Choirs of Heaven: The Breath of Life Eternal

I have seen many things across this life.  The hate in a man’s eyes came close to ending me in my youth.  The Great War…hmpf, there was nothing “great” about it.  So many friends gone from this Earth…so much death and loss.  I am so tired.  Why am I still here, Lord?  Is there more for me to do?  What can I do now?  I am an old, wrinkled man.  I’ve served my country, raised my family, cared for your people and lived according to your word. 

Why won’t you speak to me, Lord?

My mother and father left this world to be with you long ago.  They taught me that you were a God of mercy and grace.  They told me of a place called Heaven that would be my reward if I followed you.  I am 99 years old, Lord.  What more must I do?

Ashland Sommers woke with a jolt.  The residual shade of his short, nightly dream clung to his growing consciousness.  The dream was always the same.  Standing on the edge of a great mountain he cried out across the starless, black night pleading with God to speak to him, but no answer ever came.  It had been this way as long as he could remember.

He remembered the only person he’d ever felt safe sharing the details of his recurring dream with was his mother, Mary.  Stunned, she pulled him close and rocked him gently saying only that “God works in mysterious ways, my child, and we all have our burdens to bear. No matter what, we must serve our purpose.”

At age 8, those words brought little comfort in a world that seemed to look on Negros as the lowest of the low.  New York City was a hard town for young black men.  His family had fled the familiar surroundings of Sylvania, Georgia, for the promise of new jobs and opportunities in The Big Apple as many had taken to calling New York City.  But on arrival, Ashland and his family saw racism was not a regional phenomenon unique to The South.  The Sommers moved to an area of town known as Harlem.  It was there that the dream first came to Ashland, bringing with it an emptiness that he worked to fill with service and good works.  In 1917, on the advice of one of his church deacons, he enlisted in 169th Infantry determined to do what he could to combat the racism that limited the opportunities of him and so many other black Americans.

His regiment was eventually sent to France, largely due to the refusal of white American soldiers to fight with their black American brothers-in-arms.  It was in Europe, during the Second Battle of the Marne, that Ashland took a life for the first time in the service of his country.

In that moment, face to face with the man he had slain, Ashland felt the onslaught of a barrage of images, sounds, tastes and feelings that felt both alien and familiar at the same time and then nothing.  His next memory was coming to in an infirmary staring up at a small hole in the roof of the tent.  Members of his unit told him later that they’d witnessed him take out over 20 men in hand to hand combat before he fell to his knees and let loose a scream the curled the blood of every man within earshot before rising to his feet and walking back to the battle encampment.

Ashland thought that they were pulling his leg, but from that day forward, he saw the tiny glint of fear in his brothers’ eye whenever they made eye contact and deep down he knew that something had happened to him that day on the battlefield, something that he had no memory of.

At the end of his service, Ashland returned to Harlem went to school to become a teacher.  He had little trouble securing a job at one of the small, all black schools in Harlem.  His proficiency at speaking French which he learned while in the service helped him to secure a teaching position at City College of New York.  He served in his church, married and raised a family and strove every day to live a life of peace.

He never talked about that day on the battlefield with anyone else.

Then on a cold, winter day, as he walked through the door of Mount Sinai Memorial Hospital and felt a stirring resonate so deeply in his soul that he reached for the wall to steady himself.  Someone noticed him in distress and walked over to ask if he needed assistance.  Ashland could barely hear the young man over the most beautiful song he’d ever heard filling his ears.

Feeling stronger than he had in many years, Ashland straightened his back and forgetting the cane that had been his constant companion for the last 10 years, went in search of the source of the sounds he was hearing.  When he neared the emergency room he noticed a bright light shining from under the door. The song was strong enough now for him to make out the words.

We love you daughter…

Your journey has just begun…

For there’s more to this story that you can possibly know…

Fear not, for the best is yet to come…

Ashland walked up to the door and looked through the window and couldn’t believe his eyes.  There surrounded in the most beautiful light were two women and a man standing in a circle holding hands.  Two let go of the hands of one woman and she was left crying as the couple embraced.

Ashland saw the man’s face and whispered a name, “Abraxos…”  Ashland felt a change in his body as his blood warmed to a feverish temperature.  The couple then glowed so brightly that he had to close his eyes or risk going blind.  A moment later, he opened them again and saw the other woman seated in a chair across the room and was moved roughly aside by a doctor and nurse who rushed passed him through the door.  He heard the monitors then.  Someone had just died he thought before everything went black.

He was on the mountain top again, but something was different this time.  It took him a moment before he realized there were two stars affixed to the sky above his head.  The stars moved closer to him and took the shape of a man and woman, the same man and woman he’d seen only a few minutes ago in the hospital.  The starman began to sing…

Ash, my brother, can that really be you?

The years have been kind to you, Great One

And your service has not gone unnoticed

But Father tells me that you work is not done

He is sending you back for a special task

One that brings joy to these two hearts

To guide a bright, young angel on her way

Our daughter, Calliel is now in your charge

For your great service, Father sends you two gifts

A new beginning, and your wisdom restored

You were right to travail in your service

Welcome back to the Angelsong

Ashland woke from the dream state gently and felt a disorientation as he tried to figure out where he was.  The room appeared to be in a hospital, and by the feel of the bed, he was sure he was correct.  He looked down at his hands and jumped at the sight.  These were not his hands.  These hands looked young.  He touched the hands to his face and hunted for the wrinkles he knew should be there to no avail.  He looked straight ahead at the opposing wall and saw a mirror reflecting a face that he had not seen in a long time.  It was the face of the young boy who had marched off to serve in the Great War.

How is this possible?  Am I dead? Am I dreaming?

He closed his eyes and heard a chorus of voices singing to him.

Joy to the worlds

Oh brother, we have missed you so

Separated by the Earth below

But linked through our angelsong

Remembrance will come with time

For now, just know that you are loved

Restored to youth’s vessel for a purpose true

A heart stands in need of you.

“Calliel, I have to find, Calliel!”  Ashland shouted, as he rose from the bed and disconnected the sensor from his arm before turning off the machine.  He quietly changed from the hospital gown to the old man clothes that he’d worn into the hospital three days ago and left the building.  No one seemed to notice the young man as the sliding doors clothes and he paused to fill his 18-year old lungs with the cold air that greeted him.

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