The Face in the Window
As I started up the trail from the car park, I felt the weight of the past few days lift from my neck and shoulders. The trees closed around me, gradually blocking the sounds of the road, and I actively began to physically shrug off the stress that had been paralyzing my tired limbs. Emptying my lungs of the stench of hospital disinfectants, plastic sterilized tubing and diseased bodies, I mindfully breathed in the heavy, earthy scents of the rainforest and my stride began to lengthen. Perspiration quickly prickled my skin pleasantly, caressed by the moist atmospheric warmth.
Yes, there was corruption all around me here, too, but this was somehow timeless, before time, outside of time…the way things were meant to be. Death everywhere in the leaves crushed beneath my feet, the broken branches, the decaying flowers; but also new life sprouting impudently and irrepressibly from the carnage, iridescent colours flitting and flashing from among the shadows, catching and clinging in the sunbeams.
Walking a trail always renewed my sense of hope, lifting my spirits to dance alongside God’s glorious creation. Here I regained my perspective: an imperfect, broken world groaning for release, but always with beauty peeking unexpectedly around the corner, hinting at an underlying capacity for healing and restoration.
The trail became steeper but my muscles embraced the challenge, scrambling easily over the obstacles presented by rocks and fallen branches. I felt so glad of the freedom to stretch again after so many hours of standing quietly at bedsides, helpless to effectively relieve the lonely sufferings. In the previous two weeks, we had lost 5 on our unit: I had watched and waited over two as their organs failed and the pandemic claimed its fee. I knew so little about them; all I could do was to stand in the gap for their loved ones, masked by so many layers of PPE whilst still valiantly trying to convey the bond of a common humanity.
The bubbling of water trickled into the rustling symphony of creatures in the undergrowth and the canopy birds, so I knew I was getting closer to the creek and the final climb to the waterfall. Sunlight suddenly spilled into a clearing and I was at the junction of two paths – one to the top of the waterfall, the other to a pool at its base.
At the point where the path forked, there was a small, weather-worn bench, and I was somewhat surprised by the young woman seating there. She nodded and smiled as I greeted her.
“Don’t go down to the pool,” she said. “The path is very unstable after the rains and you will slip and fall. The path to the top is much safer.”
“Thank you,” I said. “Have you been to the top?”
“Yes. I wanted to come one last time.”
“I’ll keep moving up then.” There was something vaguely familiar about her and I wanted to ask why it was her last time. Deciding it was too invasive, I just smiled and headed away up the waterfall track. It occurred to me almost immediately that it was odd she had no bag or gear with her, so I turned with the thought of at least offering some water. She had already gone.
The view from the top of the waterfall did not disappoint: a magnificently green vista of rainforest clad gorges and acres of sugar cane, spreading all the way to the distant azure coastline. I lost all sense of time as I absorbed the comforting warmth of the sun-soaked rocks through my groaning joints. The mesmerizing rush of the water as it fell over the lip of the cliff to the pool ten metres below allowed the trauma of the previous weeks to ebb away and ease the ache in my heart.
It was only as the clouds began to threaten afternoon rain that I headed back down the trail.
Hungry, I stopped at the nearby town to buy a pie from the gas station. As I entered the servo, a poster on the window caught my eye. The face in the central photograph was that of the girl I had seen on the trail. But it was framed by an invitation to community members to attend a memorial service for her the following day and her name seemed familiar to me.
As I paid for my fuel and pie, I tried to sound casual as I asked: “the memorial service tomorrow – do you know how the young lady died?”
“Covid, darlin’. She died in the hospital two weeks ago. Real tragedy that, being a young one. Did you know her?”
I shook my head and thanked the woman. But I knew why I recognized her name: I had held her hand as she died.