Lily (Part fifty)

As Thomas McDavid disappeared from Lily’s door, Beth appeared, orange and ruined hair the color of brass, and tight white slacks, better suited for a young woman.

“Good morning, Ms. Rood.”

“Hello. May I help you?” Lily asked.

“Did I interrupt anything? I thought I saw a man leaving your room.”

“Did you not say that you saw him?” Lily asked.

“I thought maybe it was Mr. McDavid, but I was not sure. I try not to be alone with a man in my classroom—I mean, my office. It does not paint a professional image.”

“I see,” Lily said. “I suppose having another professional teacher, a peer, a man twenty years my elder, a friend—yes, I suppose you’re right. It could paint the image of two teachers greeting one another early in the morning as they work on their lessons.”

“Ms. Rood, we try to set an example at Covenant.”

“By not collaborating with fellow teachers, I take it?”

“I like to think our students are a reflection of the best of us here at Covenant. For us to ever present ourselves as less than Christian—well, it undermines my father’s vision and what we have built here in our town.”

“My speaking of Shakespeare and Dickens with a respected teacher could be interpreted as moral turpitude, perhaps? Might that phrase be in your mind, Beth?”

“I see no reason to make this personal, Ms. Rood.”

“If you prefer surnames, Ms. Aims, we can keep it on that level.”

“That would be welcomed by me and, I’m sure, by my other colleagues here,” Beth said.

“Understood, Ms. Aims. Let me see if I can clarify for you. You are somewhat different from Mr. Aims. He recruited me from Rook where I taught for many years. He interviewed me over weeks. He spent time—brace yourself—in my classroom. He spoke with me face to face,” Lily said.

“What’s more,” Lily continued, “he got to know me and understood the concept of vocation—calling.”

“Am I being professional enough for you, Ms. Aims?” Lily continued.

“How dare you speak to me like this!” Beth exclaimed.

“Wait, there’s more, Ms. Aims. This vocation—this calling—into teaching, into trying to continue the study of, and appreciation for, literature’s greatest achievements—well, your father, Mr. Aims, he seemed to grasp all of that. He understood what it meant to learn, to teach, to inspire others in appreciation of the true, good, and beautiful.”

“I’ll have you know that my father was a brilliant man, Ms. Rood. He was very strict as a father, especially when we were young girls, but you do not have to tell me how brilliant a man my father was. I should know; I remained at home with him while my other sisters left us. If anyone knew Daddy’s heart, I did,” Beth said.

Lily continued, “Your father got to know me by spending time with me. He did not gossip or spread innuendo. And I came to Covenant because I thought this is where God called me. I believe that he used your father to bring me here.”

“Hmmf! I have never had such a conversation with a faculty member in all my years at Covenant, Ms. Rood. I don’t understand why you must make this personal.”

Looking over Beth, Lily saw a group of people at her classroom door. Sara and Ruth were standing with arms akimbo in the threshold. To their left stood Donald and Nathanael. Thomas McDavid had stepped out of his classroom door.

“Go on, Beth. Let us hear how we left and you are the family heroine,” Sarah said. “Somehow I think Ruth and I can already tell you how your story will end.”

“How dare you! I simply came down here this morning to see Ms. Rood. But when I did, I saw a man leaving her room, and—well, I mean, I have heard things about Ms. Rood,” Beth said.

Suddenly Ruth spoke up. “Thomas, would you come up this way, please?”

Mr. McDavid smiled and walked back towards Lily’s classroom intrepidly. “Good morning, all. How may I be of assistance to the Aims family?” Thomas looked at Lily and winked. Ruth started to speak but Sarah interrupted her. “Thomas, I am sorry to involve you in this, but may I ask how you would characterize your relationship with Ms. Rood? Is it professional only?”

“No.”

Beth raised her head and eyes in triumph. “See!” she said.

“It is more than that. Since Ms. Rood came, I have rediscovered my calling.”

“Can you elaborate, Thomas, please? Is it a more-than-professional relationship?” Sarah asked.

“Certainly. Since Ms. Rood came to Covenant, I have seen a woman who loves her field and the passing on of its wisdom. And as to our relationship, yes—it’s more than professional. She is my friend,” Mr. McDavid said.

“I will not stand for this!” Beth shouted. “She does not belong here.”

“Nathan, I think I’ll let you handle the administration stuff. I’m off to look into the likes of those with the lean hungry looks from Caesar’s circle.”

He turned to go, but then looked at Lily. “Isn’t that right, Ms. Rood?”

Nathanael turned to Donald.

“Donald, would you help me walk my Aunt Beth back to the counselors’ offices, please? She will need to be getting her items removed.”

Sarah and Ruth nodded their heads toward Lily and turned to go. Mr. McDavid had already returned to his classroom.

Suddenly Mrs. Wilkins’ voice came over the intercom:

“Good morning, faculty. Students will be arriving soon, but the headmaster wanted me to remind everyone of the faculty meeting tomorrow morning in the library. We will all get to meet Covenant’s newest employee. She will be working as our new lead counselor. See you tomorrow at 7 a.m. Have a great day, everyone!”

Lily looked up from her chair. Thomas McDavid suddenly reappeared in the hallway. Nathanael and Donald turned around to look back towards Sarah, Ruth, and Beth. Speechlessness filled Lily’s class. The only sound was the clang of bracelets and the crash of Beth’s fleeing heels like fading cymbals.

(The end)

 

Lily (Part forty-nine)

Monday morning’s first light found Lily in her classroom at Covenant. She sat behind her metal desk in a cheap metal swivel chair. The desk was covered with worn paperbacks of Hamlet, Great Expectations, books of poetry, index cards on which she kept notes, Post-its of various colors she had stuck inside books with cross-references, and papers to be graded. Pens and pencils of various colors were in a heavy ceramic coffee cup Mr. Fred Aims bought her as a welcome. On the cup in white letters was stenciled a biblical reference: 2 Cor. 3:6.

Her classroom had one window through which she could see a live oak tree and some of Covenant’s grounds. No other teachers had arrived yet but she had learned that Thomas McDavid arrived early, too. Lily stared at the oak outside. She checked her calendar for the date: March 1. Spring is nearing, she thought, with its attendant rains, richness of upturned soil, life pushing upward.

“Holloa, my young friend! Up early again?”

Lily heard Mr. McDavid’s merry voice and caught the smell of black coffee.

“Good morning, Thomas,” Lily said, smiling. “Yes. How are you?”

“All’s well. We’re looking into some of Caesar’s weaknesses in my classes today.”

“Some other lads, too. Mark Antony and Brutus. Ever heard of’em?” Thomas said, grinning.

“I think I have.”

“Beware those lads from March, right?”

“Something like that, Thomas,” Lily said, laughing.

“Just wanted to check on you, young lady. I’m off to hang out with Julius Caesar and other men closer to my age.”

He sipped from his coffee cup.

“You still on the Mississippi with Pip and Miss Havisham?”

“Well, how about in 19th century England with Pip and Miss Havisham and Denmark with Hamlet?” Lily asked.

“Yes, of course, just like I said.”

“Right, Thomas. Have a good morning, okay?”

Mr. McDavid stepped backwards and looked back up the hallway, then stepped forward again into Lily’s room.

“Ready to tame Covenant’s shrew?” Thomas asked.

“Huh?”

“You will see soon.”

Thomas McDavid departed, leaving only the smell of his black coffee. Suddenly Lily heard the sound of Beth’s heels and the metallic clinking of bracelets.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part forty-eight)

Thomas McDavid sat near the end of the pew. Nathanael was next. Lily sat farthest in. It struck her as strange to see Thomas without his coffee cup. Moreover, Lily did not think Thomas attended Beulah or any other church.

Lily mused. She stared at the pew on which she had laid her iPhone when Nathanael and Thomas McDavid had approached. A small brown crack in the pew caught her eye. She ran her right index finger over it and a splinter of the wood lifted out of the pew’s bottom–a tiny wooden skiff between her index finger and thumb. A splinter for a ship, she thought.

Lily considered whether to speak to Nathanael and Thomas more while already seated in the sanctuary, but chose to remain silent. Singers and instrumentalists found their places behind the pulpit and chords familiar to Lily sounded.

So, remember your people

Remember your children

Remember your promise, oh God

The congregation joined in singing this and another song. Towards the end of a hymn, the pastor approached. Lily watched him place his Bible down and wrap his fingers over the sides of the rostrum.

“Our Father and God,” the pastor said, “we confess today that you and your gospel are the reasons we sing. You and your gospel are the reasons we pray. You and your gospel are the reasons we hope. Move upon us, Lord; show us yourself. We pray in Jesus’s name. Amen.”

The pastor made several announcements about information in Beulah’s church bulletin, about classes and outreach, and finally about the text from which he would speak: Mark 4:35-41.

When the pastor mentioned the text, Lily scrolled to it on her app and began reading. When she raised her eyes again, she looked at Nathanael. Almost motionless he sat, balanced. Thomas sat next to him, half-smiling, it seemed to Lily. She fidgeted some on the pew, trying not to finger the splintered ship at her fingers. She lowered her eyes again to the text as the pastor read:

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith? And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

The pastor paused after reading and looked up from his Bible.

“We have some questions to answer, Beulah. First, who was in the boat? The Lord Jesus, right? And his disciples—his followers, those whom he called, right?” The congregation nodded. Lily dabbed at her brow.

“And when they were in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, what occurs? A storm, right? So tempestuous in fact that waves were flowing into the boat.” Again the congregation nodded.

“And where is the Lord Jesus?” the pastor asked. Several voices were heard in the sanctuary.

“Asleep,” they said.

“Who is asleep?” the pastor asked.

“The Lord Jesus,” many in the sanctuary replied.

“Was he Lord then, when he was asleep? Or was he just human?” the pastor asked. Fewer responses came. “Let me pose it this way, then. Was Jesus any less than God when he was asleep in the boat while his disciples were panicking?”

“No,” came the tentative response.

“Are we listening to our own answers?” the pastor asked. “Is Jesus still Lord—when the winds toss, when the waters come in our boat, when we say we’re followers, but he appears unconscious—asleep, as it were? When this same Lord Jesus does not seem to us to respond when we want, is he still the Lord?” Lily dabbed at her face.

“Yes,” sounded voices through the sanctuary. “Yes,” she heard herself say. Nathanael glanced over at her, but she did not look up. She set the tiny splinter-skiff back into the pew’s bottom with her wet index finger.

(To be continued)

 

 

 

 

Lily (Part forty-seven)

Nathanael’s composure never left him. Self-possessed, he remained near the wall where he could see down the main corridors of the church and into the narthex. Only weeks earlier Lily had entered this same way and seen Fred Aims, Donald, and attended Tim’s class for the first time.

Lily surveyed the parishioners as before. She found a seat three rows behind Donald and his wife. She pulled her iPhone from her purse, verified it was still on silent, and opened the Bible app. It was still in Ruth. Momentarily Lily’s thoughts turned again to Tim and his class. Naomi’s bitterness in the early parts of Ruth reminded her of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. Miss Havisham eventually sought forgiveness for her treatment of Pip. And Naomi’s story ends with her being blessed by her peers, bitterness replaced by benediction.

“Ms. Rood, may we join you?” It was Nathanael with his guest. When Lily raised her eyes, she saw Nathanael smiling politely. Jovial Thomas McDavid stood behind him.

“Of course,” Lily said. “O Thomas, hi. I had no idea Nathanael was waiting for you.”

“I hope I didn’t keep Nathan from you long,” Mr. McDavid said. Looking at Lily, Thomas said, “He has been asking me to come to Beulah nonstop since he assumed his new role.”

Lily watched Nathanael for a response but his equanimity remained fixed. He only smiled and took his seat beside Lily and Thomas McDavid.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part forty-six)

Tim offered to escort Lily towards the sanctuary but she declined after she saw Nathanael waiting down the corridor. She bade Tim farewell and walked towards Nathanael. He pushed himself off the wall against which he had been standing and smiled at Lily when she neared him.

“All okay, Ms. Rood?”

“Yes. Tim was welcoming me back to Beulah again. We talked about his class, today’s lesson, and about my move here. He is attentive.”

“Tim’s an excellent teacher,” Nathanael said. “He has known my extended family for years. In a lot of ways, he saw me grow up. Mom, Dad, and I lived up in the northern part of the state in the city, but Tim always kept up with our family.”

“Is he from here?” Lily asked.

“Born and raised. He is one of Beulah’s best. He is from this town but he is not provincial. I think it is safe to say he is wise. He has taught at this church ever since I was in the nursery.”

“You are making me feel old, Nathanael.”

“Well, I’m a bit younger, Ms. Rood, but I think we have similar callings. We both value education. And I share your taste for literature. It was my favorite subject when I was in school, remember? We spoke of this before.”

“I do recall.”

“Well, should we enter the sanctuary?” Lily asked.

“You go ahead, Ms. Rood. I am waiting for someone.”

Lily felt her face redden. “Yes, of course,” she said.

(To be continued)

Lily (Part forty-five)

“Lily, I’m glad you returned to Beulah today and to our class,” Tim said.

“I enjoy your teaching very much.”

“It was awkward for you this morning, I take it?”

“I’m not from here,” Lily said. She felt embarrassed to state the obvious. “And that is creating some challenges.”

“A Naomi in Moab?”

“There was no famine in the land for me in Rook,” Lily said. “But like Naomi, I did leave for what I hoped would be a better life.”

“How have you found things since coming here,” Tim asked.

“I am enjoying teaching. I have some bright and thoughtful students at Covenant. Plus I have met some interesting peers.” Lily was thinking of her friend Thomas McDavid.

“But I have not been welcomed by all people there—or here. And I appreciate Beulah. Mr. Donald has welcomed me and become a friend. I don’t know his wife well yet but I hope to. Mr. Fred Aims would have become a friend, too, I believe, until…”

“Fred Aims was a precious man. His wife Ellen is just as precious. And Donald and his wife are cut from the same cloth as the Aims parents,” Tim said.

“Do you think it is perhaps impossible to be liked by all people we know, however, Lily?”

“More each day,” Lily said. “I do not like confrontation but I have found enemies since relocating here.”

“It seems you are respected at least by the new headmaster at Covenant,” Tim said questioningly.

“I only met Nathanael and his parents since the turnover drama surrounding Mr. Aims’ replacement. Nathanael has been very kind to me, yes. I cannot say the same for one of his aunts, however.”

“Ms. Lily, we are a small town here. Sometimes people’s thinking can be similarly myopic. Do we understand one another?”

“I think so. I did not seek enemies when moving here to teach. I came in hope of making some new friends, of finding a church where I belonged…”

“And you are making those friends. I hope you remain at Beulah, as you have a foothold already. Our enemies, Lily, come somewhat like our friends–unplanned by us. Friendships are not manufactured; they seem ordained for us—like doors we open already prepared for us. Our enemies are likewise unplanned by us, but there.”

“I see why you teach,” Lily said.

“Ha! Thank you. I have enemies too, to be sure. But I think I have some friends as well,” Tim said.

Lily felt someone looking at her. Down the corridor Nathanael stood against the wall watching her. He appeared to be waiting for someone.

(To be continued)

Lily (Forty-four)

Aaron was the last to exit the room. His disappearance left a hush in Tim’s Sunday school class. Ruth, the middle sister, departed silently, along with Sarah. Nathanael remained beside Lily in equipoise.

Tim knew to refocus the class on the passage under discussion. “Do you feel sympathy towards Naomi?” Tim asked the class.

Lily wanted Nathanael to speak up but he remained quiet in observation, stolid.

“I do, Tim,” Lily said. “She is not from Moab. She went there with her family with thoughts of it being better than where she had left. And yet—”

“Yes?” Tim said. “Is there more?”

“Well, rather than better fortune for her and her family in Moab, she has experienced misfortune and suffering. Her husband and sons have died. She has two daughters-in-law. And she is battling bitterness towards God because she believed she had done the right things,” Lily said.

Tim nodded and looked out at the class from his stool. Several people nodded silent agreement with Lily’s analysis.

“That seems spot on, Lily.”

“Of course Naomi had a battle to wage. But she needed to just get on with it,” Beth retorted. “Death occurs in our families. I should know. But we must go on. That’s what I would have done.”

Lily felt movement at her elbow. “Beth, how long has my grandfather been dead?” Nathanael asked.

“Why you!” Beth snarled. “This is not about Daddy.”

“Exactly, Beth. This passage about Naomi and Ruth is not about Granddaddy–and it’s not about you either,” Nathanael said.

Lily felt trapped as if among brambles. She looked up at Tim.

“There is much occurring here,” Tim said. “Can we all agree that Naomi had at least a lot to sort out, to battle, to perhaps even learn from?” Almost all of the class appeared to nod in agreement.

“Yet, as Beth brought up, Naomi did continue in spite of death and deep sadness, even in a place where she was an alien,” Tim said.

This seemed to mollify most of the class. Lily wanted Nathanael to say more but he remained silent and composed. Beth sat with her forearms folded across her chest. Her bracelets clanked upon one another in cacophony as the class bell sounded in the hall to dismiss for the worship service.

“May we pray together about what we have seen here this morning?” Tim asked.

Most of the class members closed their eyes. Many heads leaned forward as if in petition. Beth remained upright on her metal chair. Lily leaned slightly towards Nathanael to feel his presence. He pressed one forearm towards Lily as if in solace, as Tim addressed the God of Naomi.

(To be continued)