Hank followed Gretchen up the stairs to the second floor of the two story dwelling, which turned out to be much larger than it had appeared from the outside. She led him down a hallway to a small, den-like room, which actually sat in the very front of the house, and invited him to join her on the old sofa in there. There were also two antique wooden chairs, an old roll-top desk, and several candles around the room. It felt most inviting.
Filled with anticipation, having no idea what to expect next, but feeling – the only way to describe how he felt, in that moment, was “holy”. The feeling harkened back to when he’d first become an altar boy, at age 9 in the catholic church, and how in awe he’d been of the whole ritual of the mass, the smell of the incense, the humbling honor it had felt like to serve, to be “behind the scenes”, so to speak, to be the priest’s helper in conducting the high holy mass.
But, this was so much different from that. For starters, he still had no idea what brand of a “child of God” she actually was. She had never made that claim, in his brief interactions with her – that driver had. She only claimed to be a healer, and that was only in response to his questioning if she was a psychic. He decided that he might be getting way ahead of himself, and should just let this moment unfold naturally, and to flow with it. This was not a typical Hank type of thought, but he settled down and waited in heightened anticipation for what might come next. He thought, “you know, this babe is really hot!” THAT was a much more typical Hank thought.
She took his hands and held them in hers, sitting there beside him on the sofa, and began to tell him her story. She spoke with a clarity and forthrightness that was completely disarming to Hank, but his attention was rapt as she laid out a tale that he never in his wildest dreams would have guessed about her.
She had been brutally raped by an older male cousin when she was barely 14, and had spent the next several years plotting her revenge, completely consumed by her hatred for him, and with working out how she would kill him in a manner that would exact appropriate justice for what he’d done to her. But then, before she could carry out her plans – and she’d had it all figured out, exactly how she was going to do it – he’d gotten drafted into the army (they lived in Maine at the time). He went over to Viet Nam, and within a couple of months there, was killed in an enemy ambush.
His death had left her completely devoid of any reason to live – her entire being had been consumed with her hatred for this callous cousin, her sole purpose in life had been to exact revenge for her brutal rape by him, and now that had been taken away. Instead of justice being served, he would be honored in death as a war hero. No one would ever believe her story of what he did to her!
She’d become an addict in short order after that, trying to kill the pain of living with anything that would take that pain away. She never enjoyed the highs, but they helped her to cope with all that pain. Then, she’d gotten into prostitution for awhile, working as a call-girl at a somewhat high class establishment in Boston that a girl friend had talked her into. She’d made lots of money doing that, over the next couple of years, and quickly got used to a life of luxury. But, it was never enough. She always needed more, and none of it even touched the hatred that still consumed her being.
She and her friend were preparing to open their own establishment, where they would have more control over their lives, and she could get out of the actual sleeping with men part – she couldn’t stand men, although she knew exactly how to please them – it was easy for her, because she never had any emotional connection, but became expert at faking it, and men were naturally drawn to her.
But then, her friend backed out of the deal, and she didn’t have the werewithal to start the business on her own. She met a lady who she hoped to convince to go into business with her, and the lady turned out to have ulterior motives. She was a do-gooder who worked with prostitutes to try to get them out of the business, and into religion, instead. She became furious with her, with the whole deception, and stormed out of there.
But something the do-gooder had said to her, stuck. She’d said, “Until you learn to forgive what’s happened to you in the past, you will never be able to find any peace or happiness in this life. You have to find a way to forgive those who victimized you, at some point in your life. Otherwise, no matter how tough you think you are, no matter how successful you become in this life, you will always be a victim, and it will never be enough.”
She knew this statement to be true – she didn’t know why she did, but she had some sort of a revelation, and so she began to figure out how she could possibly forgive her dead cousin. It hadn’t been easy. She rejected any and all formal religions, and didn’t much care for most of the alternative brands that were springing up – but, she found answers, as she sought a way to forgive, and she found healing.
She'd also discovered this gift that she had, in the process of her own healing. She could feel others’ pain, and she could help them find a way to heal. It was so powerful, it scared her at first. She felt like a total freak. But, she quickly learned how to use it, in effective ways, and to just make it a part of who she was.
A series of rather strange circumstances had led her to running this Youth Hostel, and it just seemed that young people who needed healing showed up all the time, and this was her ministry. She provided material comfort and sustenance to those who were on the road, mostly seeking something, and when the opportunity for healing came up, she did her thing, they went on their way, and she now had a purpose in life.
She had never been happier than she was right now, doing what she did. With that, she turned to Hank and said, “So, that’s my story. I usually don’t tell people all of that – but I just felt like you needed to know where I am coming from, and now you do.
“Now – we have some work to do, young man", she smiled at him. Her smile was so genuine - Hank felt like she was glowing. "Are you ready?”
Hank had never felt more ready for anything in his entire life. He just nodded his head and said, “I am.”
Photos courtesy of Unsplash.com, by artists Josefa Holland-Merten, Justin Lebow, Julien Lavallee, and Joren Frielink, respectively