At Walk by Faith’s conclusion, Eli is broken – broken by what he has seen in the war and broken by the fracture in his relationship with Maggie. But sometimes when you are at your lowest, you are the most open.
The moment for Eli occurs at his sister’s house. The first night there he cannot sleep, in part because he is having nightmares, but also because he and Maggie are sharing their bed with their five-year-old son, Bob. Just before the battle of Gettysburg, Maggie had sent Bob to the farm owned by Eli’s sister and brother-in-law. The little boy obviously had missed both parents over the weeks and months. Knowing this, Eli and Maggie let their son take comfort by sleeping with them.
But Bob, like most small children, is a busy sleeper, and it drives Eli out of the bed and downstairs to the kitchen, where he raids the pie safe and helps himself to a slice of cherry pie.
Maggie wakes up, notices her husband is missing, and goes downstairs in search of him. It is in a kitchen in the middle of the night and over pieces of pie, that the two finally speak truthfully with each other.
The excerpt below is part of their conversation.
“What’s wrong with us, Maggie?” Eli’s voice broke. “I haven’t told you things and you haven’t told me things. That’s not right. We’re husband and wife.” Frustrated, he wiped his eyes. “Damn! And why am I crying all the time these days?”
“You went through a war.”
“Yeah, well, I feel like a fool. I should be stronger.”
“Strength is not measured by how little one cries, but by the manner in which one perseveres. We have been through terrible times. We will survive, as long as we stand together and not alone.” Maggie rose, went to his side, and put her arms around him.
Resting his head against her breasts, Eli ran his hand absently over her little bump.
“You’re all right now, Eli. You made it back to me. You made it back to us all, and we’re so grateful.”
He squeezed his eyes shut. “Patrick said it was a miracle I didn’t get blown up by the shell or trampled by the Union retreat. Do you know the only thing that got damaged in that mess was my cane? Even my glasses made it safely through Bank’s Ford. That just isn’t right, Maggie. It makes no sense at all. I mean, my blasted eye-glasses survived! Why the hell wasn’t Edgar spared? Surely we loved him more than my eyeglasses. Why did he have to get his guts shot out? Where was his miracle? Where was God? Where? No damned where that’s what.”
“But maybe there was a miracle. You and Patrick were there when Edgar died. He didn’t die alone. Edgar was able to tell Lydia that he loved her one last time because you wrote the last letter for him. He was able to send his Bible and photograph to her because you were there to take them. If you hadn’t been there none of that would have happened.”
He didn’t want to believe her. He couldn’t be a miracle. Not him. “Maggie, a stupid accident put me there, not some divine plan. How could I be a miracle?”
“Because you were there for him. You were God’s grace, God’s love when Edgar needed it.”
“What about the men this didn’t happen to? Where was their miracle?”
Maggie ran a hand through his too-long hair. “That woman you mentioned, that Mrs. Rush. Could not God’s grace have flowed through her to them?”
Eli thought of how that gentle, sweet, pained woman had given him – even him – a cup of cold water. She had spoken nothing but kind words. He looked up at his wife. “I want to have faith. I really do. But it’s so hard. I don’t know how. Carson keeps telling me to hold on to the love I have for you. But I’m afraid it’ll disappear.”
Maggie sank down beside him on the bench. “Mr. Carson is right, my love. ‘Charity never faileth.’ Love never ends. It won’t disappear.” She took one of his hands and put it on her stomach. “Think on this, Eli. We thought we wouldn’t be able to have a baby, but in the midst of a war and at a time when I thought my childbearing years were through, something amazing happened. I am expecting. It may be a miracle or simply a happy accident or both. I don’t care. All I know is that this baby is God’s grace, God’s love for us.” As if it knew she was talking about it, the baby became active again. Maggie pressed her husband’s hand to the spot. “Can you feel that?”
Eli sat up straight and pushed his hand more firmly against her. “I don’t know…Maybe…I mean…it’s faint…I can hardly…Maggie, are you sure that’s not you?”
“Ohh,” he sighed, “it is our baby.” And suddenly the moment was holy because he loved this child even when it didn’t really know him or him it. And that was holy. Love was holy. His child, living in its little wet, warm, dark world had no idea how much it was loved by its father. It was loved simply because it was there and it was his. And grace washed over him and he felt himself sinking beneath its waves.
And there it is, in that last paragraph. Eli has an experience with the Eternal. But such experiences can be like a cloud. You can see it, you might be able to touch it, but it will evaporate, and often quickly.
Of course, that does not necessarily mean it isn’t real – but if you’re someone who looks for truth and clarity, like Eli (and to a degree, like me), you will find it frustrating. Perhaps you might even write off the experience as a figment of your imagination.
But it’s not a figment. The mysterious cloud isn’t done with Eli yet. Not by a long shot.