Souls at War
by James L. Ferrell
An excerpt from The Peacegiver, published by Deseret Book.
You saw yourself?”
“Interesting,” his grandfather said, glancing back in the direction the army had gone, as if pondering the revelation. “And perhaps fitting as well.”
“Because I’m afraid you are marching to Carmel, my boy.”
“Well, yes, I am. I just saw me go.”
“No, I don’t mean merely here, Ricky. I mean at home as well.”
There was a long pause before Grandpa Carson responded.
“Ricky, I’d like to share with you something you may not know, at least not fully.”
“Okay,” he responded cautiously.
“Do you remember my brother, Uncle Joe?”
“Yeah, sure. He died in the rollover accident a few years before-“
Rick caught himself, because he was about to say “before you died,” which seemed both impolite and oddly incorrect given the circumstances. “That is, he died about fifteen years ago, as I remember. The three of us played golf together a couple of times. You were really close to him; I remember that-fishing buddies and the like.”
“Yes, but it wasn’t always so, and that’s what I’d like to talk to you about. My parents died some twenty years before you were born, leaving Joe and me alone. Of course, we were each parents ourselves by that time, and although it was a terribly sad period, we were able to move on fairly well. Until, that is, we came to the will and the dividing up of the estate.
“Joe was the oldest and expected the ranch to be his, as did I. Or if not, we thought it might be divided between us in some way. But Mom and Dad left it to me-all of it. Joe received other things, some of them quite valuable, but the loss of the ranch was a terrible blow to him.
“At the time, I wasn’t sensitive enough to the situation. I didn’t think about what it must have been like for him, the oldest boy, to lose his ‘birthright,’ as it were, to question in retrospect his love and relationship with his mother and father. Silently, I cheered my good fortune. I loved that grand place. And secretly, I began to feel that I deserved it anyway. I, after all, was the one who moved back to help my father on the farm when he hurt his back, and so on and so on. Your grandmother and I moved our family onto the ranch within three months.
“As the months went by, Joe and I had a couple of blow-outs over the estate. He took some of the horses he had been given off of the ranch and started boarding them elsewhere. We started fighting over trinkets that we each thought had been promised to us. He stopped paying into our family trust fund that was to help fund missions and colleges for our children and grandchildren, and he began to speak badly about me to many of our mutual friends and acquaintances.”
“Well, it doesn’t sound like you did anything wrong, Grandpa.”
“That’s what I kept telling myself too, Ricky. But if that’s true, if I did nothing wrong, then why didn’t Joe and I speak for fourteen years?”
“You didn’t speak for fourteen years?” This was something Rick hadn’t heard.
“No. And neither did the families. Your father, he didn’t see his cousins for probably two decades.
Joe didn’t even come to his wedding.”
“But that wasn’t your fault, Grandpa. You just followed your parents’ wishes. It sounds to me like it was Uncle Joe’s fault.”
“Did I follow my parents’ wishes, do you think, Ricky? Do you think they wished for nearly two decades of estrangement between their boys?”
“But the land, Grandpa. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Ah, again, just what I had been telling myself. But over time I came to realize that I needed to look more deeply. There are ways to be right on the surface and entirely mistaken beneath. That was what the Savior announced to the world. ‘The law, alone, cannot save you,’ he said. ‘I require the heart.’6 He reserved his most blistering criticism for the most outwardly correct people of the day, the Pharisees, whom he accused of being ‘whited sepulchres’-beautiful, law-abiding, ‘in the right’ on the outside, yet entirely corrupt within.7
“I am ashamed by the years I spent away from my brother-and for my feelings toward him during that period. Even if I was right on the land issue, and I’m not sure I was right even there, my heart warred toward Joe for years. And that, Ricky, can never be right. My parents did not bequeath me a warring heart. I took that upon myself.”
He paused for a moment and shifted his weight. “There’s something else I’ve been ashamed of, Ricky.”
“Many years ago, when you were quite young, I said something I shouldn’t have in front of you. I blew up at your grandmother. I’ve regretted it ever since. I’ve hoped that the memory would fade from your mind, but have worried it’s the kind of memory that never will.”
Rick wanted to deny the memory, but he couldn’t in the face of his grandfather’s sincerity. “Yeah, I remember, Grandpa,” he said sheepishly, not volunteering that he listened to the ensuing argument as well. “But it wasn’t your fault,” he added, trying to help. “I knew that then and still know it. To tell you the truth, I’m amazed that I only heard it from you once.”
“Then my worst fears have been realized, my boy. It would have been better if you had blamed me all these years.”
“Look, you’ve been blaming Grandma, haven’t you?”
“Well, no, not really,” Rick offered flatly.
“No? But you thought my anger was warranted. You just said so yourself.”
“Well, yes, I guess that’s right. I saw the verbal beating you took every day. You were always so patient-had the patience of Job, in fact. So who could blame you if you blew up once. Who wouldn’t?”
Grandpa sighed heavily, and to Rick he appeared to wither a bit, as if the desert heat was finally too much. But that wasn’t it.
“I’ve done you a terrible disservice, my boy. When you think of me and your grandmother now you think of patience,” he said, shaking his head and kicking at a rock. “Don’t you know how much I loved her?”
“Well, sure, you must have to have put up so well with some of the things she did.”
“Oh, dear boy, I have hurt you. I pray you will forgive me.”
“Forgive you, Grandpa? For what?”
“For playing the part of a martyr so well that I undercut your love for your grandmother. For teaching you that ‘patience’ is possible in the face of difficulty but that love is not. For misleading you about love and its source.”
“You didn’t do any of those things.”
“I’m afraid I did, and the reason why is clear to me now, as is the reason why I was chosen for this assignment.”
“What assignment? What are you talking about?” But his grandfather ignored the question.
“So you saw yourself among David’s men, Ricky?”
“If I had paid more attention,” his grandfather continued, “perhaps I would have noticed a young Grandpa Carson as well. You see, when I suggest that you may be marching with David and his men not just here but also at home, I say it only because I too have marched to Carmel in my life, my heart gird for battle, my soul filled with war. And marching on that road as long as I did-both toward my brother and I’m afraid toward your grandmother as well, with devastating effect as I now see-I know where it leads. Believe me, Ricky, it is not a place you want to go.”
He paused for a moment. “You see Carol as you think I saw Grandma, don’t you?”
Rick hesitated. He didn’t quite know how to answer.
“What I mean is that you saw Grandma do things to me that you didn’t like. You saw her treat me poorly. And my explosion that night in the car rewrote in your mind my love for
her into something it probably too often was: martyr-like patience. You thought I viewed Grandma as someone to be endured, someone toward whom deep love was not possible and outward civility was the most that could be hoped for or expected. Am I right?”
Rick didn’t say anything, but he was starting to simmer inside.
“Is that who your Carol has become to you?”
The litany of Carol’s faults and unkindnesses flooded through Rick’s mind. “I guess I don’t know what it was like to live with Grandma,” he said, “but I’m having a real tough time with Carol. Yeah, you’re right. She isn’t who I thought she would be. She makes everything difficult. All things considered, I think I would be happy with patience-well, not happy, actually, but satisfied that I’ve done as well as I could. But I’m not even sure I can do that anymore. I’m afraid I’m nowhere near the man you were, Grandpa.”
“And I’m afraid you are almost exactly the man I was.
“Ricky, listen,” his grandfather continued. “I know Carol has mistreated you. That’s what we do to each other-all of us-we mistreat each other, and especially those we live with, for we have more opportunities to mistreat them than anyone else. With respect to Grandma, by the way, you give me way too much credit and her far too little. Perhaps your young eyes weren’t tuned to the more subtle forms of mistreatment I specialized in. Golfing instead of working takes its own toll, you know.” He paused to let that settle.
“Ricky, I’m going to suggest something to you that you probably have never thought of and will want to resist, but I’m going to say it anyway because it’s the truth. Here it is: Being mistreated is the most important condition of mortality, for eternity itself depends on how we view those who mistreat us.”
Grandpa Carson paused at that, perhaps to emphasize the point.
“And that, Ricky, is why we are here in the wilderness of Paran. David and his men have been mistreated, as you have seen. They are marching off to war, their swords as well as their anger girded about them. You are with them, for you too are warring against mistreatment. But they, and you, are going to encounter someone on the march to Carmel-someone on the Lord’s errand who changes mistreatment forever.
2004 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.