by Levi Sweeney
Noah’s grandmother was ninety-three when she died. He was all of ten-years-old, and he was sorry that she was dead.
While his brother and sister would watch TV in the basement when his extended family visited on holidays, Noah would go and talk with his grandmother and grandfather, on both sides of his family, as well as his aunts and uncles and cousins.
His father and he had watched The Lord of the Rings movies together when they came out on DVD, and Noah really liked Gandalf. Gandalf was old and wise and kind, and Noah liked the idea of being at least the last two of those three things. Aragorn and Frodo were okay, but Noah liked Gandalf the best.
He once asked his father how old Gandalf was, and his father said that Gandalf was thousands of years old. “That’s what it says in the books,” said Noah’s dad. “The movies were based off of some books.”
So, on the logic that Gandalf was an old person, and that Gandalf was interesting, Noah decided to spend Fourth of July barbecues and Christmas parties sitting with his grandparents and talking to them.
He enjoyed talking to his grandparents, especially his grandmother, who had worked as a secretary at a police station in the 1950s. She had all sorts of interesting stories to tell, and Noah was eager to listen.
But one day, Noah’s grandmother passed away. He was devastated, though is parents were more quiet about it.
“She’s been sick for a while,” he heard one of his uncles say to his father.
“Yes,” said his father. “I’m glad that she’s at peace now.”
Noah’s grandmother was cremated, and her ashes were put in a jar which wound up on a shelf in his parents’ house. Shortly after that, his parents put Noah’s grandfather into a nursing home when Noah’s grandfather was diagnosed with dementia. Noah and his family visited him there every month for the next two years until his grandfather passed away as well, at the age of ninety-eight.
At his grandfather’s memorial service, Noah, who was now twelve years old and about to enter junior high, looked at the large picture of his grandfather mounted on the stage in the community center where the service was being held. It was a picture of his grandfather from when he was in the military during the Korean War, and he looked dashing and handsome in his military uniform. Noah wondered where he could get a hat like the one his grandfather wore.
Just then, Noah’s mother came up to him and patted him on the shoulder. “Do you like that picture?” she said.
“Yeah,” said Noah. He felt a lump in his throat. He missed his now-departed grandparents, who were his father’s parents.
“Would you like a copy of the picture?” said his mother.
“Why?” said Noah.
“So you can keep the memory of him alive!” said Noah’s mother. “You can put it on your wall, and then you’ll be able to get a good look at him every day.”
Noah nodded and felt like that made sense. But he asked his mother another question. “Where do people go when they die?” he asked. “Do they go somewhere else?”
“No,” said his mother. “They just go away. They’re gone. Nothing happens to them. They don’t exist anymore. You just have to keep the memory of them alive. Now, how about some snacks from that table over there?”
So, Noah got a copy of his grandfather’s picture and put it on the wall of his room. Noah later asked his dad for a picture of his grandmother, also from when she was younger, which he put on his bedroom wall as well. His parents smiled and nodded at this gesture, and it made Noah feel a little better.
Noah’s grandfather had died a month before Noah’s first day at junior high, and Noah was still feeling sad about his grandfather’s death. But on the first day of school, Noah cheered up a little when he made a new friend. His new friend, also newly enrolled in junior high, was named Jacob. Jacob was funny and energetic, and he really loved The Lord of the Rings books.
“The movies were okay,” he said to Noah one time, “but I like the books better.”
Jacob and Noah became best friends. But one day, while they were at a local swimming pool with Jacob’s family, Jacob dived into the water but didn’t come back up. A lifeguard dove into the water and got him out. Jacob turned out to be fine, having simply misjudged how deep the water was, resulting in him being stunned after lightly colliding with the bottom of the pool.
But Noah, who was on the other side of the pool when the incident happened, and who had been watching Jacob, was quite rattled. What if Jacob had really been hurt? What if he had died? He remembered holding his grandmother’s hand the day before she was taken to the hospital. It was the last time he’d seen her before she died. The last time he had talked to Jacob before Jacob’s scuffle with the floor of the pool, the two had been arguing about whether Gandalf or Aragorn was cooler.
So, Noah convinced Jacob to let him take a picture of him. Noah then printed the picture of Jacob out and put it on his wall next to the picture of his grandparents.
A few years went by, and Noah and Jacob remained best friends until their sophomore year of high school. During that time, Noah had told Jacob about his picture wall, and they talked about it a little. Jacob seemed to appreciate Noah’s anxiety to keep the memory of his loved ones alive, but he also seemed just a bit worried.
“Shouldn’t you have pictures of your parents and brother and sister on there?” asked Jacob once. They were both fourteen at the time.
“I hate all of those people,” Noah had said. “They’re so annoying.”
Jacob had only raised an eyebrow, after which he said, “They won’t be around forever, you know.”
“Good,” Noah had said. “I hope I forget them all one day.”
Noah felt this way chiefly because his brother wouldn’t share his Legos and his sister made fun of him for dressing up as Gandalf for Halloween. His mother by now had decided to limit the TV-watching time of him and his two siblings, which Noah felt was unfair because of all the time he had spent talking to his extended family. Didn’t he deserve a little more TV-watching time than they got?
His father, meanwhile, had lost his job as an internal auditor at a logistics company (Noah didn’t really understand what such a job involved) when Noah was fifteen. His father wound up getting a job as an assistant manager at a Best Buy. Noah would often go to bed hearing his father and mother arguing, and he couldn’t help but start thinking about what sort of jobs involved making a lot of money. His parents never seemed to have enough of it. Perhaps if such wasn’t the case for Noah, he wouldn’t be as unhappy as his parents apparently were all the time.
When Noah turned sixteen, he and Jacob began to drift apart. Jacob had been going out with a new set of friends and had been dressing in different clothes. Jacob even smoked vape, even though he was underage. It came to a head one night when Jacob was smoking vape while the two were driving in Jacob’s car on the way home from a movie, and Noah told Jacob he was worried.
“What are you, my mom?” said Jacob.
“I’m just saying,” said Noah. “That stuff’s bad for you.”
“Screw you,” said Jacob.
Soon after that, Noah and Jacob stopped spending time together. But Noah didn’t take Jacob’s picture off of his bedroom wall. He was genuinely sorry that Jacob wasn’t his friend anymore, and he still wanted to keep his memory alive.
Noah, who was the oldest child in his family, graduated from high school with an excellent GPA, and got a scholarship to a nice college. His father, who had been promoted to District Manager, decided to take the whole family on a two-week vacation to Palm Springs in the middle of July. Noah now had enough sense to realize that his father had been under a lot of stress due to losing his job during the Recession, and that it had been difficult for him to find a new job. The result was that Noah’s father and mother often found themselves arguing about things like credit card debt and student loan debt, mortgage payments and car payments. It was always about money. But now, the Recession was over, and Noah’s father had plenty of money, hence the vacation to Florida. Noah decided that when he went to college, he would study engineering. He knew that engineers made a lot of money. Maybe if he made enough money, he would be able to avoid the kind of unhappiness his father and mother had to suffer through.
Noah and his family enjoyed their vacation very much. He even managed to reconnect with his brother and sister. They played volleyball on the beach and built sandcastles together. His father had once told him that it was perfectly possible for him to become best friends with a sibling, but Noah had never believed him.
But on the day when they were about to fly home, Noah’s father got a phone call, and he didn’t look happy. When the others asked him what was wrong, Noah’s father told them that their house had been destroyed because of a gas leak. “Blown up,” said Noah’s father, shaking his head. “Gone. It’s just dust now.”
Noah wasn’t sure how to feel at first, but then he remembered. His wall of pictures. The pictures were gone. Destroyed. Burnt to cinders. Both the picture wall and all of his family’s worldly possessions had been obliterated. Noah was crushed.
Fortunately, Noah’s parents had insurance, which they were able to use to rebuild their house, which wasn’t quite-turned-to-dust. But Noah’s wall of pictures was indeed gone. He couldn’t even pay his respects at the shelf where his grandmother’s and grandfather’s ashes were. The ceramic urns and their contents had been totally destroyed in the blast.
While Noah and his family waited for their house to be rebuilt, they stayed with Noah’s aunt, his father’s sister, who lived nearby. Noah was looking forward to going to college, but the destruction of his wall of pictures left him feeling on edge. He could get new pictures and make a new wall, but what if that one got destroyed? Or what if it stayed up until he died, and then it was destroyed? Or what if nobody put up a picture of him on a similar wall when he died? He spent more than a few nights thinking about that as he tried to go to sleep.
But one day, two weeks before he was scheduled to go to college, Noah got a phone call. It was Jacob.
“Hey, Noah, how are you?” said Jacob.
“I’m fine,” said Noah. “What’s up?”
Jacob explained that he was sorry for how he had treated Noah. Shortly after they had stopped spending time together, Jacob and his family had moved to another state, where Jacob’s parents had put a stop to Jacob’s less-than-healthy behavior. In fact, they had started going to church.
“Church?” said Noah. “Aren’t churches those buildings with a T on them?”
“Yeah, that’s called a cross,” said Jacob. “A lot of churches have crosses on them because Jesus died on one.”
“’Jesus?” said Noah. “Isn’t that a swear word?”
“He’s a person!” said Jacob, his voice tinged with a jocularity that reminded Noah of happier times. “And He loves you.”
Noah was intrigued by that last line, and asked Jacob to tell him more. Jacob told him all about Jesus and how he had lived a perfect life, died, and then came back from the dead, and how doing that made it possible for everyone to go to a place called Heaven after they died.
“How does that work?” said Noah.
“I’m sorry?” said Jacob.
“How does Jesus dying cause people to go to Heaven when they die?”
Jacob was silent on the other end of the phone for a moment. “I don’t know,” he said. “But I think you could Google it.”
So, Noah did some Googling and found out a great deal of information. He talked with Jacob again, who convinced him to find something called a “Bible” and read it. Jacob agreed to send Noah a Bible, an old, thick book, and Noah agreed to read it.
When the Bible came in the mail, Noah’s hands trembled when he took it out of the package. He put it away in his room for a few days, but then put it in his carry-on bag the night before he was set to board the plane that would take him to the college he’d be attending on the East Coast. Then it was time for a trip to the airport, where he said his goodbyes to his mother, father, brother, and sister. Then, he boarded the plane, Bible-laden carry-on bag in tow.
After the plane had taken off, Noah took the Bible out of his carry-on, and flipped to the first page. It was a wall of text, some form of introduction. It said something about how the book was translated from the Hebrew and Greek. Are those languages? he thought. He’d never even heard of Hebrew.
“Whatcha’ readin’ there?”
Noah turned to the person who had just spoken to him. It was a jolly, fat, older man with a white mustache in a cowboy hat with a southern accent.
“The Bible,” said Noah. “A friend sent me this copy.”
“How about that!” said the older man. He extended a hand to Noah. “My name’s Jim, and I’m a pastor. You ever read the Bible before?”
Noah smiled weakly and shook Jim’s hand. “No, sir,” said Noah.
“Okay. Do you know what it’s about?”
“A little. Something about a guy named Jesus, but this introduction at the beginning doesn’t mention him at all.”
The pastor, Jim, nodded sagely. “The Bible’s a funny book, you know,” he said. “It’s one big story, created by packing a whole bunch of stories into one big book! But yes, it’s one big story, and that story is about Jesus.”
Jim smiled, and said, “I’d advise starting in the Book of John. If you want to learn about Jesus, start there. Ideally, you’d read the whole thing, cover-to-cover, but if you’re just getting started, John isn’t a bad place to begin.”
Jim leaned back in his chair, tipping his hat over his eyes. “If you have any questions, just ask. The Bible is a key part of my job.”
Noah nodded, and then flipped to the part of the Bible which the table of contents labeled as “John.” He came to a section marked, “The Gospel according to John.” As he began reading, he glanced at Jim again, who had dosed off. He couldn’t help but like the old fellow. Jim sort of reminded Noah of Gandalf, if Gandalf were a little more clean-cut and sounded like he was from Texas.
Noah scanned the page, and read the first few words of the section in his head. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Five hours later, Noah had read through the entirety of what Jim explained were “the Gospels.” By the time they had gotten off the plane, Jim had learned where Noah was going to college, and told him that he had a grandson who was attending the same college. “I pastor a church near there,” said Jim. “Drop in whenever you like.”
Two weeks after Noah had started classes at his college, he walked from the college to Grace Baptist Church. It was a small church, with less than fifty people, but Noah liked that. Jim was there, greeting people at the door, and he remembered Noah.
After some singing, which Noah liked, Jim went up to the podium. “Today,” said Jim, “we’re going to talk about a very obvious fact. My friends, we are all going to die. We are all going to pass away in the winds of time. Everything you know and love is eventually going to go the way of the dodo.”
But with a twinkle in his eye, Jim added, “But the good news is that you get to choose where you go after that. You get to choose if He remembers you. You get to choose if Jesus remembers you. And if Jesus remembers you, well, you’re sitting pretty!”
And so, Jim preached on the mortality of man and the possibility of eternity. And by the time he was finished, Noah was hoping that grandma and grandpa had chosen to let Jesus remember them, just as Jacob had chosen recently, and just as Noah chose right then and there in the pew of that church on that cool Sunday morning.
Levi Sweeney is studying Business Administration at Western Governors University. He lives in Seattle, Washington.