Here’s an excerpt from my novel. This particular excerpt is about a man whose death changed the world, including his own son’s trajectory in life. And on Christmas Day, this man’s son had a choice to make…
The man was burly, and had curly black hair. He looked all around him.
“Where am I?”
“You are in heaven,” Jesus answered.
Startled, the man looked at Jesus. “And who are you?”
“Tony,” Jesus called out.
“You’re…you’re…Jesus, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am.”
Tony knelt down, bowed his head and crossed himself. Rising, he slowly walked towards Jesus.
“What was the last thing you remembered, Tony?” Jesus asked.
“The last thing I remember was being in that stairwell, trying to help everyone get out of the building, when I heard this great roar….I remember thinking, ‘This is it!’ And then…”
“Yeah…I prayed. It’s coming back to me now…I remembered one of the songs we used to sing in my parish, the one that goes, ‘I am the resurrection, and the life/He who believes in me will never die.’ And I remember the homily our parish priest gave one Sunday, about how your resurrection opens the door to heaven to all who believe. And I prayed…”
“In your final moments, you asked me into your heart.”
“And then I felt an overwhelming, crushing weight bear down on me, and everything went dark….And the next thing I knew, I was up here, waiting in a long line…waiting to see you.”
Tony was silent for several moments, then he looked up at Jesus. “I hope my family was able to cope with their loss after I was gone…I wish I was able to be there for my wife, Adriana, and our children, Maria and Nicolas. I’m sure nothing was the same for them after I perished.”
“I watched over them, Tony. The city gave your wife a generous pension. She eventually married another firefighter.”
“And what about my children?”
“Maria later went to college, and became a ballet dancer.”
Tony smiled. “She always did enjoy dancing.”
“He joined the Army, and was sent to Iraq, where he was killed by insurgents.”
“What—what do you mean? Why did he join the Army, and why was he sent to Iraq? Why was he killed?”
“Your death – together with the death of everyone else in the North and South Towers – started several wars. Your son wanted to avenge your death, to strike back at those who killed you and so many others that day. He was so crushed by your death, and so angry at those who killed you, that he gave up his dreams of becoming a doctor, and joined the Army right after he turned eighteen, even before he graduated from high school. By the time he finished his training, America was about to invade Iraq, and he was one of those sent to invade that country.”
“We—we invaded Iraq?”
“After your country invaded Afghanistan.”
“The whole world changed after the North and South Towers collapsed, Tony. Nothing was the same. You would not recognize the land your country became.”
Tony shook his head, dumbfounded by all he was hearing. “I don’t understand…how could all this have happened? How could my son – Nicolas – have been killed in Iraq?”
“Iraq changed Nicolas in many ways, Tony.”
“How did Iraq change him?”
“The war revealed what was in his heart. It revealed who he really was.”
“Would I have been proud of him?”
“I’m afraid not, Tony. The war revealed his heart to be full of hatred. And that hatred was eating him alive. I tried to reach him with my truth, but he kept shutting me out of his heart.”
Tony began to weep. “No, don’t tell me it’s true…not Nicolas. Not my boy…”
“I never gave up on Nicolas. I foresaw what was coming, and I kept reaching out to him, again and again. He did three tours of duty in Iraq, and during his last tour, on Christmas Day, 2007, Nicolas was on patrol in Mosul, in one of the Christian neighborhoods, when he met a Kurdish girl named Maryam. Maryam invited Nicolas and the men of his platoon to attend a Christmas pageant later that afternoon. Nicolas did attend Maryam’s church that afternoon, where he heard the Christmas story one last time. That was the last time he heard the good news of how I came into the world, grew to become a man, and died on the cross for the sins of all people, including for Nicolas. That was the last time Nicolas heard the message of salvation.”
Tony’s voice was a ragged whisper. “Did he accept your message of salvation?”
“No, Tony, he didn’t. He couldn’t let go of his hatred.” Jesus closed his eyes. “He was so close, so close. Little Maryam was sitting next to Nicolas, together with her parents, and Maryam was holding Nicolas’ hand. Maryam told him, ‘Just believe.’ But Nicolas said nothing, and let his last opportunity for salvation slip by. He was killed the next day when his Humvee was blown up by a roadside bomb.”
Tony was sobbing loudly. “No, not Nicolas…not my son!”
Jesus came down from the Throne, and threw his arms around Tony’s heaving frame. “I failed him, Jesus! I failed him! I never told him about you!”
Jesus spoke softly into Tony’s ear. “Tony, your sacrifice was beautiful. That alone would have been example enough for your son. He made his own choice, and chose to give in to his hatred. You were a good father to him. You weren’t perfect, but you taught him what a man was supposed to be like. And if he’d chosen to follow me, Nicolas would have grown to become a good father himself.”
Tony continued to sob. “But how…how can I enjoy heaven, when…when my son—“
“I lost someone close to me, too, Tony.”
Tony drew back for several moments. “You did?”
“Yes, I did. Judas was a dear friend of mine, but Satan entered his heart, and he betrayed me. But Judas never did turn to me for forgiveness, and in his overwhelming guilt, he committed suicide, and now he’s lost forever.”
“So…the loss was real?”
“Yes, the loss was real. And so was yours. But I’ve given you the gift of eternal life.”
Tony was silent for a long minute, just staring at Jesus. At last, Tony kneeled down and crossed himself again.
“My Lord and my God.”