“Long Way Down”, by Jason Reynolds, is a book about a kid named Will, who’s fifteen years old and is struggling to decide whether or not to take revenge on the guy he thinks murdered his older brother, Shawn. This struggle us summed up in the new LWD musical’s tagline: “Sixty seconds, Seven Floors, Three Rules, One Gun.”
Will’s sixty second ride down to the ground floor where, presumably he’ll walk out and continue with his plan to take revenge got me and Ali ( my wonderful friend who’s helping me with the Facebook account) to thinking:
What would my elevator ride be like? Whose ghosts would I see?
As I take the elevator down it stops on the sixth floor. When the doors open, my brother Julian Edward steps into the elevator. When I see him I realize he looks as he did when he was a paratrooper in the United State’s 82nd Airborne. Full of life and vigor. When he sees me, he opens his arms wide and moves toward me, giving me a big tight hug. I wrap my arms around him, then hold him at arms length and say, “Is it really you brother?”
He nods his head yes, and I hug him again, saying, “How is this possible? Julian, how are you here?” He shrugs his shoulders, in a gesture that conveys, I don’t know.
A million questions fly through my head at once, what is going on? Where am I? How can I be seeing people who are dead? Then I remember how Julian was murdered, and that no one was ever held responsible. A group of men he was with on the day he died, threw him out of a moving van. Julian hit his head and was killed. I think of my father trying to have the county prosecutor hold someone accountable for Julian’s death, to no avail. How my my brother’s murders were a group of men known to the authorities, but because they would not implicate one another, no one was ever charge. I remember the helplessness, the frustration and sadness me and my father felt. I was on Texas death row, tried under the law-of-parties, with the testimony of a witness who’s memory was altered and enhanced through hypnosis And yet, Julian’s killers literally got away with murder.
I immediately ask him, “Julian, what happened brother? Who took your life? What was going on? Please tell me! We have to do something about your murder.”
As I say this, I see the love and compassion in his eyes and he shakes his head no. In a flash, I understand that this desire is a useless act Those men have paid for what they’ve done, the Lord has seen to it the scales have been balanced. As quickly as that red hot emotion comes upon me, it’s gone.
I ask “Julian, where have you been man?” He smiles, and lifts his eyes to the ceiling and with a finger points upward. WOW!
I say, “Heaven?” To which he laughs in delight, nodding yes emphatically.
To me, it’s unbelievable and all I can do is say, “For real?” I don’t know how long it takes to have this exchange, a few seconds or hours, I am in a space outside of time social have no idea. But it’s so, so good to see my brother Julian again. As the elevator slows to another stop, the button to floor number five and the doors begin to open.
As the elevator doors open, Julian steps to one side and there in front of me stands my father, Carter. To my amazement, he looks like he did when I was a young boy. Six foot tall, head full of black hair, no wrinkles, a big strong man full of life and vitality. I’m overjoyed to see my dad and leap towards him wrapping him in a big bear hug as tears begin to fall from my eyes. As I hold my dad it feels so, so good to be in his presence again, to see him young and strong again. Not elderly and struggling, with his health, having his mind and hair turn grey. I say to my dad,” I’ve missed you so much Dad, it’s so good to see you!” I think of how he raised me to be a man of God, and how I have brought dishonor to my parents by going astray, and for an instant I feel shame.
But immediately I know that I now honor all that Dad stood for and finally, I’m becoming the kind of man he raised me to be. A man of God.
I ask him,”Do you know how I’ve changed? That I’ve turned my life over to the Lord and I’m finally the kind of man like you were? Can you see me when I preach to my christian brothers? When I lead the singing like you once did? How I use all the gifts God gave me now, worshiping and praising Him?”
I’m desperate for him to know that I’ve at last found my way back to our Lord and Savior, no fooling around anymore. I live a righteous life, honoring my Heavenly Father and earthly father at last.
I see Dad’s chest swell with pride, and his eyes seem to light up, and I know he knows, that he sees me and approves. What a relief, what a weight off my shoulders, Dad knows that the Lord has called me and redeemed me and that I now serve Him.
I put my hands on Dad’s shoulders and ask him, “Are you in heaven too? With Julian, and Mom, with Jesus too?” He smiles and also nods yes. I think of that old church hymn, “To Canaan’s Land I’m On My Way,” its chorus saying, “No sad farewells, no tear rimmed eyes, where all is love, and the soul never dies.” So often I’ve wished that my father knew for sure that I was finally becoming the man he raised me to be and at last, I know he does.
Again, I don’t know how much time passes, it could be sixty seconds or a thousand years, but as I continue to hug my dad I see the button to floor number four light up as the elevator comes to another stop.
As the doors open I feel my father step to the side and I see the person that I loved more than anything in my life – my mother! As I realize that my mother is standing before me a flood of emotions hit me like a tidal wave. Losing her come close to taking my life, the grief was so intense. To have her here right now, its as if the darkest night instantly turns to brilliant sunlight in my life. I leap towards my beloved mother wrapping her in my arms hugging her close, feeling like if I could continue to hug her she will never go again. The tears are flowing freely now, how often have I thought of my mother and wanted to talk to her, see her and be in her company. How many times have I heard other guys talking about their mothers and being able to cherish them while they still lived, and felt that I’d do anything to have my mom back in my life again. And here she is!
In an instant I know she’s been with Dad, they’re both young again, so youthful, like they did when I was a boy. No wrinkles, no grey hair, full of life and love. I hold Mom close and say, “I love you so much! And miss you Mom. It’s been so hard to not have you in my life anymore. I’ve done as you’ve asked me though, I’ve remembered how much you loved me and truly understand that no one could ever love me like you do. Thank you mama for helping me realize that while you were still with me. I love you!”
I feel so grateful to see Mom and Dad one last time and let them know how I love them and how all they tried to teach me has come alive inside me and I’m now the man they raised me to be. I’m filled with love and appreciation for having parents that I had, who loved me unconditionally, doing their best to teach me how to live a christian life.
Then, once again, I feel the elevator slowing and the button to floor number three lights up.