I remembered one more incident with Raven. It was the afternoon we had climbed to the Monmarte, a few hours before we met Eric. We had entered the cathedral of Sacre Couer, and were sitting side by side. The roof was lost in shadow and the stained glass windows were rich with the light of afternoon. There were only a few tourists; they seldom get past Notre Dame. Most of the people coming and going were genuine worshippers. I watched one old woman as she entered, genuflected, and made her slow and painful way to an alter in a side chapel. She lit a candle and remained there on her knees for a time, then with equal slowness, came back past us and went back out into the world. It was a simple thing, repeated a thousand times a day in every cathedral in Europe, but it touched me.
Raven gave me an odd look as I wiped my eyes and made a deprecating mouth. We had never talked about religion. I asked, “Are you Catholic?”
“Sort of. I go a few times a year, and I feel a little guilty that I don’t go more often. I don’t think about it much. You?”
I shook my head. “Protestant background. Fire and brimstone Baptist, to be exact. My folks would give me hell for even being in a Catholic cathedral. I stopped believing a long time ago, but I think about it a lot.”
“Because I don’t have a superstructure of priests to do my thinking for me.”
She was silent for a while. I thought I had offended her. I could have added that Reverend Billy Thompson had been as willing to do the thinking for his Baptist congregation as any Catholic priest ever could be. But that wasn’t what was on her mind. She finally said, “Doesn’t it scare you?”
“So why don’t you go back?”
“Faith isn’t something you can turn off and on. When it’s gone, it’s just gone.”
“Don’t you ever think maybe you’re wrong?”
I shook my head.
“Just like that?”
“And when you die?”
“I just die.”
“I couldn’t live like that.”
“I wouldn’t want you to. I don’t try to talk people into thinking my way. It’s much more comfortable to believe in God.”
“Don’t you ever miss it – miss Him?”
I shuffled the words around in my mind to get them just right. It was something I didn’t want Raven to misunderstand.
“What I miss,” I said, “isn’t the assurance or the comfort. Not any more. That’s what a kid misses. What I miss is . . . like this: I go out in the evening and I’m alone and I see a beautiful sunset. The clouds are on fire and the sky is so blue it’s almost green. It is so beautiful it makes me hurt and I just want to look up and say, ‘Thank you.’ But there’s no one to say it to. That’s what I really miss. Having someone to say ‘thank you’ to.”
# # #
The steamer was pulling into Montreaux. The other passengers were gathering up their baggage. I dropped my feet from the rail and slipped my arms into the packs traps.
I could still see Raven’s face as it had looked there in Sacre Coeur. It was as if she had stepped back three paces while sitting still. Her body was still there, but in her mind, she had gone far away.
Just like she had gone away, completely away, two mornings later. There was a connection between the two events. I could feel the connection, but I could not define it. And unless I did, she was lost to me forever. I might find her, warn her, and save her from the assailants who had attacked her, but unless I unlocked the greater puzzle of Raven herself, I would never hold her in my arms again. more tomorrow