The morning sun began to rise over the cities buildings, stretching its tendrils out far and wide over the landscape—a new day riding upon them bringing boundless new opportunities.

An outstretched beam fell silently upon a beautiful and colorful mosaic of stained glass, casting its reflection upon the buildings adjacent, lighting the block in a dazzling splatter of colors dancing about. Several cars flew by, breaking up the wonderful light show. Their occupants oblivious to the spectacle unfolding as they whizzed by on their way to work, school, or some obligatory obligation. Continuing on with their lives as they would every other day.

A sliver of light sliced across the screen of Robert’s phone, blinding him briefly, drawing his attention away from the photo on it. Rubbing his bleary eyes, stretching out, arching his back. Robert unleashed a yawn, scattering the squirrels nearby. He groggily scanned the area to find where the source of light was emanating from. To his astonishment, it was coming from the stained glass window of West Trinty Church.

“What the, how the-,” he whispered to himself, looking around wondering how he got there.

Baffled, he stood, his feet ached, thighs burned, knees crackling as he began to move. His body felt stiff like he’d been sitting on the bench the whole night. Pacing around trying to piece together just exactly how he wound up outside the church he and his family used to attend. Knowing for a fact that he wasn’t drunk the night before despite every reason in the world to be. No, that certainly wasn’t it; he hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol in three months.

Robert’s phone trilled. A quick look at the notification. A text message from Mandy wondering if he was ok, bringing a brief smile to his face. It was nice having someone else in his life that worried about him lately. He and Mandy had been sort of seeing each other for the last month. They didn’t want to put any labels on anything just yet, as, despite the spectral image of his wife giving him the ok to ‘be happy’ again, Robert still felt like it was too soon.

Putting the phone back in his pocket, though, Robert continued to pace. Just how had he gotten there? It was like he’d been trapped in some type of fugue state for the last ten hours. Thinking back to the last thing that he could remember.

He’d left Mandy’s apartment and was on his way home. It was late, real late now come to think about it. Seeing a bar, he pulled into the parking lot. And that was the last thing.

Smelling his clothes to reassure himself he hadn’t got blackout drunk. They didn’t reek of alcohol—safe on that account. So what the hell did he do?

A blaring car horn jostled him back to his train of thought when it hit him. His memory flashed back to the date on his phone’s screen. A tidal wave of grief overcame him, the tsunami of self-hatred kicking him straight in the gut. Staggered, Robert slumped, falling back onto the bench, knees suddenly weak.

Tears welled in his eyes, dropping his head into his hands as the cold hard realization struck him. Either purposefully for his own sake or subconsciously, he’d managed to block out the fact that today would’ve been Roland’s eleventh birthday.

At some point the night before, as time ticked over from one day to the other, it must’ve hit him then too last night. Snippets started flooding back. Remembering that he’d walked into the bar, only to feel an uneasy presence watching him. He turned around a left immediately but didn’t walk back to his truck. Instead, he just walked and continued walking around the city. But something had brought him here to his family’s church.

Looking up at the colossal Gothic Revival Architectural building of worship standing before him. Craning his head, sizing up the church in all its splendor. The high-pitched roof spires jutting into the sky, the porched façades with their ornately covered bargeboard sides—a brilliantly colored mosaic of the Archangel Michael on the front gable of the church. A ray of sunlight basked off it lighting the halo above the angel’s head. Almost as if it was a beacon, a light illuminating the way showing the church was open.

Robert himself hadn’t grown up particularly religious, but Rebecca did. So they would attend West Trinity Church together from time to time, but primarily she would attend masses without him. Though he, too, had grown to know the church’s head priest over time. Though, he hadn’t attended any masses or activities since Rebecca and Roland’s passing.

Standing, Robert felt as if he was being compelled to do so now. Like a small voice in the back of his head had put the thought in his mind.

Crossing the increasingly busying street as the morning rolled on and the lives of everyone else seemed to be moving at warp speed around him. He approached the two large oak doors, closing the iron gate behind him as he walked through the small courtyard and around the wishing well at the front. He secretly wished that the church wasn’t open. For he feared what answers he might obtain from inside. And he had a plethora of questions about what had been happening to him.

At the doors, he paused, hesitating for a moment. His hands shaking. The last time he’d stepped foot in the holy building was during his wife and son’s funeral. Memories he had no desire to revisit. Then, inhaling a deep breath, he entered.

Making his way through the narthex and under the large arched doorway into the nave. Rows upon rows of pews were in perfect alignment on either side of the aisle—the aisle which led to a massive pulpit made of marble. Taking in the serene calm, his hands stopped trembling. All he could envision was himself at the front, standing on the pulpit giving a double eulogy. Choking back the feelings of sadness and sorrow, he slowly marched on, making his way down the aisle. He wanted to speak directly to the man himself. A giant carved statue of Jesus on the cross stood behind the pulpit. He felt owed an explanation for why his whole world had been taken from him.

Getting halfway, his knees began to buckle as he passed each row. His mind placed in the pews all the people that attended their funerals—members of his family, Rebecca’s family, and friends from both sides. He stopped, placing a hand on the pew next to him for balance—more deep breaths as he cleared the next few rows wearily.

“Robert, is that you?” Whirling to find a bearded man exiting a hallway near the back of the room. “Or is it that my eyes deceive me.”

“No, father James, your eyes are not playing tricks on you this morning.” Robert retorted.

The young priest swiftly approached, hugging Robert. “It’s been a while, my son. How have you been?”

“Um, yeah, I’ve been better. I see the place hasn’t changed much.” Robert hated making small talk.

“No, it hasn’t. I’ve been trying to gather some additional resources for some new paint, but you know how that goes.” The two men shrugged. “What brings you by this early in the morning. I know it’s not to talk about painting.”

“Well.” Robert didn’t exactly know how to put it without sounding crazy. The last thing he wanted to do was get locked away by saying that he communes with his dead son and wife, and they had been leading him perfect strangers that needed his help.

“Robert,” Father James said, placing a hand on his shoulder. “I know what today is. Is that why you’ve come here?”

“Sort of. I mean, yes. I…I just don’t know how to put.”

“Come, sit.” Father James led Robert to the front pew, and the two men sat. “You can tell me anything; you know that right.” Robert nodded. “I am here to help you in any way that I can.”

“I am not sure that you can, Father,” Robert responded.

“Try me,” the priest said with a grin.

“Ok, I’ve…I’ve been having visions.” Robert finally said.

“Oh, I see. Of what?”

“Roland and Rebecca.”

“And these visions are they when you’re asleep. Like dreams. Because you know that’s common right. Especially after a loved one’s passing.”

“Not, necessarily,” he said hesitantly. “They’re more like during the day while I am wide awake.”

“Oh, I see.” The priest seemed to draw back a bit brow furrowing, exposing a look of concern across his face. Which was precisely the reason why Robert didn’t want to say what he was experiencing out loud to anyone. He hadn’t even said anything to Mandy about them either. “Do you commune with these, visions? Or do they just appear briefly then disappear?”

“More like, they, sort of, led me to doing certain things.”

The priest’s brow furrowed deeper. “Not harming yourself, right?” He said, concerned.

“No, actually the exact opposite,” Robert answered, Father James’ expression lightning a bit relieved. “Do you believe in purpose, father?” Robert asked solemnly.

“Purpose?” Father James was slightly thrown off by the sudden shift in conversation. “How so? As in does life have a purpose?”

“Sort of, but more like on individual level. Like, say you or me, or the lady that plays the organ on Sundays. Like does everyone have a purpose in life?

Father James leaned back in the pew, stroking his beard for a moment. “I suppose so,” he answered finally. “If life has a purpose, it would stand to reason that each individual person in life has one too.”

“Well then,” Robert’s voice became a little deeper, swelling with anger. “Then was it Roland and Rebecca’s purpose to die. How is that a just God? Taking from those who have done the right things. How is that right in any sense? I was happy I was fulfilling my purpose. Being a loving and caring husband and a supportive father. Giving my son something I never had. Then boom, it’s all taken from me in one day. Only to have Roland tell me I have a greater purpose. What can be greater than that?”

“God does work in mysterious ways. Wait, did you say Roland told you that you have another purpose.” Just now registered exactly what Robert said. “When did he tell you that?” He asked quizzically.

Robert paused. He didn’t mean for that last part to come out. “Well, it started a few months back. When I saved that woman and her child.”

“I read about that. Also, you helped stop a robbery at a gas station, if I recall too.”

     “I did. But going back to that first vision. I was on that bridge that night too,” his solemn voice returning breaking eye contact with Father James. “Well, to kill myself.” Confessing for the first time aloud. “But I didn’t, or have I tried since. So don’t be worried about that. But that’s when I saw the car go into the river, and I jumped in and pulled both of them out before they could drown. It was while saving the mother, I…I think I passed out from lack of oxygen. Then, there he was, my baby boy. My pride and joy that your god ripped away from me.” He continued despite seeing the affronted look on the priest’s face. “He told me that it wasn’t my time and that I had a greater purpose in life. Then I suddenly came to, with more energy coursing through my body than I ever felt before. I pulled the lady up and swam back to the river bank where I had pulled her daughter. And ever since then, I’ve been seeing him, and Rebecca came to me one night as well.”

     “What happens when you have these visions.” Father James asked, leaning forward still stroking his beard enthralled by Robert’s story.

     “Well, the second time I saw Roland, he led me to a man. He was going through a similar situation that I was when Roland got sick. It sounded like he was giving up, or more so his wife was. So I followed him to a bar, and I just talked to him and tried to convince him to not give up on his marriage and that they could fight through their issues.”

     “I see, so you helped the man by relating to him drawing from your own situation.”

     “Yeah, I guess so,” Robert answered. “Then Roland appeared again a few days later when I was called to the police station to give my statement on the incident on the bridge. I wound up following the detective on the case. He seemed to be going through family issues and not being there for his son when he needed him because of his job. I helped him realize that it’s never too late to connect to his son as long as he was trying because—”

     “That’s how you felt with Roland. Having to work two jobs.” Robert stopped, staring at the priest like how could he have known that. “Rebecca talked to me about how you were feeling.”

     “Oh.”

     “So then the gas station, Roland, led you there too?”

     “Not exactly, but I wasn’t going to stand by and let another innocent child get hurt when I could do something to protect him. Unfortunately, I couldn’t protect Roland from the dangers of this would, but I could with that family. And then lastly, Rebecca appeared to me. She gave me permission to move on and be happy in life because I had a greater purpose. Which led me to helping a woman escape an abusive relationship.”

     “Like the one you found Rebecca in when you first met.”

     “How much about our lives did she tell you?” Robert questioned. “Nevermind.” Quickly retracting the question, not wanting to get off-topic. “So they’ve both told me that I have a greater purpose in life, but what could be greater than being a loving husband and devoted father. I had a purpose, and it was stripped away from me in one night. My life no longer has meaning or purpose without Rebecca and Roland.

     “You don’t see it do you?” The priest asked.

     “See what, father?”

     “This is your purpose in life, I think. That’s what Roland has been trying to tell you. You’re helping people get through things that you’ve gone through. Your life experiences have given you the power, the opportunity to help others.”

     “So, then, let me get this straight. You’re saying that because of what I’ve gone through my whole life. Those things have given me the power to help others?”

     “Yes. We all have a past, Robert. Myself included. Before I became a priest, I lived what you would call a… checkered past.”

     “Really, how so.” It was now Robert’s turn to be intrigued.

     “Well, as a teenager, I did some admittedly stupid things. I drank, did drugs, hung out with not-so-friendly people. Until one night, we got so loaded on alcohol and drugs that we burned down a factory. There were two people inside when the fire started. Both nearly died that night. Luckily the firefighters were able to save them and us. That night I swore to change my life.”

     “What happened to you guys for setting the fire?”

     “Well, being as I wasn’t the one who started it, and the person who did, confessed. The rest of us wound up getting two hundred hours of community service each. I wound up doing mine in a church just like this. At the end of my service, I asked the priest if I could stay on and wound up going to seminary school and, well, here I am. But it’s because of my past I know how hard it can be for some youths to turn their lives around. That’s why I volunteer my time to reach out to troubled youths at schools.”

     Robert realized that his mouth was agape hearing Father James’ story, eyes bug wide. Closing his mouth. “But,” putting two and two together only seemed to infuriate Robert. “That would mean that Rebecca came into my life to give me a child, Roland, only for them to be taken away from me all so I can help these complete strangers. That doesn’t make any sense. How can that make any sense to anyone.” Robert leaped from his seat, turning to the cross of Jesus. “Why!” Screaming at the wooden effigy.

     “Robert, please calm down,” placing a hand on the irate man’s shoulder.

     Ripping away from the touch. “No! It’s not right. It’s not fair. Why do some people have to die, so someone else may get to live? So my purpose is to suffer, so I can help others around me? I don’t believe it. That can’t be what life is about. Everyone walking around just for someone else’s benefit then.”

     “You’re looking at it the wrong way, Robert. Their sacrifice was made for a greater good.”

     Whipping around on the priest. “An eight-year-old boy had to die, a brilliant and beautiful, loving woman had to die, me, I had to be put through all of that so I could ‘save’ others. No, I can’t believe in that. It doesn’t make any sense. NO!” Robert pulled away once again from Father James.

     “Robert, come back here.” Father James shouted.

     Robert raced down the aisle, tears streaming from his eyes. He couldn’t believe what he’d just heard. This couldn’t be his greater purpose. Charging through the nave, he burst out the front doors expecting to see a bustling city street. Instead, he ran into a wall of blinding light. Startled, he stopped running, unable to see where he was going. His steps hollowed and echoed in the chasm of light.

     “Hello,” he called, raising a hand to shield his eyes from the light. Squinting, a figure appeared before him.

     Roland.

     “Roland, is that you?” He called out.

     “Yes, father, it’s me.”

     Overcome with joy at seeing his son again, he knelt down, wrapping his arms around his young boy, tears still streaming from his eyes. “I don’t know how, but I am never going to let you go. Not ever again.”

     “Father,” peeling his arms away.

     “No!” Trying to hold tighter. “You weren’t given, just to be taken away. I can’t, I won’t believe that.

     “Father, we all have our purposes.”

     “What…what did you just say, Roland.” Robert pulled back, looking his baby boy in the eye.

     “We all have our purpose in life. That is what life is all about. We all live our lives as we do until we come across our purpose for being in this world. Once we have achieved our reason, we are taken to our next existence—a higher level of conciseness.”

     “So…so yours and your mother’s reason for living was to be taken away from me. It was for me to be saddled with the guilt for living while you died. To what ends then, what is my reason for living. Why do I still get to live?”

     Roland simply smiled. “Let me show you,” he said, turning around walking forward toward the bright light. “Come, father,” waving his little hand. Robert stepped further into the void after his son.

     “Whoa, where are we,” Robert said, suddenly feeling queasy as the light vanished as if he’d been transported somewhere else. Which, to his surprise, he had been. Finding himself standing in the middle of a laboratory of some sort. People walking by like he and Roland weren’t there. “Why are we here, Roland. Where is here?”

     “Come look,” Roland answered, hand tightly squeezed around Robert’s. The boy led his father to a glass window.

     On the other side of the window was a person. Robert couldn’t tell who it was. They were wearing some sort of clean suit. There were copious amounts of notebooks spewed across the table the person was sitting in front of. A large microscope that the individual was peering through.

     “Roland, where are we, and who is that?” Robert asked.

     “That is Rachel Jones,” Roland answered. Robert thought the name sounded familiar for a moment, but he couldn’t place it. “That is the girl you saved from the sinking car,” the child added.

     “Wait, what, that only happened a few months ago. How can she-“ Robert noticed a calendar on the back wall of the cleanroom. It read April 5, 2045, twenty-four years in the future.

     “Oh my gosh, I did it,” Rachel shouted from the other side of the border, running around looking for someone to hug. She burst out of the room, tearing away the mask running down the corridor.

     “What did she do?” Robert asked, watching the women squealing down the hall like it was Christmas morning.

     “Cured cancer.”

     “Which one?”

     “All of them, daddy.” The child responded.

     “How’s that possible. You can’t just simply cure all cancers with one type of treatment. Can you?”

     “You’d have to ask her. But of course, this wouldn’t have happened had it not been for you. You saved her that night on the bridge. It’s because of you, that she was able to live out her dream of becoming a doctor. And the only reason that happened was because of me and mommy.”

     “You’re telling me that the girl I pulled out of the car is her in the future curing cancer?”

     “The very same one. What you didn’t know is that they were on their way to the hospital for an experimental treatment. Her mother had breast cancer and passed away a couple years after the accident. That only spurred Rachel on even more to become a doctor to stop that from happening to any other little girl who would have to grow up without their parent.” Robert stood stunned, mouth agape. “Come, there’s more.” Roland led his father on through another bright light.

     Stepping through the void, which changed to a door, the light disappeared behind him. Lingering against the back wall of a large ballroom. Table upon tables littered the cavernous space, everyone that was seated dressed in formal attire. A cavalcade of waiters and waitresses frantically collecting plates off the tables. All disappearing behind swinging doors to Robert’s right. All the attendees’ attention had been diverted to a large stage at the head of the ballroom—a couple with interlocked arms began to ascend the stairs to the podium.

     Robert squinted at the couple. “Is that?”

     “Shhh…” Roland snapped back as the woman began to speak. The two stood in silence, listening to the couple as they spoke. It became clear as Robert listened on that they were at a fundraiser event, leukemia. “That was.”

     “Stacy and Jordan,” Robert cut in, remembering the couple. He had followed Jordan to a nearby bar at the urging of Roland. Where he proceeded to convince Jordan to not give up on his marriage and that he needed to be strong and fight for his son.

     “It’s here that they begin a charity fund for leukemia research that snowballs into something much larger, eventually raising millions of dollars for research. Millions that will go on to fund Rachel’s research that will allow her to cure cancers. All because of a small conversation in a bar between two people that at the time felt they had nothing to give to this world, that they had no purpose.” Robert watched as the couple departed the stage to a standing ovation. “Here’s my personal favorite.” The child snapped his fingers, transporting the pair again.

     With a jolt, the world around Robert changed in an instant. Standing wearily in the middle of a police station. A crowd of officers standing around cheering and applauding. Robert shifted side to side, peering through the crowd catching a glimpse of the subject to whom the parade had been for.

The gathering was for a policeman. The man edged his way through the throng of officers, behind him another man with a jacket draped over his head and his arms out in front of him cuffed.

     “Is that Detective Reese? Man, he looks younger.”

     “That is Detective Reese. Just not the one you knew. That’s his son.” Roland said.

     “Wow, he looks just like him.” Robert still watching the cheering crowd as the detective passed through with his prisoner.

     “And grew up to be just like him, thankfully.”

     “Why, thankfully,” Robert asked, turning back around facing his son.

     “He just caught the city’s, the countries most wanted serial killer. The man under the jacket will kill thirty women over two years. But, he would’ve gone on to kill hundreds if not for Detective Reese’s son.

     “And that’s all because of me, right?”

     “Right, daddy. Because you convinced Detective Reese that family means more than the job and that he needed to spend more time with his son. The two will create an unbreakable bond in the following years. Detective Reese will teach his son everything he knows, inspiring the young boy to grow up and become a detective just like his father. And it’s because of that, those teachings in the old school ways of detective work that allows the younger Reese to catch the monster.”

     Robert was starting to see the pattern emerging at this time. He was eager to see the last of his good deeds and how it turned out.

     “Ok, what about the gas station? Show me that one.” Pleading eagerly.

     Roland smiled and snapped his tiny fingers, transporting the two into a courtroom. 

     “What’s this?”

     “The lawyer there,” Roland narrated. “He’s putting the finishing touches on his closing statements.

     “What’s the case. I don’t recognize the lawyer.”

     “That’s because you haven’t met him yet,” Roland answered. “But you will. He is Miguel’s father, the child you helped at the gas station. And he will help put Mandy’s stalker ex-boyfriend away for years. So he’ll never bother you and Mandy again. Speaking of which. Let’s see how your last deed works out for you.” The child said with a smile on his face. Then, the pair found themselves in a hospital room with another snap.

     “Is that Mandy?” Asked Robert. “What’s going on? Is she ok?”

     “She is, daddy. She is giving birth to my sister.” Robert’s head snapped down to his son.

     “You’re what?”

     “My sister, I guess.” He reiterated to Robert’s growing surprise.

     “You mean, Mandy and I are going to have-“

     “A child, yes. Two, in fact.”

     A tear started to roll down Robert’s cheek, watching the event unfold as his future self burst through the door bringing with a brilliant flash of light. Robert now found himself once again alone in a bright void of nothingness with his son.

     “That is your purpose, father,” Roland said. “We all have our reasons for living. And we don’t know what they are. But once we have achieved them, we are called back to another form of existence. See, Rachel doesn’t live and cure cancer without you, the fundraising couple splits, and there is no money for the research. Without your intervention, detective Reese’s son never becomes a cop like his father, and hundreds of people are needlessly killed. Everything we do is all connected.”

     “But that would mean that you and mommy were put here just to die. So you were purposely taken from me. How does that make anything better?” Robert counted, sensing a tinge of anger rising.

     “Yes and no. Our purpose was to give you the strength needed, the ability, and the know-how to empathize with everyone you come across. You can change anyone’s day with a simple hello and being nice to them. As you’ve seen, the smallest encounters in life can have a massive ripple effect. Picture life as a calm and serene lake. You throw a rock into it, and it will ripple outwards, changing the lake’s surface. We all of our purposes in this lake of life. Some of us are meant to bring about that change like the rocks, others to give those rocks the tools to enact it. Yet, none of us know what our roles are. We just live our life until we are called home.”

     “It’s still not fair. Why you had to live just to die.” Robert said, tears now streaming down his cheeks looking upon his son.

     “Life isn’t fair; it just is. But there is so much more in store for you, father. You are a rock. You can change the lives of everyone you touch just by being you: a loving, caring, and devoted person who treats everyone as part of their family. So now go, be that rock, be that change for those who need it. Mommy and I will be waiting for you at the end.”

     Roland slid his fingers from his father’s grasp as Robert tried to hold on as tight as possible to no avail. Roland continued to slip away, fading into the light until he was gone. Robert was left standing outside the massive oak doors of the church behind him. He turned back as a beam of light reflected off the mosaic lightning the Halo around Michael’s head once more. Robert smiled, knowing that was Roland.

     “Hey, mister, you gotta couple of bucks to spare?”

     Robert turned, wiping the tears from his eyes. Before him was an elderly homeless person, his clothes were tattered, his beard a long graying matted mess, his shoes had holes in them, and his smile was crooked as two front teeth were missing. Robert stared at the man for a few seconds, none responsive, thinking about everything he’d just witnessed.

     “Excuse me, sir, do you have any change to spare.”

     “Oh, sorry uh, let me see.” Robert pulled his wallet from his back pocket, opening it up exposing nothing but black nylon. Robert never carried cash on him. “Um, I don’t seem to have anything.”

     “Ok,” the man said, hanging his head shambling away.

     “Hey, wait, mister.” The homeless man turned. “You hungry,” Robert asked, pointing to a small coffee shop across the street.

     “While yes, sir, I am.”

     Robert grinned. “Ok, breakfast is on me this time.” Robert put his arm around the old man helping across the street, glancing back over his shoulder. The halo twinkled again, Robert nodded.

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