This short story is shared by Brian Joseph
Strange how a word or phrase used in a certain way can evoke a memory. That is how it was for Marissa as she sat on the beach. It was early Fall and late in the day so there weren’t many people around. She sat close to the shore a few feet from the reach of the aftermath of the waves. This was something she did from time to time. It was relaxing to hear the rhythmic sound of the waves interspersed with the occasional cawing of seagulls. Sometimes she would come to this spot to watch the sunrise. It would look like it was rising out of the water out on the distant horizon. But on this day the sun was behind her. She was lost in empty thought and thinking nothing in particular when she heard the voice.
“Joey, Joey !” Marissa looked up and a dog was running towards her. A man was a short distance behind. When the dog reached her the man said, “He doesn’t bite.” The dog nuzzled her face with his wet nose. He was black and looked to be a Lab or part Lab. Marissa patted him on the back of his head, “Good boy, what a nice doggy you are.”
The man said hello to Marissa and then called, “Come on Joey. You got a pet, leave the nice lady alone.” The dog frolicked away and continued on his walk.
In her mind’s eye Marissa drifted back to a day forty years before when she was six years old and in first grade. Her teacher was Miss Foyer. At that time she was the smartest person that Marissa had ever met. Marissa’s father had left shortly after Marissa was born. Her Mom had told Marissa that it was his loss. Her Mom was not very intelligent, not in an academic way. This was more than compensated for by her Mom’s generous and caring heart. Her Mom was heart smart.
Miss Foyer seemed to know just about everything and she was also kind and gentle. It was a big city school. The classes were divided up by number. The lower the number the smarter the kids supposedly were. The first grade had classes ranging from 1-1 to 1-9. Since Marissa had not been to kindergarten they didn’t know where to place her. She ended up in class 1-7. Marissa loved learning and thought it a stroke of luck that her teacher was probably the smartest person in the world.
On the day that Marissa was remembering she could see herself at her desk. Miss Foyer had written down an alphabet and word exercises on the chalkboard and the children were to copy it on wide lined paper. Miss Foyer sat at her desk looking through papers as the students sat writing. A few minutes into writing Marissa felt a tear trickle down her cheek. A minute later both cheeks were wet and tears dripped down on her paper. Marissa looked around the room. No one else was crying. She continued to write, having difficulty when the pencil hit the wet spots on the paper. Miss Foyer looked up from the papers she had been reading. She noticed Marissa’s tears and walked over to her. ” Are you okay Marissa?” Marissa shook her head to say yes. “Do you feel sick?” Marissa shook her head to say no. Miss Foyer picked up the paper that Marissa was writing on and looked at it. “Why Marissa, you are doing a wonderful job! You aren’t crying because of this work, are you?” Marissa shook her head to say no and wiped at her cheeks with the tissues that Miss Foyer had given her. Miss Foyer patted her on the back and the tears stopped.
Later that day it happened again. The class was taking turns reading the Alice and Jerry book. Marissa looked around the room again. No one else was crying. The other children were following the words in the book, waiting for or dreading their turn to read aloud. Miss Foyer noticed the tears again and asked the class to read quietly for awhile. She walked to Marissa’s desk again. “Marissa, You are one of the best readers in the class. are you worrying about reading out loud?” Marissa shook her head to say no. Then Miss Foyer asked her if her tummy hurt. Marissa shook her head no again. “Do you want to go to the nurse?” Marissa shook her head and said, “I’m not sick.” The tears stopped again but they started up again towards the end of the day when the class was singing the song about a farmer who had a dog. When the song ended Miss Foyer walked to Marissa’s desk and felt her forehead. “Doesn’t feel like you have a fever.” She handed Marissa tissues and hunched down. Looking Marissa in the eyes she smiled and said, “You sing so beautiful dear.” The tears stopped and turned to a smile as Marissa stared at Miss Foyer’s smile.
The school day ended at 3 o’clock, the same time that Mom got out of work. It was a fifteen minute walk from Mom’s work to the school so Marissa was usually one of the last kids picked up. She would stand in front of the school and wait. On that day she noticed Miss Foyer standing inside the school looking out through the part of the door that was glass. When Marissa’s Mom arrived Miss Foyer walked outside and asked her if she had some time to talk. All three walked back into the school. Miss Foyer and her Mom went into Miss Foyer’s classroom while Marissa stood in the hall looking in through the narrow strip of glass on the closed door. Marissa thought it looked a bit funny to see her Mom sitting on the chair beside Miss Foyer’s desk. It was the chair where students sat when Miss Foyer graded a paper or gave individual help.
After a few minutes Miss Foyer came to the door and asked Marissa to come in. Miss Foyer sat at her desk while Marissa stood beside her Mom. “Marissa, I’ve been talking with your Mom about your crying today. You said you weren’t sick. Did you feel sad today Marissa?” Marissa shook her head to say no and softly said, “Your sad.” Miss Foyer gave Marissa a quizzical look. “Why do you think that I’m sad?” Marissa shrugged her shoulders and hesitantly asked, “You lost something?” Miss Foyer’s expression changed to one of dismay. “Why Marissa, you are a very special little girl.”
Miss Foyer lifted Marissa onto her lap. She opened the clasp on her pocketbook and removed a photo. It was a picture of Miss Foyer hunched down beside a black Cocker Spaniel. Marissa smiled, “He looks like Jip.” Jip was the dog in the Alice and Jerry reader. “Yes he does Marissa. His name is Joey.” Marissa looked at the big smile on Miss Foyer’s face and whispered, “You love him.” Miss Foyer’s eyes got a little glassy. “Very much. You see Marissa I don’t have any children. Joey is like my baby.” Marissa noticed a tear start to trickle down Miss Foyer’s cheek. Marissa’s eyes started to tear. “Did he get lost?” Miss Foyer’s tears became more than a trickle as she said, “Joey went to heaven yesterday.”
Marissa stared intently into Miss Foyer’s eyes and began to cry as she smiled, the same as Miss Foyer was doing. Marissa’s Mom sat quietly watching. Later she was to tell Marissa that her facial expression became the same as Miss Foyer’s. Miss Foyer passed some tissues to Marissa and took a few for herself. “Why Marissa, how did you know that I was sad today?” Marissa wiped at her tears, smiled and said, “I felt your sad.” Miss Foyer gave her a surprised look, “You are a very special little girl.” When Marissa and her Mom were leaving and half way to the door Miss Foyer called Marissa’s name. When Marissa turned around Miss Foyer held the picture in her outstretched hand. “Would you like to have this picture Marissa?” Marissa walked back to the desk. “But its yours.” Miss Foyer smiled, “I have plenty more Marissa. You keep this one.”
That wasn’t the first time that Marissa had such an experience. It wasn’t only sadness that she could pick up on. There were all different kinds of feelings that she could pick up on. To her it was a normal thing and part of who she was. To others it was somewhat of an oddity. There were times when she would mention what she picked up on to people and they would be frightened or embarrassed as if they had been caught picking their nose. Most people were not like Miss Foyer and more than once Marissa heard, “What are you crazy?” Once a neighbor yelled at Marissa and some other kids for writing with chalk on the sidewalk in front of the neighbors house. When the other children walked away Marissa asked the women what she was unhappy about and the women responded with, “You are a very friggin weird kid.” Experiences helped Marissa to bury her gift. The final nail in the coffin was when a young child in the neighborhood died after falling out of a third floor window. Marissa was ten years old. The funeral home was packed with people. Though her ‘gift’ had faded the collective sadness of those present filled her and she ran out the door. The funeral home was loaded with flowers, more flowers than Marissa had ever seen in one place. She had loved the smell of flowers but after that they became the smell of intense sadness and she came to be repulsed by the smell of flowers.
By the time Marissa was twenty years old the gift had become a distant, almost forgotten memory. That changed one day when she was surfing. There was a storm on the way and the waves were high. She couldn’t resist. One moment she was on top of a large wave and the next moment she was off the board and it smashed into her head. The next thing she knew was that she felt like she was moving through a tunnel. Then she heard a once familiar voice. “Why Marissa, now you’ve gone and lost something.” Marissa spoke back, “Miss Foyer where are you?” There was a sound like a bunch of birds chirping in the background then she heard Miss Foyer’s voice again. “I’m with Joey. What you lost came from God, like everything else, like Joey, like flowers.” The chirping sound grew louder and an intense white light became all that there was. Then next thing Marissa heard was the sound of someone yelling, “She’s alive, she’s breathing.” Later she was to find out that the tether connecting her ankle to her surfboard saved her. When the board washed into shore it had pulled her along. She was dragged from the surf by two surfers one of whom was a medical student who performed CPR.
When Marissa told a doctor at the hospital of her experience he told her that the mind can play all sorts of tricks and that it sounded like a dream. Marissa did know that she could feel a small kernel of the gift. She could remember what it had been like. When the hospital chaplain checked in on her he left a small bible. It had a built in red strand cloth bookmark. Later in the day she picked it up off the nightstand and opened it to the page where the bookmark was. As her eyes fell upon the page she read what was to become one of her favorite bible passages. The apostle Paul’s 1st Corinthians 13:11&12
“When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
During the weeks that followed the accident Marissa’s longing for the return of her gift grew greater. And the more she longed the more the kernel grew. She eventually recovered it. It wasn’t quite the same as before. She had more control over it. She likened her early experiences to a child learning to walk, a bit clumsy, and not quite mastering it. Now she could. When she wanted to turn it down she called it putting her antennas down. She was quiet about it most times. She didn’t generally tell people all that she felt. It could frighten some. It wasn’t like she could read minds or know what people were thinking. It was feeling what they were feeling. This allowed her to say things to people that most others could not get away with. It was also difficult for people to successfully lie to her but she rarely confronted anyone and almost all of the time just played along. Marissa came to realize that the gift came from Love. The more she loved the more she could pick up on how others felt.
This empathic perception was not imagining how she would feel if she were in the other person’s situation. That would sympathy. It was feeling what the other person felt in their situation, not what she herself would feel in that situation. One of her favorite Rumi quotes was, “I have heard it said that there can be a window from one mind to another, but where there is no wall there is no need for fitting a window or fastening a latch.” Marissa could look in windows. Sometimes it was as if she could enter the house. What she felt a lot in others was fear. Most people had a portion of it. Some were full of it and didn’t even know. To them it was normal. Her meditation teacher had likened it to love and fear being on a see-saw. The more fear went down the higher love rose. The more fear rose the lower love went.
Two years after her near death experience Marissa traveled across the country back to her old neighborhood. She stopped by her old school and asked if Miss Foyer was still there. The secretary in the office told her that Miss Foyer had died of breast cancer about four years before. At times Marissa had wondered if Miss Foyer’s voice had been real or just something in her head. After much wondering she realized that the whole thing was in her head. It was real for her. She came to love the smell of flowers and sometimes called them the smell of God’s Love. She sometimes referred to the period of time that her gift had been buried as the dark years.
Marissa’s reminiscing was interrupted by the wet nose of a dog sniffing at her cheek. She patted his head and he sat beside her. The man who had been walking him was not far behind. “Lets go Joey. I see you got another pet.” She watched as they walked down the beach. Then she sat and listened to the sound of the waves and thought of how everything in existence existed in the largest house, the house without walls, a never ending project of the Architect present as Its Creation. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she raised her antennas full mast and once again felt That Which Is Without Words.
A few minutes later she walked towards where the car was parked, feeling grateful that the “friggin weird kid” was now a friggin weird adult. She started the car, looked through her CD case, put George Harrison’s Somewhere In England in the player, and listened to That Which I Have Lost.