The Invitation

Mary,

It was simply a delight to receive your correspondence. It has been much too long! It would seem you are doing well, if in fact your letter is an accurate assessment of your circumstances. Mind you, that is not a judgment on my part. I merely point out how disconnected from my life you have been these past few years. We are separated by an ocean, literally and figuratively. Still, it really has been too long.

As to the primary purpose of your letter, I am afraid my response to the invitation, though kindly offered, is entirely dependent on what your father will decide to do. Plainly stated, if your father is attending the festivities, I will be unable to make it. You know how he is. I cannot and will not subject myself to his endless and pointless palaver. The man has never learned the wisdom and prudence of an unexpressed thought.

Again, I am very happy to have received your letter and to read about your recent successes, both in your studies as well as in your personal life. Cherish these times of gladness. They do not last.

Sincerely,
Mother


Mary,

Thank you for the letter and the advice. While I agree my perspective does lean ever so slightly to the bleak, I would offer this gentle reminder: You are young, innocent, and have lived a life mostly devoid of pain or any real struggle. Until you have suffered loss as I, please refrain from sharing your wisdom about my psychological well-being. I am fine. I am not happy, but happiness is reserved for fools or the naïve. I am neither.

With that said, I do appreciate your concern. You have always been a kind girl. Please do not allow the bitter ramblings of a woman who has seen too much sorrow to change who you are at your very pith. You are the best of me and I treasure your lovely heart and sanguine spirit.

One final note. I saw Mrs. Penndrick last week. I am sure you remember her. She was ancient when you still lived with me. She is older still, which boggles the mind. Honestly, I cannot fathom how that woman has not blown away with the slightest gust of wind! She sends her greetings and well wishes. Of course, she felt the need to interject a few unnecessary bits of advice. She said, and I quote, that I “look a bit too enamored with my lipstick” and that the color I chose “has shades of the Proverbs 7 woman” whatever the devil that is supposed to mean. As is her way, she blended the sugar with the medicine and told me, “You are a remarkably beautiful woman, dear. Don’t go covering it up with all that paint and nonsense you call fashion.” I thanked her and made my escape as quickly as possible. What an unspeakably odd old bird!

I eagerly await your response.
Mother

Postscript: I am making arrangements to come visit for your graduation. Please let me know if your father will be there. You know where I stand in this regard.


Mary,

I am truly sorry that your father has decided to force my hand. I’ve made my decision and shan’t be dissuaded. Any attempt to change my mind will be futile and stillborn. I respectfully ask you to let the matter die. Your father, a man devoid of charity and grace, has quite clearly chosen to spite me. His role in your life has been to interfere as infrequently as possible. He only deigns to make an appearance when he can relish in your successes in some twisted way. It is odious and I will not be party to it. Furthermore, if I am being honest, it hurts me deeply that you felt it wise and prudent to invite him. I cannot fathom why you would do this knowing how he has wounded me and how his presence would be a constant reminder of his many slings and arrows at my expense. You have chosen some pious version of forgiveness for him, yet that forgiveness comes at a cost. It is a very dagger to my heart.

Mother


Dear Mary,

I fear I wrote my last letter in a moment of absolute weakness. My tone was inexcusable. My anger should not have been aimed in your direction. You have not wronged me. My feelings of betrayal and grief are not a burden you should ever have to bear, though I am sure they have rested on your shoulders far too often. I am sorry for that as well. Please forgive me!

My current circumstances have of course played a role in my reaction to your news. I have been away from “home” for many years. I do not regret moving to America after events in England made staying there quite impossible. (Remind me to share with you some of my early visits here when next we see one another. I don’t believe I’ve ever told you those stories.) I love the people, the color, and the rhythms of my adopted country; but, in recent years, I have felt the weight of loneliness in a manner and force hitherto unseen. However, I hasten to add, being home, as it were, would do little to lessen these feelings. This is my home and has been for most of my life. England is a distant memory at this point. It is a dream of something better. Perhaps something I once had and loved but something I will never regain.

In other news, Mrs. Penndrick’s only daughter died recently. Yes, the old gal had a daughter old enough to die of natural causes. Can you believe it? I attended the funeral, which I felt to be the right and proper thing to do. Mrs. Penndrick was stoic and as sharp-edged as usual. (That woman does not have the least bit of softness about her!) When I offered my condolences, she made the most peculiar comment. She looked at me with those piercing green eyes of hers and said, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” I did not know how to respond at the time so I muddled my way through goodbyes and good lucks and all that. Yet, those words have been a nuisance and bother all week. The last enemy to be destroyed is death? That is all well and good until you realize that death is not destroyed. Death wins every time. Or so it seems to me.

So sorry to end on such a melancholy note. It has ever been my way to see the negative in things. My dear brother used to accuse me of being too sensible and realistic. I am afraid he was right then and his words still hold true today. I see the world as it is: a sad, difficult, painful place, though one where some modicum of contentment can be found. You seem to have found your way quite admirably. As I have written before, be grateful. These moments of joy and light are fickle and fleeting things. Don’t take them for granted.

Love,
Mother


Dear Mary,

I am constantly amazed at your ability to say the very things I need to read. If I have not told you this before, I tell it to you now: You are a gifted writer. You have a way with words that is both beautiful and pointed. I am thrilled you will be able to use those gifts in your professional endeavors.

More to the point, your recent letter was just what my spirit longed to hear. Your words have become a boon to my spirt, a comfort to my soul, and a peace amidst the chaos in my heart. As you well know, I have long been removed from any religious entanglement – whether in practice or in belief. I fear that will ever be true of me, due to a lifetime of pain, regrets, and unfathomable loss. Yet, I find myself drawn to your words of hope in a way I have not felt since my childhood. If nothing else comes of all this, at least I will have that. So, once again, thank you.

With love,
Mother


Dear Mary,

I need to tell you something, yet I lack the courage and the ability to tell it.

Perhaps this is a conversation best suited to the telephone, even though I have never understood the fascination with those machines. I recognize their purpose and their efficiency, but I find them to be such pitiful facsimiles of actual conversation. (I vastly prefer to see the person with whom I am speaking.) In addition, there is the matter of cost that one must consider. Those thieves at the phone company do love to pry every penny from our hands for what they call “long distance.” No, I do not believe a ring will serve my purposes in this matter.

I recently attended church with Mrs. Penndrick. Since the death of her daughter, she has decided to do all she can to informally adopt me into her family. I cannot say it is entirely unwelcome on my part. She may be hard as nails but she is honest, forthright, and a constant source of amusement to me. She had spent the better part of the last month haranguing me to accompany her to service. I finally waved the white flag of surrender and joined her this past Sunday. All in all, it was pleasant, though not at all what I remember from church back in England. These Yanks are more lively and much less formal in their traditions than what I prefer.

The “sermon” was about Job and his varied trials and tribulations. For someone who has experienced something very near to what Job did, it was a difficult lesson to hear. I was surprised the speaker did not minimize the loss or the questions. He gave no easy answers, if he gave any at all, beyond “God is God. We are man.” I am not sure what comfort that provides when one has lost their entire family at a young age, but who am I to question God. Or so it would seem according to Job and Father Weston. In the end, the sermon was more irritating than inspiring.

Yet, that is not the impetus to my letter or my confusion. After mass, I drove Mrs. Penndrick home and in a moment of inspiration, decided to spend the afternoon in the park. (Do you remember the little park near the house? The one near Norris Drive?) I found a quiet place to sit and think right next to the pond. From this point forward, I am unsure if I fell asleep or if I was fully awake. To put it plainly: I saw someone. Someone I have not seen in years. Not since I was a girl living in England. I saw him in the trees across the pond. He sat there, staring at me. I closed my eyes and shook my head, convinced I was imaging things. When I opened my eyes, he was gone.

I realize this probably sounds like a load of rubbish to you. Maybe one day I will share more and it will make more sense. Suffice it to say, who I saw last week is someone I’ve long believed to a figment of my imagination; a coping mechanism I developed when I lost my family. I am utterly perplexed as to why I would fall into this cycle again after all these years.

I hope this will not be a worry to you. I am fine. I do believe I am in the process of growth and change and perhaps that is all this is. I am not a young woman anymore. I am not old either, but I have lost the feminine allure that was essential to my self-understanding. I am gradually learning to become someone new. Consequently, while I may not be able to turn heads as I once did, perhaps I will find peace and contentment less elusive than in the past.

Love,
Mother


Dear Mary,

Let us make a pact. We will not speak again of my previous letter. I regretted writing those words the moment the letter went out with the post. It was foolish of me to involve you in my troubles, if troubles they were. I have seen no more strange or hard-to-explain things since that afternoon and I have decided to put the embarrassing matter behind me. I am sure it was due to an unfortunate mixture of stress, aging, and Biblical pontification. My stress has lessened significantly, I am at peace with aging (I had a young construction worker whistle at me just the other day, so perhaps I am not so far beyond my glory days as I thought!), and I cannot imagine the need or desire to attend church in the foreseeable future.

If will indulge your mother a bit, next time you write, please tell me more about your life. How goes your career? Are there any potential suitors clamoring for your attention? Have you kept up your swimming? I do ever so miss our time together in the water. I wager I could still give you a go in a race! Give me all the dirty details, if you can. I am overwhelmed with the need to know more about you. It pains me to see you so infrequently. I have been putting away some money for the past few months and I hope to make a trip to see you soon. Perhaps over the summer. Let me know if that works for your schedule, as I am sure you are jolly well swamped with work at the moment. I would never want to impose. It would be splendid to see you and to visit the old haunts again.

Love,
Mother


Dear Mary,

This will come as a shock to you but I spoke to your father last night. I still do not understand what possessed me to call, but I felt an undeniable necessity to speak with him. We had much to say to one another. It was a good talk, as difficult to believe as that might be. He was sincere and serious in a way he has not been since early in our marriage. I was open and accountable in ways I did not think were possible. I hasten to add, there is no restoration possible for our long-dead marriage. That bridge has burned. However, we did seem to have laid the groundwork for a functioning, non-contentious relationship moving forward.

I have given your father too much blame and far too little credit over the years. When I married him, he was handsome, rich (both through his family ties as well as hard work on his part), and the life of the party. I realize now I married an idea and not the man. We were never suited to one another. Yet, when our marriage dissolved, he never once shirked his responsibility of caring for us financially. He made your studies abroad possible. He has made my life of relative ease possible. And while we will likely never be close again, these facts must be credited to his account.

You have repeatedly told me how often you pray for us. My feelings on prayer notwithstanding, perhaps your prayers have worked. At the very least, he did not call me “vain” and I did not tell him where he could stick his opinions. So, progress!

Love,
Mother


Dearest Mary,

I am losing my mind. I know it is true. There can be no other explanation. I woke up last night in a cold sweat when I heard a voice speak my name. There was no one in the room, of course. Yet, I could feel a presence. I have heard that voice before, long ago. I never imagined I would hear it again. It is not a real voice, mind you. It is a shadow of my past, brought upon by tragedy.

I have rarely spoken of my past to you. I never wanted you to share that pain with me so I hid it away. Undoubtedly, you know the basic outline. I will shed a bit more light on it now. I feel I must or I will go mad.

I lost my entire family in an accident when I was twenty-one. (Both of my parents and my siblings.) Prior to their deaths we had become somewhat estranged from one another. We had very different priorities at the time. I was convinced they were living in the past; holding to old lies and rules, while I was resolutely marching into a bright and glorious future. The truth is, I was bewitched by things that matter little in life’s grand scheme. I was in love with myself and the attention I garnered from those whom I considered friends. I was a vain and pretentious young woman. I can see that clearly now, with the perspective granted by age and wisdom. My family was not the issue. I was. Sadly, I did not realize that at the time. In fact, it took me years to understand how the fracturing of our relationship had been my fault entirely. And in that time of separation and disconnect, I lost them. They were taken from me. I was overtaken by a grief that nearly killed me.

I spent a few months in an institution. I had no other choice. I was an orphan and had lost my family. My mind concocted all manner of fantasies about them, in an attempt to make sense of the black hole of loss that was threatening to swallow me. You would not believe the strange and incredible things I imagined! It has shamed me for much of my life to think of them. Through hours of therapy, copious amounts of medication, and time removed from the loss itself, I was able to piece my life and my sanity back together.

Now, I am hearing voices from those crazed imaginings again. Yet, instead of feeling dread or fear that I am headed down that dark and dangerous road, I am filled with a sense of hope and peace about it. Oh Mary! This voice I heard is unlike any voice in the world. I heard it and even though it shocked me out of my sleep, the feeling that remained after the voice spoke was so soothing, so pleasant, so loving, I want nothing more than to hear it again. I have reached the point where I truly hope the voice is real! If that means I am a lunatic, so be it!

Love,
Mother


Dearest Mary,

Mrs. Penndrick is near death. In some strange way, this has been much more difficult for me than I could have ever believed. This is a woman I believed was nothing but a meddlesome busybody. She is a meddlesome busybody yet she is so much more. I simply missed the more until the last year. Above all, she is a woman of absolute integrity. She commands attention and demands respect, and you give it to her because you want to, not because she pries it out of you. She is a wise old lady who has seen more in her life than most. (How could she not? She is nearly one hundred years old!)

I mention her because after my most recent break from reality (as I am calling it now), I decided I needed to share my entire story with someone. I chose her because I knew she would hold nothing back in her evaluation of my delusions. I will never forget her words. She looked at me, scowled a bit (as she is prone to do), and said, “My dear girl. You fight so hard to fit all your experiences in your precious box of logic. You are being pursued. Someone is calling you. That much is clear. Perhaps it is time you accept that and stop building all these ridiculous walls to protect yourself!”

I was absolutely gobsmacked! I was convinced she would laugh at my foolishness and urge me to act my age. Instead, she did just the opposite. Her last words of advice were simple. “Next time you hear this voice, respond. Don’t sit there like a tongue-tied fool.”

I have decided to heed her words as I can think of nothing else to do at this point. Perhaps I am feeding the delusion. I do not know. Still, I would rather take that risk than do nothing. I have decided it is better for me to find out the truth, once and for all, because I cannot live with this uncertainty.

After our talk, it was only a few days before she was taken to the hospital with respiratory failure. The doctors believe she has a few weeks to live. Her lungs have decided it is time for her to move on. As I said, this has been difficult for me. She has become very dear to me. I know you pray, so please say a prayer for her if you can. I know she would appreciate it. I will as well.

Love,
Mother


Dearest Mary,

Mrs. Penndrick is still with us. The doctors are unsure why. They can’t seem to understand that she will die when she is good and ready and not one second before.

For someone who can appear as prickly as she does, she is a most popular patient. She has visitors day and night. Grandchildren and great grandchildren, friends and acquaintances. The nursing staff love her as well. She is weak now and has lost a pinch of her fire, yet that does little to lessen her wit or desire to speak her mind. I am truly amazed by this woman!

In regards to your last note, as I’ve said, you don’t need to worry about me. If I am losing my mind I am happier now than I have been in years. I spend my mornings and evenings at the hospital with Mrs. Penndrick. We play games, talk, and she reads aloud from her books and her Bible. Sometimes, if she can convince me to play long, I read and she rests her eyes and listens. It is time well spent.

During the day, I am doing my best to handle a few of the things Mrs. Penndrick did prior to her sickness. You will not believe the ground that woman covered in a day! She made visits to shelters, an orphanage, and even took time to work in a small community garden. I’ve not been this busy in years and while I am exhausted at the end of each day, it is a satisfying feeling.

To ease your mind, I have seen nothing strange and heard no disembodied voices. I do think whatever was happening in my head has finished its work and things are back to normal. I’m not headed to the loony bin any time soon! Never fear.

Love,
Mother


Dearest Mary,

Mrs. Penndrick died this morning at half past eight. Her last words to me were, “He makes all things new!” A part of me believes her. Another part of me is sad. I am a bundle of emotions and I can’t make sense of most of them. I am a ship with no sail or anchor and am being carried by the tide, whichever way it wills. Yet, I feel no fear. There is no disquiet in my spirit. Wherever I am being pulled, it is exactly where I am supposed to go. I have removed my hands from the wheel and completely given up all pretense of control.

With love,
Mother


My dear Mary,

I have seen him again. He came to my room last night. He stood at the foot of my bed and spoke to me. I had not yet fallen asleep, as I was lost in thought of all that had transpired, so I know it was not a dream. If I know nothing else, I know that.

I knew he was there even before I saw or heard him. I could feel him, if you catch my meaning. His presence filled the air in a way that was both comforting and terrifying. I confess I was uneasy to speak with him after so many years of rejecting the truth of his existence. I had convinced myself he would be terribly cross with me. Yet, if he was angry, I could not hear it in his voice.

As I said, I felt him in the room first. Then, I heard his voice. “Dear child, look at me.” I sat up and looked at him. He was so much bigger than the last time I saw him. He filled most of my bedroom! I looked in his eyes and they radiated with unspeakable love and kindness. I cried then. I wept bitterly and had a ghastly time keeping my eyes on him.

He spoke again, and his words cut me to my very heart. “Dear one, do you believe?”

“Yes! I do.” I nearly shouted. “How could I not?”

Tears filled his eyes. He seemed saddened by my answer.

“Child, do you believe?”

“Of course I believe. Unless my mind has broken completely.

He closed his eyes in the most pained expression I have witnessed. My words were wounds to his heart, though I still did not understand why.

“Susan, do you believe in me?”

I wept again. I wept for all my years of doubt. I wept for all my foolish and empty pursuits. Tears spilled down my cheeks for all the time I had wasted, the hurt I had caused, the joys I had rejected by my stubborn pride.

“Oh Aslan, you alone know my heart.” I began to speak, haltingly at first but with more confidence as the words formed on my tongue and I told him everything. I told him my doubts and my fears. I shared my loneliness and my failures. I poured out all the wounds and grief, all the bitterness and selfishness, all the unbelief and doubt. He listened to it all patiently. He wept with me. His tears ran down his cheeks and pooled on the floor. He wept with me and for me. And the more he wept the better I felt.

Finally, he came to the side of my bed and he licked my forehead. (I realize this makes little sense. Aslan is a lion. THE lion. Don’t worry; I will fill in all the details when I see you next.) I felt strength, vigor, and peace flow into my very bones. My tears stopped and I looked at him again. He smiled and laughed and it nearly shook the house apart!

“Susan, you are renewed! You are restored! Do not fall back into your old doubts and fears.”

“I will never doubt you again!” I cried out.

“I know, child,” he said. “Yet, I say again, do not fall back into your old doubts and fears. They will be your constant companions. Turn from them when they speak your name.”

“Yes, Aslan,” I responded. “I will do my best, though my best has never been very good, has it?”

“I will be your strength, my child. Never forget that and your best will be enough.”

“Thank you” I said, though I still had questions. “But Aslan, why have you been gone for so long, may I ask?”

“Child, I have ever been calling your name. You were not listening.”

“Forgive me, Aslan,” I responded.

“You are listening now.” The unspoken question and command lingered in the air.

Yes, I am,” I declared. “Aslan, will I see you often now?”

“No, dear one. You will not see me again. I am confident you know why. You have much to do before we meet again. Be busy in your labors and all will be well. The morning will be here soon enough for you my child.”

“Oh, I see,” I whispered. “Dear Aslan, do you know where my family is? Will I see them again?”

“Susan, that is not your story. I am telling you your story, not theirs. No one is told any story but their own.”

“But Aslan, I miss them dearly!” I cried, “Please, am I not to know more?”

“Daughter of Eve,” he growled softly, “have you forgotten the Stone Table? Do you not remember the Deeper Magic?” He looked at me then, more deeply than before, and said, “My child, death holds no power in my country.”

“I understand.” I replied, though I could not make sense of it all.

“Susan,” Aslan gently whispered, “once a friend of Narnia, always a friend of Narnia.”

And with that, he was gone, though his presence and voice lingered for hours. I know you will think me mad when you read this. That will simply have to be the case until we can speak in person. I have already purchased tickets to come visit you in early June. I will tell you everything then. It is time you know about your uncle Peter and uncle Edmond and your aunt Lucy. It is time you know about Narnia, talking beasts, evil witches, and the four thrones of Cair Paravel. It is well past time you know about Aslan, the great lion, the King of Beasts, the son of the Emperor-Over-the-Sea, the King above all High Kings in Narnia, and the conqueror of death. Oh Mary! It is time you know it all.

With love and deep affection,
Mother

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Phill Lytle

I love: Jesus, my wife, my kids, my church, my family, my friends, Firefly, 80's rock, Lost, the Tennessee Titans, the St. Louis Cardinals, Brandon Sanderson books, Band of Brothers, Thai food, music, books, movies, TV, writing, Arrested Development, pizza, vacation, etc...
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Phill Lytle

I love: Jesus, my wife, my kids, my church, my family, my friends, Firefly, 80's rock, Lost, the Tennessee Titans, the St. Louis Cardinals, Brandon Sanderson books, Band of Brothers, Thai food, music, books, movies, TV, writing, Arrested Development, pizza, vacation, etc...

11 thoughts on “The Invitation

  • August 27, 2019 at 3:46 pm
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    Spellbinding! It kept my interest until the end. I loved the development of the story. Thank you!

    Reply
  • August 27, 2019 at 4:16 pm
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    I jumped in reading a few minutes ago. Compelling, excellent structure, holds one’s attention from the first. Of course, when I realized where it was going, I broke down totally, much like when you boys were young, and I read a certain series of books to you.

    I do hope that sometime, somehow, you can get something published.

    Reply
  • August 27, 2019 at 6:54 pm
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    I rather guessed where it might be headed, but it was still an enjoyable journey. Some day, I’d like to know how it turned out for Mary!

    Reply
    • August 27, 2019 at 8:13 pm
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      You are a smarter man than I. I did not know until the very last letter; though, in retrospect, there were plenty of clues for us along the way.

      Reply
      • August 28, 2019 at 10:28 am
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        I didn’t get it at all until the end but I never do. So many movies and TV shows and books and I never guess that kind of stuff. I’m surprised Nathan didn’t but then again, Nathan always surprises me!

        Reply
    • August 28, 2019 at 8:30 am
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      Allan, without revealing any spoilers, at what point in the story did you know who it was about?

      Reply
  • August 28, 2019 at 10:47 am
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    Phil, somehow in getting to the piece, maybe on Facebook, the name ****** (edited for spoilers) had come up, and that funneled my mind into a certain way of thinking. I began to think, “Hmm, nice approach with the letters, à la ******, but what if this had a tie with one of **** other works….” The reference to England, the spiritual path the woman had taken (I remember thinking, “This could be *****?”), just kind of fell together as I went along. But that’s not a complaint. Had I come into the piece without the “trigger” phrase, it would have taken longer. I still think it was very well done, and I really do want to learn more about Mary!

    Reply
    • August 28, 2019 at 11:33 am
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      That makes total sense. I have edited your comment Allan, as you can see. I am going to leave the edited version up for a while until more people have read the story. I don’t want the comments to give away the surprise. My wife informed me that many people read comments prior to reading an article online to see if it’s worth reading. I think the story can stand on its own even if you know who it is about but it does lose some of its power. I hope you understand. Thanks for reading and for the kind response.

      Reply
        • August 31, 2019 at 9:56 am
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          Wow! That was an amazing trip, through emotions, opinions, and growing joy, all the way to the end. It has obviously been far too long since my reading on this subject (not to worry, no spoilers here), but now it’s probably time to dig them out and start reading with my granddaughter. Thank you for this loving push, through such an excellent reading! I, too, would like to read more about Mary.

          Reply
          • September 3, 2019 at 9:37 am
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            Sue Ann Kelly, thanks so much for the kind words. I am so happy you enjoyed the story.

            Maybe one day I can revisit Mary and find out how she is doing.

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