I saul, p.10

I, Saul, page 10


I, Saul

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  “Why does the rabbi prefer the Shammai school?”

  “Because it’s more orthodox, emphasizing strict obedience to the law. The other, now run by Hillel’s grandson, Gamaliel, is more open and tolerant.”

  “That does not sound good.”

  “No,” Father said. “It doesn’t. So it doesn’t surprise me that our rabbi prefers Shammai. But Gamaliel is considered a great and wise teacher. I cannot imagine he is actually apostate. He too is a Pharisee, after all. I just want to visit both schools.”

  “Perhaps you should. This is a critical decision.”

  The next Sabbath, my father revealed his plans to Rabbi Daniel as our family was leaving the synagogue. The tall, thin man seemed not at all disgruntled that my father had not immediately adopted his suggestion, but rather amused. “I encourage the trip!” he said. “Be sure in your own mind before you turn over Saul’s training to any man. Better yet, take the lad with you! See where he would be most comfortable.”

  “Oh, Rabbi!” Mother said. “Please don’t put such notions into the boy’s mind. How would he ever keep up with his studies? And what would I do without either man in the house for all that time?”

  “Forgive me,” the rabbi said. “I should have been more discreet. But you know Saul is so far ahead in his studies that he need take only a copy of the Torah with him to keep reading as he travels. As for your needs, rest assured that our congregation will look after you. Anyway, knowing Saul as I do, I’m convinced that in the end he will agree with me about which school to choose.”

  My mother chuckled at the real reason the rabbi wanted me to go, but she didn’t seem to take seriously even the possibility of it.

  I had never been outside Tarsus and only knew what my father had told me about the outside world. The very idea of such a long journey to a foreign province, then actually visiting Jerusalem, the temple, the schools … It was nearly more than I could take in, but I began pestering my mother about it the moment we arrived home. To my great surprise, she did not reject the idea out of hand. And of course I enlisted my father as an advocate. Even more astounding, Father had me begin riding one of his business’s packhorses for practice, telling me it was likely he and I would make the last leg of the trip—from Damascus to Jerusalem—on horseback.

  When Mother began warning me that the trip would be more arduous than I could ever anticipate, I knew she had opened her mind to the possibility. I assured her I was prepared to endure any hardship for such a blessed opportunity.

  That trek would become my greatest early memory.

  Luke sat back and rubbed his eyes, imagining what was to come in the manuscripts. He had so many questions for Paul, but he was also exhausted and knew he had to rest before a busy morrow. As he lay on his pallet he imagined the young boy and his father on the adventure of a lifetime, and while at first the visions kept him awake, soon he was drifting, his mind carrying him across the rugged terrain that led from Tarsus all the way to Jerusalem.


  Marie’s Klediments


  WEDNESDAY, MAY 7, 9:00 P.M.

  As Augie drove his mother home from Arlington Memorial, all he could think of was Roger, desperate for his help. He had to force himself to concentrate on his mother’s question.

  “Have you ever regretted not taking Sofia’s father up on his offer?”

  He shook his head. “I started imagining what I could do with all that money, living in a beautiful city, giving Sofia the kind of life she grew up with, still leading tours, plus evaluating antiquities, using all my training. But nothing could compare with multiplying myself every year by dozens of students serving churches all over the world. I tried to explain it. Malfees claims to be a fellow believer. I thought he would get it, but he was not happy.”

  Augie’s cell chirped. A text from Roger. “I need to check this out, Mom. Sorry.” He pulled off at the next exit and parked on the shoulder.

  “hope Sat soon enuf. have 9mm S&W 4 u. Time 2 get familiar w/1 b4 dep?”

  Augie texted back: “Smith & Wesson? Haven’t shot in 20 years. Why do I need a gun? And why’re you up? 3 a.m. there. Call me.”

  “no more calls. b sure 9 is a parabellum. text when u get here.”

  Augie pulled back onto the expressway. “What is it?” his mother said.

  “Roger’s in trouble. I’ve got to get to Rome by Saturday and I have no idea how I’m going to do it.”

  “If it’s that dire, you’ll get there, that’s all.”

  “It’s going to take a lot of money I don’t have.”

  As he walked his mother into her house, he suggested they talk about it in the morning when he came to pick her up.

  “Nothing doing, August. You’re going to tell me what’s going on with Roger or I won’t sleep.”

  “You look asleep on your feet now.”

  She waved him off and disappeared, emerging a few minutes later in robe and slippers and carrying a large wooden box. Augie leaped off the couch to help her, amazed at how heavy it was as he set it on the coffee table. “What’s this?”

  “All in good time,” she said, sitting next to him. “Now out with it.”

  Augie told her he didn’t know much beyond the cryptic texts and one urgent phone conversation. He did not tell her about Roger’s mention of the gun.

  “Whatever could be wrong?” she said.

  “No idea, but if he needs me, I have to get there. I’ve got to sneak in a trip to the bank tomorrow, I guess.” “I have money.”

  “You do not.”

  “I do, August. For such a time as this. Your dad put me in charge of the checkbook, and I have saved a little from every bit of income he’s had for more than forty years.”

  “Does he know this?”

  “He never asked. Thank the Lord, we’ve never needed to touch it. It’s in one of those interest-bearing accounts connected to a credit card I have never used.” She leaned over and rapped on the box. “It’s right in here.”

  “How much are we talking about, Mom?”

  “Just a tick under forty thousand dollars.”

  Augie sat speechless as she beamed.

  “And you’d lend me—.”

  “Nonsense! You will take the credit card and use what you need.” “Mom, I couldn’t—.”

  “Don’t you dare deny me the freedom to do what I want with my money.”

  Augie was reminded of his own conversation with Rajiv that afternoon. What’s fair was fair.

  “You’re a lifesaver, Mom.”

  “You’re my life, August. Now I’m going to entrust this box to you. Guard it with your life. It’s full of my klediments.”

  “Your what?”

  “June Carter Cash said klediments were anything you hold near and dear to your heart. Your father has never seen most of these, August. I need to warn you, though. Things in there will shock you, some will break your heart. But do me a favor, get to this before you leave.”

  “Mom, there’s so much I have to do before I go, but if it’s that important to you ….”

  “It is.”

  Curious as Augie was, he was also exhausted, pulling into his tiny bungalow just before 10:00 p.m. He opened his mother’s box of treasures and, after digging through a three-inch layer of keepsakes and bank statements that would have discouraged his father from pawing any deeper, found the credit card, still gum-stuck to the letter it had come with. Online, he booked the Friday flight that would get him into Rome the following morning, still unable to find a seat other than in first class.

  He Googled pistol ranges and found the Wildfire Gun Shop about ten miles south of the seminary. He added “firearm training” to the end of his to-do list for the next day, then opened his mother’s klediments. Deep in the bottom of the box lay a thick, oversized manila envelope secured with twine and also heavily taped shut.

  He sliced it open on his kitchen table and tipped out a couple of inches worth of smaller envelopes and documents. Augie was surprised to se
e more than a dozen business-sized envelopes from both Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Dallas Theological Seminary. He finally found the one his mother had mentioned. It contained an evaluation of his father’s teaching by an anonymous auditing student who had been surreptitiously sponsored by Dallas.

  The form called for the evaluator to rate the professor 1 through 10 in the following areas:

  Knowledge of subject

  Ability to explain information


  Engaging of students

  Finally came an assessment of the suitability for the candidate to teach at Dallas.

  The evaluator had awarded Augie’s father 10s in each of the first two categories, notes stating that “It’s clear Dr. Knox possesses as exhaustive a mastery of his subject as a lifetime student of the Bible could. And he articulates this precisely and completely so that any student listening and taking notes could learn it thoroughly.”

  For the second two categories, however, notes next to the zeros included, “Dr. Knox’s recitation of facts is so monotonous that it’s amazing even he can stay awake through it. No inflection, no passion, nary an indication that the material even interests him.”

  No surprise, the essay on the candidate’s suitability to teach at Dallas was brief: “I’d rather be tortured than be forced to sit one more minute in a class taught by Dr. Edsel Knox.”

  Augie was stunned that someone at Dallas thought it necessary to include such a biting review. This must have come after years of having turned down his father’s applications.

  Augie sat with his head in his hands, hurting for his father, despite the rigid lack of emotion the man had shown his whole life. What made him so grim and yet so deluded that he apparently did not see himself that way?

  As he began to put things back into the box, Augie noticed an envelope from a urologist’s office postmarked forty years before.

  Dear Dr. and Mrs. Knox:

  The attached printout confirms the disappointing news I shared with you last week. The figure of fewer than five million sperm per milliliter of analyzed volume is conclusive, as any figure under twenty million is too low to predict viability. I wish you all the best as you consider other family planning options.

  Augie was suddenly overwhelmed with anger. How dare his father insinuate to him—and to many others over the years—that adoption proved their only option because his mother was too fragile to bear children?

  It was one thing for a man to be negative and nasty, but what could make him so small and insecure that he would blame his own infertility on his wife?

  Augie dug to the bottom of the stack he had slid from the envelope, only to find a manila folder on which his mother had written “Private and Confidential.”

  Augie tore it open and out fell a pile of yellowing newspaper articles more than sixty years old. A handwritten note had been penned in shaky script and signed by his late Great-Aunt Gladys: “Marie, Ed must never know I sent these. Please.”

  The headlines, the pictures, the captions assaulted Augie, making him hold his breath, his heart jackhammering. He quickly stepped back from the table, as if to separate himself from the poison of this history. Here was something he wished he had not opened, not seen, not been exposed to.

  This was a game changer that would affect everything he thought he knew about his father.

  All Augie Knox knew about his extended family was that his mother had a brother and a sister, both married, both with families, and so he had the normal complement of aunts, uncles, and cousins on her side.

  Dr. Edsel Knox had spoken only occasionally about the fact that his father had been an itinerant evangelist and then a pastor in Florida before dying when Edsel was not yet two years old. “Needless to say,” he had told Augie once, “I remember nothing of him and know only what my mother told me. My mother’s sister Gladys said he was quiet and humble.”

  Augie could not forget his father’s faraway look and the slight shake of his head when as a youngster he had said, “So Grandma never got married again? You didn’t get another dad?”

  Augie was puzzled by his father’s silence and his mother’s quick change of the subject. Augie’s grandmother died before he was ten, and his memories of her two visits and their one visit to her home in Florida were fading. One thing was clear, however. Whenever they were in her presence, the only person who smiled was Augie’s own mother— who seemed to scurry about trying to keep everything civil. His father and his grandmother barely spoke and rarely looked at each other, and strangely, she seemed to take little interest in Augie either. At her funeral, his father neither wept nor spoke.

  The few times Great-Aunt Gladys had visited, she doted on Augie, seemed to get along famously with his mother, and was cordial with his dad. Augie had a vague recollection of a tense conversation in which Aunt Gladys suggested that his father could be more attentive to her sister, Dr. Knox’s own mother. “She lives with regret every day of her life,” his great-aunt had said.

  Over the years, Augie began to see his dad as almost an orphan. Aunt Gladys passed when Augie was a young teenager, and it seemed his father now had no connection to any family but his own wife and adopted son.

  Now Augie knew why. Though his father was not named in any of the newspaper articles, it was clear he was the child in question—protected by a quaint journalistic convention that would not be practiced today. “The lad, 9,” one article intoned, “has been awarded to the custody of his aunt, the court determining his mother failed to protect her own son, despite obvious wounds and scars.” Edsel’s mother had been sentenced to a year in prison, five years’ probation, permanent loss of custody, and limited visitation rights.

  Augie’s body seemed to pulsate and he was unable to sit. He bent at the waist, palms flat on the table, squinting at the truths that screamed from the pages. “Oh God,” he prayed. “Oh God, oh God, oh God ….”

  It turned out that his father’s mother had remarried when his father had just turned eight. That man, according to the torrid articles, was convicted of aggravated child abuse and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. While in a county holding cell awaiting transfer to the Florida State Prison, he took his own life.

  Augie finally sat, overwhelmed with pity for the child his father had been. To lose your father as a toddler, then endure the intrusion of a replacement and then the abuse …

  What other kind of a man could have grown from such a wounded child? And how in the name of heaven had he become a theologian and seminary prof?

  Augie awoke eight and a half hours later, locked his mother’s storage box in the trunk of his car, then took off for a brisk run. He assumed he felt out of sorts because of the revelations that had assaulted him, but after about a mile it came to him. For the first time in as long as he could remember, he had forgotten to start his day with prayer. But he had awakened with such dread, so many emotions, he was eager to get on with his day and get to his mother.

  As he ran, he called her, telling her to skip breakfast so they could go together when he picked her up. Forty minutes later Augie drove her to her favorite restaurant on the way to the hospital.

  “August, don’t punish me for fulfilling my vow. Your father was livid that his aunt had told me anything, and he still doesn’t know I’ve seen the newspapers. But she felt I needed to know.”


  Marie put down her fork, avoiding Augie’s gaze. “Your father and I actually separated for a few weeks during the first year of our marriage.”

  “Are you serious?”

  “I couldn’t make him happy. We’d actually had fun when we were engaged, but as soon as we were married, he withdrew emotionally. I know you grew up with that, August, and I’m sorry. I didn’t know what to do to snap him out of it. I suggested counseling, talking with our pastor, getting out and doing things, changing our routine. He wouldn’t hear any of it, so I left him a note that I would be at my parents’. Would you believe that for the first week I didn’t
hear a word from him?”

  “Somehow I do, yes.”

  “I was humiliated. I couldn’t imagine living with him the way he was, yet I would never break my wedding vows. So what was I to do? I called his mother, whom I had met at the wedding, where it was obvious something was really wrong between them. She said, ‘Welcome to my world,’ and hung up on me. The only other person I could think to call was his Aunt Gladys. That woman traveled hundreds of miles to see me. I’ll always be grateful for that.”

  “And she told you the story.”

  “She also told me she felt inadequate to help Edsel, so she just raised him as a Christian, kept him going to church, and discovered he was very bright and inquisitive.”

  “But always sad.”

  “And angry. I made up my mind I would not stay away from him any longer. He was surprised to see me. Said he was glad he didn’t have to tell his superiors at the seminary that his wife had left him. I held him and told him he could trust me, that I would always love him and be there for him.” She sighed. “He said, ‘I hope so. We’ll see.’

  “He also said he would never speak to his aunt again. I scolded him, told him she loved him and had rescued him and made him the man I’d fallen in love with. That was the first and last time I ever saw him break down. I thought I had reached him, August, and that he suddenly realized what an angel Gladys had been. But no. He could only sob and rage that every time his stepdad took him to the basement or the attic, he prayed God would rescue him. He said he prayed for hours every night, crying himself to sleep, but God never listened to him.”

  “He must hate God to this day,” Augie said. “How did the guy finally get caught?”

  “Gladys saw welts on Edsel’s back and demanded to know what was going on. It was torture for him to finally spill the full story, because his stepdad had threatened to kill him and his mother if he ever told. Your father made me swear I wouldn’t tell you. But it seemed time.”

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