A penny candle flickers in my hand. Its light casts long shadows on the altar in front of me. The cine-film of my life replays in front of my eyes as I gaze upon a figure in an oil painting.
“If there is a God, why does he let bad things happen to people?”
I said these words a lifetime ago. I said them to my Mum on our last visit here. And now I return, alone.
I still want an answer. I need to know why the Lord can turn a blind eye while innocent people suffer.
Perhaps I will find the answers on my Day of Reckoning. I shudder at the thought. The whole notion of passing away is inconceivable.
And yet we lost my sister when she was just a child.
I remember how she skipped along the pavement that day. How I had to run to keep up with her, my ice cream melting from the heat and dripping down my fingers. One minute she turned to me, laughing. The next, she was gone.
She never saw it, that car. The police assumed she’d stepped out in the road without looking. A young girl with no sense, they thought.
I must have seen it yet I could not take it in. A numb void formed where the memory should be. Even now, I cannot recall.
They took me to the police headquarters and gave me toys. A kind-looking police lady gave me a lolly. She asked me what I’d seen. I just said, “I don’t know.”
Later on, growing tired of playing, I asked her, “Where’s Polly?” She didn’t answer.
Then Mum came to collect me. She threw her arms around me. I felt her tremble. Again, I asked, “Where’s Polly?”
Mum squeezed me tight. Her chest heaving against my coat. Little droplets of water fell in my hair.
After what felt like a very long time for a child, Mum said, “Polly’s gone to Heaven.”
“Can I visit her there?” I asked her.
“No, my precious one” said Mum her voice broken with sobs.
I couldn’t take it in. Why wouldn’t Polly let me visit her?
“Is Heaven a nice place?” I asked.
“Yes, heaven is a nice place. Your sister will be happy. One day, you’ll get to see her again.”
That satisfied me. Only later did I discover the truth.
The driver had been drunk. He’d been three times over the limit as he sped his car around the corner, clipping the kerb. He hit Polly as she stood on the pavement, waiting for me to catch up with her. As I heard this, my ears throbbed and my world dissolved into a sea of red.
Mum had told me all this on our last visit to this church. I’d stood where I am now with an angry voice of doubt tormenting me inwardly. No one could provide me with the answers I needed to put my mind at peace.
I remember clenching my fists and biting my lip, visualising the blank face of the driver. He’d received a short jail sentence yet he’d given my family a life sentence. How could anyone take life away so casually?
I still blink back tears as I recall my laughing sister, the young girl in pigtails. I only see her now in memories and in curling, dog-eared photos.
Every time I sift through my childhood albums I hope my sister will to speak to me through those photos. She never does, just looks back at me smiling.
But then I already have my answer; whatever problems I have in life, I have to face them without her.
Yet with every battle I face, the questions and the doubts multiply. And I cannot shake off this feeling of emptiness; that something vital is missing. Which is why I have returned to this spot, alone, while the rain hammers down on the roof.
And I gaze upon the painting before me. A holy man dressed in a long robe gazes back at me. He holds a lantern and upon his head he wears a crown of thorns which are bathed in a halo.
He stands alone in the darkness as I do. He knocks upon a door without a handle, a door that hasn’t been opened for many years. It’s hard to see how it can open now, for knotted brambles have grown to form a barricade.
I find myself rooted to the spot as I continue to survey this scene. The expression in his eyes reveals a deep sadness and also a great wisdom. They see right into me, leaving me feeling exposed. I feel as if he knows my deepest, darkest secrets. I cannot move. I have nowhere to hide as I continue to look on, transfixed.
For a flicker of a second, I see his lips move. I blink. Did I just imagine it? I stare all the more closely, willing the depiction of the Lord to speak, as I had with all those photos of my sister. As hard as I try, I cannot detect any further movement, so I fall to my knees in prayer, the only prayer I know.
“Our father who art in heaven…” I mouth the words. In the silence, the wind appears to whisper one word, “Believe”.
I only wish I could believe. I wish I could silence those angry doubts and let faith in. Maybe then, I could find peace.