Philly didn’t think of herself as a superhero. She just saw herself as a primarily spiritual being. Since she was 5 years old one mantra was always running quietly in the back of her head, as if from some world that other people just weren’t attuned to. It said, “The law of God will be the strength of your spirit.” At the expense of many friendships, she had known that she always must tell the truth, and resist what others saw as tiny but necessary infractions. And by the supernatural strength this gifted to her she felt that she would be able to save many.
When her classmates cheated on tests, the teachers knew they could ask her and she would always, though regretfully have to tell what she saw. She had to or her strength would diminish. When she rode in the cars on LaCrosse team trips, she absolutely insisted that they go the speed limit, even when it made them late. Because she knew that these tiny sins, that weren’t even really her fault, were what would eat away at her power. And the unusual purity of her spirit made her body unnaturally strong, like Samson’s hair. She had strength like an ox.
And strength it was. She scored twice as many goals as anyone on her team, in fact the whole league. She was 5’5″, 125 pounds but even the biggest girls on the opposing team seemed to bounce off of her. And she left bruises on goalies who got in the way of her shots. Every time.
But sometimes she called her own fouls– if she accidentally hit someone with her stick. And would stop playing until they stopped it. She could not get away with anything, because if she did, her integrity, and therefore her strength to save others when the time came, would have cracks in it.
The time finally came.
Now Philly found herself in their big university cafeteria, full of people who were screaming and fleeing during the busy lunch time. Philly was walking toward an open-firing shooter. “Justin!” She called out. “Stop, Justin.” When others had seen Justin as a harmless guy who liked to hunt and had some disturbingly angry views about authority and God, Philly only saw a time bomb. They saw an unremarkable, short, pale kid in old t-shirts and ratty vans, that held very little consequence to anyone. She saw a raging animal, gaining in strength every day his anger was expanding. She saw things of the spirit, not of the body, because since she was young she somehow believed in spirit more than body. She had wanted to say something to Justin but whenever he saw her coming, he turned the other way, as if he knew she could really see him.
And today he had detonated.
“Justin! Stop this! Stop this!”
He acted like he couldn’t hear her, though he did have large head phones covering his ears. She was about ten feet from him when he turned around and addressed her.
“Leave me alone!” He shouted. And he fired. But nothing hit her. He fired three and four more times and it was as if the bullets zipped through thin air, right through her. Her purity had issued the bullets between the atoms of her physical body.
He pulled off his head phones and glanced around to make sure nobody else was approaching him. “What do YOU want with me?!” he yelled. There were already four or five students writhing in blood on the ground as the rest of cafeteria fled or tried to help them.
“Your soul is so dirty, Justin,” she said tenderly.
He screamed in anger and shot three more times at her, hitting nothing but the wall behind her.
“It is so dark around you. Fear is like your fortress.” She stepped toward him. He had heard that this girl, Philly, she could not lie. And this made it even harder to hear this truth from her.
“No wonder you don’t have any friends, Philly. You can’t help but tell them why they aren’t good enough.”
This was how she was not invincible. Her spirit fell as if she had been shot. But unlike the body, the spirit is like breath and is inherently replenishable if breathing from the source that gives breath. And as if her spirit bled and that blood surged in a wave over the cafeteria floor, something reached the injured and soothed them like salve, and their whines of pain suddenly subsided.
“You are good enough. You are all good enough. My purity is here to show the way of the spirit. You just have to believe that spirit is stronger than body like I do. And trust that your spirit feeds on God.”
In her spirit she looked upward, “help.” She listened intensely for any words that would come to her.
Then she said to him, “Truth speaks light into darkness, Justin. There is a hand reaching out to pull you out of this pit.”
“You are so conceited,” Justin growled.
“It’s not my hand. But I know the one who reaches.”
“You are a lesbian, your aunt raped you, your mom is jealous of you, and you hurt people more than you help them,” he said this louder as if knowing that if the others in the cafeteria heard this it would injure her spirit even more.
Her spirit fell again, and in the wake of her soul’s shudder, she fell to her knees on the cafeteria floor. Justin seemed to be tapped into something too. How could he have known these things about her?
Justin realized the power his words had on her. But he knew the power his gun had on the rest of the people so he glanced at the doorways and shot a couple times at both entrances to ensure no one could surprise him. People were still scrambling to exit.
But in the moment it took to do that, Philly put her hands on the ground and whispered, “Pour into me and pour out of me.” And suddenly the four people writhing on the ground stopped and looked at her. They couldn’t have heard her, but it was like their physical pain had been dwarfed by the flood of spirit that flowed over them, emanating from her hands on the floor. It suddenly felt like life was not held in the physical pumping of heart and lungs, but in the breath moving in and out of one’s spirit. Hope had shown its deep power for a moment and their spirits were not afraid to be taken away from these broken physical bodies if it was their time. For a moment they believed, and they just knew it was not their physical lungs that needed to take another breath to really live.
They looked at her just as Justin knelt in front of her. He put a finger two inches from her nose and took another verbal shot, “They all know your secrets. And nobody likes you. You know it’s true.”
“Somebody likes me.” She lifted her head and looked at him as if she had drawn her next spiritual breath and been filled with life again. “Somebody likes me. And he likes you. He likes you. Not just loves you. He likes you.” She squinted. She was listening for more from above. She heard, and she winced as she delivered the message, “Your baby brother was your fault.”
With this his anger exploded and he punched her quickly in the forehead. But it was like hitting a wall and he cradled his fist in pain. She whispered, but with a surprising compassion, “Your baby brother died because you dropped him, and you never told your parents.” She didn't understand why she was being told to say this but she trusted.
Justin screamed as he bared his teeth at her.
“But that doesn’t mean you are bad. You didn’t want to or mean to. You were created good. But you didn’t believe it. The breath inside of you wants you back. Your daddy wants you back.”
“You don’t know my dad. You don’t know what my dad did to me!”
“Your daddy wants you back, Justin. He’s reaching for you.”
“You don’t know my dad. My dad deserted us in 2nd grade and only came back when he wanted to make us do things with his sex slaves. Nothing about him was created good.”
Philly grabbed his throbbing fist, and his anger and pain was dwarfed by love he suddenly felt coming from her grip on his knuckles. He looked down at his fist, and for a moment he could see it the way it was. His whole body was black, as if the smoldering remains of a fire. But his fist, where she grabbed it was new, smooth skin again. And it shined as if glowing from within. He saw the light crawling up his arm and he was torn between panic and need.
He looked up at her and could see her face the way it was. This girl who had never sinned was a walking lighthouse. The entire spiritual world saw her and was either drawn to her or repelled. And now he knew why he had always been repelled. The pain she felt came out as compassion and turned darknesses to light. Fires that burned in deserted corners of people’s hearts strove to build shadows and push back against this light. The tried to defend and reclaim its territory and strove to burn faster than her light could conquer and heal.
“He likes me?” Justin was surprised to hear the small voice leak out of him.
He looked down at the encroaching glow, now seeping into his shoulder. “I’m scared. Will my whole life till now mean nothing? I will lose everything I’ve worked for? Will there be anything left of me?”
“Do you want to hold onto any of it?”
He thought for a moment and saw what the light was doing to his body. “No. I don’t want this to stop.”
“It will take everything you’ve known and redeem it. You will stay you. It will all turn to light.”
His gun clanked to the cafeteria floor tiles and he grabbed her wrist with his other hand and the light began to grow down that arm too. He glanced behind him, as if he were afraid someone would come in that could stop this transfer. “What will I do when they. . . when they. . . take me?”
“They can put your body in jail but your spirit will now be free.”
“My spirit has been in jail all my life.” He said it as if just realizing that.
“And now it will become free. Even physical death can be more life for a spirit. Believe in the light, which will help it find you so that the darkness will not pull your spirit down when you die. Your Daddy pursues you.”
“And he likes me?”
“Your daddy loves you.”
“But you said he likes me.” He looked momentarily scared.
“He likes you so much and he loves doing it.”
Suddenly a deep throated shout rang out from the doorway. “Drop your weapons.”
Justin grasped onto her arm tighter, not even remembering the gun at his side.
“It’s not enough time.”
“You have the rest of your life. Seek the good one and He will pursue you. Your soul will thrive even if your body fails. His breath sustains your spirit.”
“But how can I do this after you’re gone?”
“Believe. You just have to believe that your spirit needs his breath. Then you will be able to see when your spirit is withering. And then you will seek out the breath like your body seeks out food. You will no longer want to do wrong when you know what makes your true life thrive. You pursue it by following its voice.”
Just then strong arms from hard, black, canvas jackets pulled Justin onto his back. He looked at his arms. They were still glowing. But the men that surrounded him couldn’t seem to see what he saw. He suddenly got scared that they would take it from him or that it would disappear. He tried to lean up to see Philly but they slammed him to the ground.
But he could hear Philly whispering, “Believe, Justin. Believe.”
He relaxed, let his back lay flat on the floor and breathed in. “I believe,” he said to no one in particular, except the author of the breath he felt leaving his arms. He really, deeply needed to believe. It was his only chance. He breathed again. And the next moment he saw light escaping from his chest. And he felt his lips warming. He puckered them and looked down toward them. He could tell from them that his whole face, his head was beginning to glow. “I believe. I believe.” He breathed deeply as they threw him onto his stomach and cuffed him. “I believe.” He breathed deeply again as they lifted him to his feet and pushed him toward the door. The light reached some new part of him and he was suddenly slammed with love for his victims. “I’m sorry!” He shouted back. “I’m so, so sorry! Just believe!”
They moved him toward the police cars. “I believe.” And when he finally settled into the back seat, crushing his hands cuffed behind his back. “I believe.” And as the door slammed closed, he breathed another time. “I believe.”
And he heard a voice, like original thoughts appearing in his mind, “Even when your body dies, your spirit lives on. Believe that I am the source of your life and your spirit will never fade. I will never leave you. I will never forsake you. Believe, for that is what opens your spirit to breathe me.”
And as if he had heard the voice of his father for the first time, the long life of exhausting guilt started to trickle away. And he fell asleep, as if an exhausted newborn in the big arms of a father, knowing that nothing could take him away from that now. Everything was okay. He now believed.
Raw Spoon, 10-11-16