Updated: Apr 18
With my hands clasped behind my head laying down in the driveway on one hot, humid, summer night -- I gazed upwards towards the heavens. I stared at the fiery gaseous balls sprayed across the vast midnight sky. The street lights were dim, but oh how I wished for an uninhibited view so I could witness the Master’s handiwork in all its naked glorious state.
In his sweat drenched shirt, my husband took a place next to me. He made me jealous talking about his camping trips out West, where the night sky spread like a blanket over you and the stars shone so bright that you felt you could touch them. Looking for the commonly known constellations, I whispered “forty-two stars.” “Huh, what does that mean?” he questioned.
“See there was this man I met and well his time in the service left him very broken…”
Walking. Again. It was probably my third day there. It was early morning after breakfast and shower time and I was walking the halls again. My damp towel-dried-hair brushed my shoulders and my flip flops squeaked a bit against the waxed floors.
At this point, I had already lost count of how many passes I had made. Probably a couple hundred times a day: I walked past all of the patient rooms, around the nurses’ station, ran my hand along the sunlit window to the courtyard, by the dining room and then turned around at the double-doors to freedom.
“Psst – Darcie,” he whispered as he waved me to come towards him. I was kind of shocked he knew my name. Actually, I wasn’t that surprised -- everybody’s business spread like wildfire through those halls! This guy kept to himself for the most part though. Dusty blonde hair, dark blue eyes, and a heavy-burdened-heart is how I will always remember Jay.
He had called me over to warn me about the new roommate they planned to assign to my room. “Laura,” he said. “She’s been here before and you need to keep your distance from her. Go tell your therapist that you can’t handle a roommate right now.”
I quickly followed his instructions and I was spared from a roommate that was detoxing from a cocktail mix of pills.
Thankful for the warning, Jay and I became fast friends. I stayed close to my military men – all four of them. In a vicious cycle, these veterans bounced between VA hospitals, private hospitals if funding allowed, and then homeless shelters that weren’t at capacity.
They only had an outfit or two and they were never guaranteed their next meal. Jay was one of the many that ordered doubles at each meal time, hiding the extra snacks in his room. He always said that if I needed a midnight snack, I knew where to find him.
You know -- it is always those souls with nothing who are the first to offer you what little they have. Sometimes I can only aspire to have that selfless nature.
“I loved the Navy, but it’s why I am here,” Jay said as he leaned against the door frame to the recreation room. The veterans were taking turns swapping stories as I sat there earnestly listening.
Even when some of their time in the service left them with a mental battle that drags them through the trenches every day; they still spoke proudly of their position, their brothers, and their country they defended.
Jay was a physician in the Navy. Without providing graphic details, he told of a time when a lot of children were hurt and he lost forty-two of them.
“Forty-two stars, my angels looking down on me,” he said as he touched his two fingers to his pursed lips and reached for the sky.
He never mentioned how many children he saved. I don’t think his humble heart even kept count, but he would never forget the forty-two that slipped away.
Thursday ended up being departure day for both Jay and me. “You are going home tomorrow,” the doctor told me. Oh, the sweetest words I had heard all week. Jay’s departure notice was rushed and he didn’t find out until Thursday morning that he would be leaving. “I am headed to Houston!” he exclaimed. They had one spot open in the VA Hospital in Texas and it had his name on it.
But it came with a condition – Jay had to be there by seven that night. His caseworker worked tirelessly to make it happen. Jay anxiously waited for status updates throughout the morning. The caseworker worked diligently to arrange an ambulance to make the ten hour drive in a hasty manner. It seemed as though the plan would work out, but as time ticked by and no ambulance arrived, Jay’s excitement started to wane.
The deadline was fast approaching and Jay had already gathered his meager belongings to leave at a moment’s notice. That moment's notice didn't come. The next thing I remember is hearing Jay’s room door slam and seeing the caseworker walk back up the hall with his head down.
As I walked towards the double doors carrying my brown paper bag, I glanced over my left shoulder and stared at that shut door one more time. Looking forward with an exhaustive blink, the kind where you squeeze your eyes shut a bit longer hoping that you will wake up from your dream when you open them again, I took my last steps on that hall.
Jay never got his ride to Houston that day. There were no “good-byes” and that slammed door was the end of our story. I hope Jay continued to get the help he needed. I pray he laid his burdens down. And one by one God took back His stars – all forty-two of them.
Sometimes Life Sounds Like a Sad Song
"You and I, we're gamblers holding cards that we can't see." Chris Stapleton, When the Stars Come Out
Control -- The Death of Freedom
We live as prisoners harboring guilt, calculating the “what-ifs”, and recalculating the “if-onlys”. We carry an extra ten pounds of burdens, panic when our normal routine is shaken-up, and wear control like a pair of shackles. We live as though we have the power.
But He gave us a choice, a different way to live -- we can give it all to Him and live in Freedom.
"Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7, NIV)