drove. Along the way there Eugene continued to pray that the right words would come to him so that he would be able to comfort Katrina in some small way, but they never did. So he did all he could think of which was to hold her hand tenderly in his.
Once arriving back home their lives went on as they each struggled to find their way. Throughout this time there was an unspoken sadness in the air — within the silence a pain that was deeply felt but never spoken of. Eugene had stayed busy with work at the Campbell County Community College and at Whit’s End, managing to repair several items at the latter establishment including the Christian worldview module and the Moses program in the imagination station. Katrina was still withdrawn — not leaving the house or changing out of her pajamas and slippers, and spending her days watching television, particularly real-time fishing. She wasn’t even a fan of fishing. She neither smiled nor cried as if devoid of all emotion. It seemed as if she was but a shell of herself — that she was there but wasn’t there. A situation made only worse by the fact that kids seemed to be everywhere — a painful reminder that they couldn’t have children of their own.
Seeing her like this was almost too much to bear and he had been desperate to find something that would ease her suffering. His first thought had been an activity — something they could do together that would keep their minds off their present hardships and bring some much-needed joy into their lives. He had gone to the library earlier that week to return some books but also inquire about community activities that were taking place. Mrs. Kramer, the town librarian, had given him some flyers regarding clubs, sports, and classes which included poetry reading, archery class, and beginning electric guitar. After a lengthy process of elimination, due to Mrs. Kramer’s less-than-positive feedback regarding various activities, he selected a book club for them to attend. It had been an unmitigated disaster as not only was the topic book sophomoric at best but it had done no good for Katrina who had no interest in participating in the class and had only done so because he asked.
Eugene was brought out of his thoughts as he finished his work, believing he had fixed the problem.
“President Jefferson, would you please recite the Declaration of Independence” Eugene addressed the portrait.
“We-e-e-e-e hold these tr–tr-tr-truths to be self-be self-be self-evident that-that-that-that all men are created eq-eq-eq-ual.”
“No, no, no! Why isn’t it working?!” Eugene shouted out of frustration as he shut the program off. He had already been pushed to his limits by his situation with Katrina but now those thoughts and feelings combined with the stress of his work were too much to deal with. He simply couldn’t take it anymore. He had sought escape in his work and instead his troubles had been made only worse.
“Eugene, are you alright?” Whit entered the room after hearing the commotion.
“Yes, I am fine. I am just having much difficulty trying to repair the Thomas Jefferson portrait. Nothing I do seems to be working.” Eugene turned on the program again.
“We-e-e-e-e hold these tr–tr-tr-truths to be self-be self-be self-evident that—” the portrait once again stuttered.
“I simply don’t understand it, Mr. Whittaker,” Eugene began as the portrait continued speaking in the background, “updating the driver should have fixed it.” Eugene turned the program off once more.
“Well, it must be something else.”
“Well, I’ve checked the audio track repeatedly. I-I even reloaded it” Eugene said with much exasperation in his voice.
“Now, now, don’t get upset. I’m sure we’ll figure it out.”
“Yes, if it’s a technological problem then there must be a technological solution.”
“In theory.” After a pause, Whit began speaking again. “Ah, how is Katrina?”
“Huh, oh…she’s gone to see her mother for a couple of days, though I have suspicions that she’s actually going to learn fishing” Eugene replied in a tone that was just as serious as it was sarcastic.
“Fishing?” Whit asked, surprised by his friend’s response.
“Mr. Whittaker I-I’m afraid I’m having as much success with her as I’m having here, meaning none” Eugene’s voice rose as he finished the sentence — his feelings of desperation and helplessness evident in his voice.
“Well, fixing our difficulties. Easing her sense of loss. Her-her pain.”
Whit sighed. “Do you really think you can fix something like that?”
“Well…can’t I?” Eugene was surprised by his employer and friend’s words. He had been sure that was something he could do and that he had been correct in trying to do so. Wasn’t that what was expected of a husband during difficult times like this?
“Experiencing loss. A sense of grief. Disappointment. Emotional hurt. Those aren’t technological problems that we can fix Eugene. Only God can truly heal our pain.”
“Well, of course, you’re correct but-but I’m out of my depth here Mr. Whittaker. Fixing a glitch in a talking portrait is one thing but…but this. I need to do something.”
“Well, have you talked to her since you got the news?”
“Well, of course.”
“I mean really talk to her? Not only about her feelings but yours?”
“Well, you’ve been so busy trying to fix things Eugene…I have to wonder how you’re doing with this news.”
“Well, I…I haven’t thought about it.” This answer was in fact true as due to his resolution and desire to be there for Katrina he had made it a point not to focus on his feelings regarding what they were going through.
“So while Katrina is dealing with her own feelings she has no idea of yours.”
“You know that sharing your heart is what your wife really wants most from you — not a lot of busyness or activities. She needs you.”
“But how can talking help her?”
“Well, remember the story of Mary and Martha. Both of them loved Jesus but Martha got so caught up in doing things for Jesus she didn’t take the time to actually be with him.”
“Oh,” Eugene began as the truth and meaning of Whit’s words dawned on him, “so I’m being Martha.”
“Well, we all need to be Martha now and then. There’s certainly a time to step up and do something but there’s also a time to simply be there, pray with each other, and talk about how you’re feeling.”
That had been what Katrina meant by they didn’t have to do anything. When she had asked him to sit with her. How had he missed this? How he had been so caught up in trying to find the solution to her pain that he had missed seeing what she truly wanted and needed?
“Yes, I see,” Eugene responded.
“So how are you doing, Eugene?”
“Well, now that you mention it…not very well I’m afraid.” His voice broke as he finished speaking and tears began to roll down his cheeks as the emotions that he had suppressed for so long began to come to the surface. It was clear that not only had his attempts to comfort Katrina not been what she needed and wanted from him, but they had not allowed him to properly grieve.
Whit sighed. “Eugene,” he said sympathetically as he embraced Eugene. Though Eugene was not generally one for physical touch, he could not have been more grateful for this act of comfort by his mentor and friend. Just knowing that Mr. Whittaker would be there to offer emotional support for him and Katrina during this incredibly hard time meant more than he could ever express.
After Mr. Whittaker had given Eugene the rest of the day off; he had begun driving the twenty-minute route back to their home. While making his way there his mind kept going back over everything that Mr. Whittaker had discussed with him. He still felt terrible for how badly he had misjudged the situation with Katrina but now was also eternally thankful for the wise counsel that his mentor had given him at a time when he so desperately needed it.
Upon arriving home, Eugene parked the car in the driveway and then made his way to the front door. Opening it, he stepped inside and saw Katrina quietly sitting on the couch in the living room.
“Katrina” he exclaimed, surprised at the sight of his wife as he had not expected her to return home so early that day.
“Hmm…oh, hi Eugene.”
“When did you get back?”
“A little while ago.”
“Hmm, uh…how’s your mother?”
“She sends her love.”
“The ah…house is strangely quiet. Ah, no fishing channel?”
“They caught a bluegill then released it. It’s hard to describe the excitement” Katrina said in a monotone, making it even more obvious that she was being sarcastic in her response.
“Oh, wish I’d been here” Eugene replied sarcastically as well.
“Have you signed us up for another group?” Katrina asked after a few moments of silence.
“No, I haven’t done anything. As a matter of fact…” Eugene sighed as he sat down next to Katrina, “I came home…to do nothing…with you.”
Those words meant so much to Katrina. It was exactly what she had longed to hear from Eugene.
“That would be nice.” Katrina slightly smiled. “I was just praying.”
“And I thought how much it would mean for you to be here with me — holding my hand — crying with me and here you are,” Katrina said with increasing emotion in her voice and tears welling up in her eyes. She sniffed. “The answer to my prayer.”
Eugene sighed. “I’d like to be an answered prayer for you Katrina,” he said with much sincerity and tenderness.
“Then…please hold me” she sniffed again, “for just a little while.”
Eugene sighed again as he took Katrina tenderly in his arms. “For as long as you need.”
As Eugene held Katrina in his arms he took comfort in the fact that he was finally able to support her in the way she needed and wanted. He now knew that he didn’t have to do anything. Just being there with her was enough. He knew this was the first step towards healing for them both. It had taken them a little while to find the road and a long journey still lay in front of them, but it was a beginning. For the first time since they had learned the tragic news that they couldn’t have children, they weren’t enveloped in darkness — a few rays of light had broken through. They could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
One year later:
Eugene and Katrina sat on the couch ready to have the discussion that they had planned to have since the morning. The subject matter couldn’t have been more important. Earlier that day they had met with Pastor Juan, the chaplain at the juvenile detention center, to talk about Buck Oliver. Buck had previously come to town as part of a counterfeiting ring as he had worked under the direction of Mr. Skint who was his guardian, fellow con artist, and mentor in criminal activity. Despite all this, Buck had in the end done the right thing as he had rescued Katrina after she was kidnapped by Mr. Skint and had willingly turned himself in to the police. Afterward, he began to serve time in the juvenile detention center.
So far during his time there he had behaved impeccably, was cooperative, and was liked by everyone. In fact, he had done so well that he was being given an early release. However, for this to happen Buck needed a halfway house for him to live. This was the reason Pastor Juan had come by to speak with them as he asked if they would consider becoming the halfway house for Buck. Pastor Juan stated his belief that they would provide Buck with the best home possible and that this could be a turning point in his life as being in a family environment, having a good home, and two loving people serving as his parents would only do him good.
It was true that they had formed a deep bond and connection with Buck through the time they had spent together and the letters Katrina wrote and sent to him. This strong relationship was attested by Pastor Juan who revealed that they were all Buck talked about. There was also no doubt of the enormously positive influence they would have on Buck as they already had impacted him greatly — so much so that he was already rethinking his life and maybe even moving in the direction of faith.
However, the prospect of becoming foster parents to a teenage boy — let alone one who was a convicted con artist — was daunting, to say the least. They had no experience as parents and Buck’s past — with him coming from a broken family and his involvement in criminal activity — presented only more challenges. All the unknowns and variables were just overwhelming.
They knew a decision of this magnitude should not be made in haste or without knowing all the facts. Because of this, they had at that time decided to use the day to think and pray. Then later that evening they would discuss their thoughts on the matter and make a final decision.
“Well, Eugene…I spent a lot of time thinking and praying just like we said.”
“As did I.”
“What do you think?”
“Well…I had an idea as I was driving home.”
“I don’t think we should discuss this as we normally do.”
“Would you prefer to use sign language? Flannelgraphs? How else should we discuss it?” Katrina playfully teased her husband.
“Well,” Eugene began speaking, chuckling a little as he did so due to his wife’s earlier response, “I suggest we switch places. You say what you believe I’ll say and I’ll say what I believe you’ll say.”
“Okay, isn’t that ah…risky?” Katrina suggested.
“Well, for some perhaps but not for us. You be me and I’ll be you. It may get us to a proper solution.”
“Um…alright. Do you want to start?”
“But I’m being you and you’re a—”
“Ah point taken. Ah, ah please begin anyway.”
“Well, I think — well, you think—.”
“That bringing Buck Oliver to live in our home is fraught with potential problems.”
“What kind of problems?”
“First, we know that Buck is a rather charming individual who proved that he could use his charm to deceive people.”
“True, though being you I would say that his charm has the potential for great good.”
“That’s right. I-I mean indubitably.”
“Second, we know that Buck did deceive us all and engaged in illegal activities that not only did a lot of damage but jeopardized the well-being of certain persons — me or rather you being me.”
“Hmm, I would hasten to add that Buck was under the influence of Mr. Skint who had shaped Buck’s moral character in all the wrong ways.”
“Do you think so?” Katrina asked hopefully.
“It’s what you think which is why I’m saying it…a-a-as you.”
“Oh, right. Um…third we have no idea if we can trust Buck or not and so fourth in not trusting Buck we can’t estimate the impact his living here will have on our relationship. Fifth, your own hopes for Buck could blind you to the dangers and deceptions he might present to us. For all those reasons it would be unwise to agree for him to live with us. How was that? Did I articulate your thinking?”
“In as much as I am playing you, I should not comment.”
“Alright. Now present your — my thoughts.”
“Very well,” Eugene cleared his throat, “one word.”
“We perhaps of all people could be the hope of leading young Buck Oliver to redemption. If he doesn’t come to us, where will he go? Back to the life of con artistry he knew? Back to Mr. Skint? Who else has even a-a flicker of desire to help Buck turn his life around? To finish what you — I started and guide him to a relationship with Jesus? Redemption is the singular reason to abandon all the other reasons and say yes to this opportunity” Eugene said eloquently.
“Wow. Is that what I was thinking?”
“Yes, and you would have won the discussion.”
“I would have?” Katrina asked, a little surprised by her husband’s response. She knew the kind of man that Eugene was — a person of good character. That he was always willing to help others in whatever way he could. That he would want to be there for Buck and be a positive influence in his life but she wasn’t sure if Buck’s past would cause him to be unsure about whether he should live with them.
“In this case, absolutely. You would have had me at redemption” Eugene stated with deep sincerity in his voice.
“Me or you? Ar-are we still role-playing?”
“Ah, Katrina I think we should fill out those forms to bring Buck Oliver into the Meltsner family.”
“I suppose we should call Pastor Juan and let him know our decision.”
“I suppose we should.” Katrina smiled.
As Eugene and Katrina called Pastor Juan — sitting on the very same couch they had a year ago when they had cried together as Eugene had held Katrina in his arms — their minds went back to the question they had asked again and again during that agonizing period in their lives — Why would God let this happen? Perhaps this was the answer. Perhaps this was the reason why they couldn’t have children — so they could help raise and nurture a teenage boy who had gone through so much and had seen and experienced more than any person should have, especially at that age. To be there for a young man who otherwise would have no one else in the world. To guide him in the right direction as he struggled to leave behind his life of crime. To perhaps be the ones to lead him to Jesus. Who knows, perhaps if they had been able to have children and had a child of their own they would not have agreed to have Buck live in their home and raise him as their own son. And then he would have been on his own — at the mercy of a world that had already shown how harsh it could be and left vulnerable to those who would once again lead him down a dark path. Maybe this was why.