Notes: Wolfshy - As always, my appreciation and friendship. Lory, thanks for your input and reading this one over for me. The idea for this story came during church a few months ago when our minister mentioned the custom of Jubilee. I believe I got the facts right, but if any errors were made, they were purely unintentional.
I am awakened by the silence. I realize that for most people, that statement would seem a contradiction in terms. However, most people are not Sentinels.
Where there should be the underlying syncopated rhythms of breathing and heartbeat, there is the hollow echo of emptiness. Perhaps not emptiness exactly. Rather, there is no sound that is of any importance to me. There is the singing of the breeze in the branches high above our rented cabin, the crash of the surf against the beach far below, the night noises of countless tiny insects, yet to my Sentinel ears, there is only silence.
My Guide's presence is absent.
I get up and slide into my favorite soft jeans, a T-shirt, and comfortable shoes, all the while combing the surrounding woods with my senses, searching for the missing sounds. Finding what I want to hear, I slip into the night.
I glance up, allowing my body to adapt to the abrupt temperature change from the cabin's warmth to the coolness of the night air. I should have dressed more warmly, I realize now, but I am unwilling to take the time to return to the cabin to change. The pinpricks of a billion stars pierce the ebony sky above, and the pearly glow of moonlight bathes the earth in its shimmering light. I pause, listening, filtering out the extraneous, until only those two sounds, vital to my own sanity, remain. I turn toward that living beacon and pad silently away from the cabin.
I find him in the clearing beside the waterfall and the small pond it feeds. The crash of the cascade drowns out the other sounds of the night, leaving only its own mighty voice as a thundering countermelody to the music of my Guide's lifesong.
There is absolutely no question in the voice. His curly head never turns toward me, and nothing in his posture changes at all; only the softly spoken single syllable acknowledges my presence. I am the Sentinel, yet he senses my presence. Perhaps one day I will cease to be surprised by Sandburg, yet, somehow, I doubt it.
I slip down to the ground beside him. "You developing Sentinel hearing now, too, Chief?" I ask, trying to keep my voice light. "How'd you know it was me?"
He looks up, his expression calm, his blue eyes steeped in that affectionate light which never fails to capture my heart. "I didn't have to be a Sentinel to figure that you'd be out to find me." He elbows me gently in the side. "Face it, man, I know you too well. Not to mention the fact that you're pretty predictable."
As predictable as he is unpredictable. That's me. I'm well aware that my practiced grimace fails to obscure the light of pleasure which warms my eyes. After a lifetime of loneliness, it is deeply satisfying to have someone understand me so well. Perhaps a bit disconcerting at times, but the rewards far exceed any minor irritations such familiarity brings. Of course, I try not to admit these things to Sandburg. No sense in letting him get even more cocky than he already is. But he knows. He definitely knows.
"So, what are you doing out here?" I ask quietly, matching the peacefulness of our surroundings with my tone. Somehow, it seems almost sacrilegious to disturb the serenity of nature with the cacophony of the human voice.
Blair's response is equally hushed. "I'm here for Jubilee."
I stare at my partner, searching for some clue that I can use to decipher this latest Sandburg mystery. Jubilee? Is that supposed to make sense to me? Have I missed something? Trying to keep up with my partner and his quicksilver mind is a challenging task at best, and all too often, I lag behind. How far, I don't even want to consider.
Giving up at last, I sigh and admit my confusion. "Sandburg, I'm not following you here."
Blair looks at me with a patient smile, the same one I've seen him wear so many times. It must be frustrating, to possess his brilliant, quirky mind, yet be teamed with a Sentinel who is definitely more grounded in the practical side of life. Yet, it doesn't seem to frustrate Sandburg. Or, at least he hides it well. I bring my attention back to his quiet words.
"The Year of Jubilee. It was an ancient Hebrew custom. My grandfather told me about it once, and somehow, I've never forgotten it. Maybe because it seemed such a simple, beautiful concept."
I catch the touch of wistfulness in his voice, an undeniable trace of longing tingeing his soft words. "Go on," I encourage. One thing I've learned about Sandburg. No matter how strange his stories may sound, if you listen long enough, you'll learn something.
Often, something useful.
Sometimes, something priceless.
So, I make myself comfortable and listen to my teacher.
"See, every fifty years, the Jewish people celebrated a Year of Jubilee. During that twelve months, all debts were canceled, all grudges forgiven, all hard feelings erased. Slaves were set free to begin a new life." Blair takes a deep breath, letting it out slowly. The sound blends with the roar of the falls, then drifts away on the night breeze. "Doesn't that sound wonderful, Jim? A new life... A clean slate -- no heavy feelings of guilt, no lingering bitterness, no more regrets..."
I silently watch the young man beside me, the play of silvery moonlight across his face, and the slight breeze gently billowing his curls. "Blair? What regrets? What bitterness, do you feel?" Even as I ask, my heart dreads the answer.
His soft chuckle surprises me. "C'mon, Jim! After the year we've had? Don't worry though, it doesn't all have to do with you, man. Some stuff goes way back."
Doesn't all have to do with you...My heart lurches at the painful memories those words invoke.
"What does this Jublilee have to do with tonight, Chief?"
Blair shrugs, a casual gesture which contrasts with his next words. "My life feels like a snowball rolling downhill, Jim. Y'know? I mean, it started out small and uncomplicated. But recently... I don't know, it's like it's been picking up speed, growing bigger and bigger, getting faster and faster, 'til I don't know what I'm feeling sometimes. I..." He stops, picking up a twig and twirling it between agile fingers. "I just need to let go of some stuff, Jim. I've tried, man, I've really tried, but I still have this heaviness, this weight, inside, like a huge boulder, and I really don't want to have it there any more." The twig snaps, cracking loudly in the air, and Blair stops, breathing heavily.
"And you're planning to...?"
He gestures at a small pile of objects in front of us. "A ceremony. For my own Jubilee. I'm not really sure exactly how the Hebrews did it, so I kinda designed my own plan. Using several different cultures as references, of course."
"Of course," I agree, amused. One of Sandburg's rituals. This I can understand. I move to rise, "I guess I should leave and let you get on with it. Just so I know you're all right..."
A gentle, firm hand on my arm restrains me. Exactly what I was afraid of.
"Jubilee involved the entire culture, Jim. It wasn't a private thing; it was inclusive...for everyone. You're welcome to stay and join me." Then, he softly adds, "If there are any boulders of your own you'd like to get rid of."
I settle back down beside Blair and fight the automatic reflex to close myself off, to keep whatever feelings I have about my past to myself. Private. After all, isn't that how I've lived practically my entire life? Closed off? Apart from others? Emotionally, if not physically?
Yes, I protected my heart within the carefully constructed walls I had erected around it. Until Sandburg, that is. Until this energetic and compassionate young man reawakened within me the ability to trust. The ability to love.
I look into Sandburg's eyes, now filled with hope as he so patiently waits. Truth washes over me in a wave, saturating me with its power. For whatever reason, Blair wants me to be a part of this. Needs me to be a part of it. He has been waiting for me to come and join him, waiting for the time when we could participate in this ceremony of his own creation together. And I, Jim Ellison, tough guy, hard edged cop and no nonsense Army Ranger, don't have the heart to crush that light of hope shining as brightly as the stars I see reflected in Sandburg's clear blue eyes.
The moon disappears behind a cloud, and the night instantly grows darker. Blair gazes upward, watching the shadowy images playing out above us as the cloud slowly passes in front of the moon. I look at my Guide and smile. After all he's done for me, after all the pain I've inflicted upon him, I owe him this. I owe him so much more. "Everyone has a few boulders weighing them down, Chief. Tell me what we have to do." I am rewarded by a blinding smile that illuminates the darkness in a way no mere heavenly body can ever do, and my heart rejoices.
" Chief, how did I let you talk me into this?" I complain, shivering as I step into the cold, clear water of the small waterfall fed pond. Completely naked, I wade deeper into the water. Even a Sentinel's inner thermostat can only be turned down so far.
A few steps behind me, I hear Sandburg chuckle. "Cleansing and purification rituals are an important part of most ceremonies, Jim. Like I told you, wearing clothes would dilute the power of the ritual. Don't worry, it won't last long. Come on, tough guy, if I can take it, so can you." The chattering of his teeth beats a staccato rhythm between sentences, belying the forced bravado of his words.
We stop beneath the waterfall. "So," I ask him, almost afraid to hear the answer. "What do we do now?"
"Let the water wash you clean. Be quiet and feel the power around us and within us. Prepare yourself internally for what is to come."
The moon emerges from beneath its coverlet of clouds, illuminating a scene which might have been played out countless times over countless centuries. Sentinel and Guide. Alone in the darkness with only the eyes of heaven watching. Side by side, faces upturned into the liquid power rushing down, washing away the impurities of our everyday lives. Cleansing our bodies in preparation for the cleansing of our souls.
With every passing moment, I feel more and more alive. It's strange, something completely unexpected. As the cold water beats down on my bare skin, I slowly release my senses until they are completely opened to their maximum capabilities. Each minute droplet of clear mountain water, each gentle gust of evening air, every whiff of foresty fragrance permeates my body with a blinding, breathtaking beauty. I feel the coolness of the night air caress my naked skin with the softest touch, even less than the smoothness of silk. The heat from Blair's body tickles my hypersensitive skin, in warm contrast to the chill of the night and the water.
This is something I have rarely experienced. The complete release of my powers in a safe, sensory rich environment with my Guide close beside me. No danger. No crime to solve. No city sounds and smells and sights to distract me. Merely the experience of absorbing nature in all its rich, awe inspiring glory.
I breathe deeply, inhaling the fragrance of the woods. The pungent scent of the pines, the sweetness of the berries of the forest, the wild, untamed odors of countless animals which roam unseen through the night, and lying as always like a reassuring mantra beneath it all, the familiar smells of Sandburg. His herbal shampoo, the lingering scent of his pepperminty shaving cream, the tangy touch of citrus from the juice he'd had earlier in the evening. And, of course, the unique scent that speaks to me of no one else on earth except my Guide. It seems I've known it forever, that it was imbedded deeply within my sensory memory long before I ever met the man whose life was destined to become so intricately linked with mine. I am certain that in a room of thousands of human beings, I could locate Blair Sandburg instantly with only my sense of smell. Like a wild creature which would always recognize his own by scent, the Sentinel will always know the Guide.
And I am his Sentinel, and he is my Guide.
I listen to the nuances of night in the forest and to the majestic symphony of the sea beyond. I hear the pounding of the waves, the bubbles forming, rising, then popping as water meets shore in its crushing, rolling collision course. I hear the shifting and grating of individual grains of sand as they are pummeled by the unrelenting surf. I hear the patter of each solitary drop which tumbles from the cliff above us into the pond far below, and I feel the water swirl around me, tickling and teasing each individual hair on my bare legs. The scratching of tiny insects as they scramble through the leaves and the grasses and on the trees is perfectly clear to me. I hear every life-giving breath Blair takes and each strong, sure beat of his heart. With my senses fully open, the sounds invade my body, swirling about me like a leaf on the wind, reverberating in every bone, through every sinew and every tissue until they are as much a part of me as my own heartbeat.
This is what it means to be a Sentinel.
The realization slams into me with the force of a bullet, almost stealing my breath away with its intensity. For so long, the answer has eluded me, always floating just beyond my grasp, tantalizing me in its illusiveness. Now, here in this isolated place, surrounded by the infinite fullness of nature and the closeness of my Guide, the answer has drifted right into my hands.
Totally without warning.
This is why I have been given my abilities. My gifts. Catching the bad guys, protecting the tribe... I realize suddenly that those are only the extra benefits, the side effects, of this. Valuable, rewarding side effects, to be sure, but they are not the primary elements of who I am. Of what I am. To be a sentinel is to be one with the earth, with the life and the beauty, with the sights and the smells and the sounds which make up the world. Which make up the universe.
To be a sentinel is to be a sensory sponge, soaking up all the wonderful gifts the earth can offer. It's not a burden. Not only that, it occurs to me, it can be fun.
I laugh aloud at the magnitude of this realization, knowing instinctively that Sandburg will neither question nor ridicule my reaction. In fact, when I open my eyes at last to gaze upon him, I doubt that Blair is even aware of my joy.
Sandburg stands perfectly still, silent as a shadow, under the cascading waterfall. His head bowed, his long hair, lank and wet, hanging down, almost obscuring his face. The cold water pours over him like a purifying tide, carrying with it everything my young Guide wants to release to its cleansing power. His blue eyes are closed and his lips slightly parted, as if to drink in the healing liquid as it runs down his eyes and over his cheeks and mouth.
The vivid blue eyes open then, focusing immediately on me, as if he has known all along that I am watching him. The silent understanding between us is immediate. Thoughts and feelings travel instantaneously, faster than the speed of light, yet they are comprehended clearly, as though volumes of well planned words had been spoken aloud.
Perhaps even more clearly. Some emotions run so deep they can only be expressed through the bonds connecting two kindred souls. Souls such as ours.
As one, we step from the water onto dry land.
Before I sought him out, Sandburg had already laid a fire, and it isn't long before its crackling flames are warming our cold bodies. Bundled in warm, fleecy sweats, we sit close together on a thick plaid blanket next to the fire's warmth.
I absently finger the sleeve of my sweatshirt. "You counted on my being here, on my going through this with you, didn't you? Even brought a change of clothes."
"I hoped, Jim," the soft answer slips through the night. "I hoped."
Our eyes hold for a long moment of understanding before I lay my hand over Blair's and squeeze gently. "I'm here, Chief. What's next?"
Blair nods and flashes me a grateful smile. He reaches into the backpack beside him and draws out several sticks of incense. As he digs a small pit in the earth with his hands, he quietly speaks. "Many cultures believe in the cleansing and empowering nature of scent." He holds a lighted match to the incense, and a thin ribbon of smoke slowly rises skyward. His hands lightly fan the smoldering sticks until the smoke trail grows stronger. "This is sage. Naomi always believed it was the best choice for creating positive energy." He takes a long deep breath, inhaling the earthy aroma.
I smile tolerantly. After years living in close quarters with Blair Sandburg, I know more about candles, herbs, and incense than I'd ever imagined possible. Blair knows that I am familiar with sage and its traditional benefits. The seriousness of Sandburg's expression and the reverent tone of his voice speaks volumes. At this moment, Blair is more than my roommate, partner, and closest friend. He is anthropologist, Shaman, teacher, seeker, and Guide, all in one intently focused package. This is ritual, and if Blair respects and cherishes anything in his life almost as much as he does me, it is tradition combined with ritual.
Sandburg reaches once more into his backpack, drawing out a bottle of wine and two glasses, the cheap kind available at any import store. I wait silently while he pours each of us a glass and hands one to me. Blair raises his glass before the fire, studying the flames through the rich ruby red of the wine.
"Throughout history, my ancestors, the Jewish people, poured wine to commemorate special occasions. The fruit of the earth, it has been a part of celebrations and ceremonies since recorded time began." Blair turns toward me, raising his glass in a salute. "We drink this wine in honor of those who went before us... of those who walk beside us... and of those who will follow in our path." He touches his glass to mine, and slowly, we sip the fruity liquid.
Blair raises his glass a second time. "Holding on to pain and regret is simple. It is in releasing it that true courage can be revealed." His eyes meet mine and hold. "To letting go of the pain of the past... to remembering the joys which lie behind us... to looking ahead toward the hopes of the future."
Once the wine consumed, Blair tosses his glass into the fire and waits until my glass also shatters against the burning logs.
The glow of the dancing flames lends a titian hue to his long curls as Blair reaches forward to pick out two envelopes from his back pack. He hands one to me with a guilty smile. "All right, I did figure you'd be here. This one's for you."
Inside the envelope are slips of blank paper, along with a pen. He's lost me once again. "I give, Chief. What's the paper for?"
"To serve as the highway to release, Jim. See, I've tried to bring in the ancient concept of the three elements here -- water, fire, and air. First, we cleansed ourselves through the water. Writing down problems and feelings often serves as a release. We get those 'boulders' of ours down on paper. Then, we purge them through the next element. Fire. Finally, they're released from our lives forever by way of the final element, the air." He removes one of the slips of paper from his envelope. "Watch. I'll go first. You can join in, or not. Whatever feels right to you. You don't have to tell me what you write down. Just so the process is healing for you. That's all that matters."
Using his backpack as a makeshift desk, Sandburg begins to write. When he is done, he holds the paper up in front of him, so that the flames light the inscription. In a soft voice, he begins to read.
"I've never known who my father is. When I was a kid, it never seemed important. Naomi made life so interesting, I didn't have time to miss him. Later, as an adult, some small part of me deep inside wondered who he was and where he was and if there was anything of him in me. Now, I realize it doesn't really matter at all. Who I am has nothing to do with him. I'm a mixture of my own uniqueness combined with the influence of my mother and the people I've known and loved. Tonight, I release the last lingering doubts about my father, the final modicum of curiosity about any influence he might have had on who I have become. Whoever he is, where ever he is, I wish him peace. And I let him go."
Without looking at me, Blair crumbles the paper into a loose ball and tosses it into the flames. As he watches it burn, a small smile touches his lips.
As he read his note aloud, I could feel my heart tightening in pain as my own memories, so long ignored and so deeply submerged, surfaced at last. Now, his own pain released, he waits patiently. I know at least part of him expects me to ridicule this, to refuse to have any part of such touchy-feely sentimentality. But, my own need to unburden my heart wins out, and I begin to write.
As my pen stops, he whispers, "You don't have to read it, remember."
I keep my eyes on the words in front of me. "I know," I say softly. "Thanks."
Only blue marks scattered across a white canvas of paper. How can such simple lines and circles possess such power? But, they do. I begin to read, and, with each syllable, I feel a lifetime of guilt and pain begin to fade, just as the stars fade with the first light of dawn. Once more, Blair Sandburg has created within me new light, has given to me a new beginning.
"My mother left me when I was a child. That's never been easy for me to say. When I was growing up, I always wondered what I did wrong, what was so terrible about me that would make my own mother desert me."
I steal a glance at Sandburg. His eyes are wet, and his compassion reaches to me like a lifeline, giving me the courage to continue because I know he'll be there to catch me if I stumble and fall. "As an adult, I've tried to bury the pain, pretend it never happened, that it didn't matter. But it did. She did leave, and in the leaving, nearly destroyed my heart. Tonight, I forgive her. I don't know her reasons, but I know in my heart that I was not one of them. I hope that she has found what she was looking for."
I stare for a moment longer at the words I have written, amazed at the healing already taking place inside me. Then I hold the paper to the flames until it catches, and I drop it into the fire. In a moment, it is gone.
So is the pain. I look at Blair and smile. "Thank you," I whisper. Instinctively, he knows that no words are necessary and returns my smile in full. If, in her leaving, my mother nearly destroyed my heart, then Sandburg, in his enduring steadfastness, has redeemed it.
Once again, it is his turn. This time, his message is shorter. When he finishes, he turns to watch my face as he reads, his voice tremulous with emotion.
"In my entire life, I have only one real regret. Jim, I should have told you about finding another sentinel, about Alex. I forgot who and what I was. I lost sight of my role in life, to be your guide, not Alex's, not anyone else's. Yours. I am sorry for that, and tonight, I want to release that regret and that guilt. I need to let it go. Forever."
Leaning forward, he holds out the paper until its edges began to smolder. As the flames catch, he gently drops it into the fire, watching as it turns orange, crinkles, and shrinks to black ashes. His eyes follow the smoke as it climbs skyward. I can almost see the heaviness disappear from his heart, the weight on his shoulders grow lighter.
I drop my eyes down to stare at the pine needles which carpet the forest floor. I know Sandburg is waiting, but I also know that he will not rush my decision. He will respect my need for time, for silence, to decide if there is more for me to release on this magical night. I can always count on him to understand me, and I know that tonight he will not ask me for more than I am ready to give.
Once more, I hear the scratch of pen on paper. I close my eyes, waiting to find out if Blair will choose to share this message with me as well.
After a few moments, his soft voice fills the air, but he isn't reading, yet. These words come unrehearsed and from the heart. "It's hard to admit when you're angry at the most important person in your life. The most important person in your heart. When Naomi released my dissertation, I was furious at her, but we talked it out. She apologized, and I forgave her."
He opens the folded paper with its newly written words. "Jim, I forgave my mother, but I don't think I've ever completely forgiven you. I've been angry at you. For pushing me away, for being attracted to the woman who nearly killed me, for accusing me of betraying you for money and fame. Maybe you couldn't even tell, because we've gotten past most of that, and I thank you for your part in the healing. But still, I've carried around some residual hurt, some remnants of that anger. I need to let it go. Tonight. It's all over. We've moved on. It's time to let it go." His blue eyes meet mine, as deep and as midnight blue as the night sky above. "Jim, I forgive you completely for not trusting me, for the hurtful things you said. I release my anger. It is no longer in my heart."
This time, as the purifying smoke rises, I reach out and squeeze Blair's arm. Turning his head, Sandburg smiles at me. He whispers, "It is truly over, my brother."
In my heart, I feel the truth echoing. Blair is right. It is over. It is time for Jubilee to give us both a new beginning. I reach for paper and pen.
It is difficult, writing the words I have never been able to speak, that I've barely been strong enough to think, even within the privacy of my own mind. Only a few short sentences, but so very hard to write.
When I finish, Blair whispers, "You don't have to read it aloud, Jim. Just the writing alone should be enough."
I take his shoulders and gently turn him to face me. Trustingly, he yields without question, his soft, night blue eyes meeting mine. "Blair, you know me. You know how hard certain things are for me to admit, even to myself. But, you were right. This is something we need to do. Both of us. Together. I'm going to try this thing, this ritual, because I need to heal. Completely. I need to be whole again. I need us to be whole again. Not this shattered, broken thing we've become."
Dropping my hands, already missing the warmth of him, I begin to read. "I thought I knew what guilt felt like. Guilt for not being able to keep my own mother from leaving me. Guilt for never being good enough to please my father."
I pause, staring up at the twinkling stars peering through the branches above. With a deep sigh, I force myself to continue. "I thought I knew the sting of guilt. Guilt over a failed marriage, the death of good men under my command. I was wrong. I didn't know the meaning of real, gut wrenching guilt. Those feelings were nothing compared to what I have carried in my heart this last eighteen months."
Part of me wants to look at Sandburg, to gauge his reaction to my words. Coward that I am, I keep my eyes on the paper in my hands.
"Blair, I am sorry. Sorry I turned you away when I needed you most. When you needed me most. Sorry I doubted your loyalty, not once, but again and again. Sorry that I let mere words on paper come between us -- that I let any other living human being come between us. Sorry that I hurt you. You never deserved that, Chief. I need to let this guilt go. You have forgiven me, and tonight, you've released the last of your anger. I've forgiven my mother, but that was easy compared to what I must do now. I must forgive myself. I give up the guilt and the pain that I've held onto so long. I let it all go tonight."
My hands tremble as paper touches flame. Tears blur my vision, but somehow, it is right that they are there, and I do not wipe them away. The heat of the fire sears the nerves in my fingers and hands, though no actual flame brushes my skin. It is a healing heat, the flame of forgiveness, which carries the ashes of my confession skyward. I hold my hand there, gripping the paper as long as I am able, before releasing it to turn to cinders.
Then it happens, as Blair promised it would. Not all at once, but gradually, like a heaviness slowly melting away. As a butterfly frees itself from the restraints of its cocoon, I feel my heart expand as it is released from the guilt I have carried for an eternity.
As my heart rejoices, the tears come. Whether they are tears of joy, surrender, relief, or gratitude, I do not know and do not care. The emotions are real, and that is all that matters.
Without a word, he pulls me down to lie on the ground beside him, and with a soft sigh, rests his head on my shoulder. I wrap one arm around Blair to hold him tight against my side, reveling in the closeness and warmth he brings, not only to my body, but to my heart. To my soul.
Time is meaningless. In the entire universe, nothing exists beyond this frozen moment in time. We lie in silence surrounded by the sounds of the night, gazing skyward through the trees at the slow dance of the stars high above. The pungent smoke from the fire mixes with the faint scent of the sea, and the distant crash of the waves beats a steady accompaniment to the sounds of the night.
A shooting star streaks across the heavens, a brilliant, blazing blur of motion in the stillness of the ebony sky. Turning his head where he rests on my shoulder, Blair looks up at me, his indigo eyes luminescent in the moonlight and firelight.
"Make a wish," he whispers, then closes his eyes.
I do as he asks.
In the midst of the forest, surrounded by the solitude of the night, the fervent prayers of Sentinel and Guide soar skyward, perhaps to touch the very heart of the universe. If that be so, if the power which created the beauty which I have touched tonight hears those wishes, those prayers, then the peace we have found at last will never end. Just as our friendship will never end, be it in this world or beyond.
As dawn approaches, we sleep at last, thankful for each other and for this night of Jubilee.
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