The flame in the eyes had been extinguished. The smirk had been humbled. The devil-may-care attitude had been replaced with soberness. His first few days of destitution were likely steamy with resentment. He was mad at everyone. Everyone was to blame. His friends shouldn’t have bailed out on him. And his brother should come and bail him out. His boss should feed him better, and his dad never should have let him go in the first place.
He named a pig after each one of them. Failure invites finger pointing and buck passing. A person may be out of money, out of a job, and out of friends, but he is never out of people to blame. Sometimes it’s the family:
But this was different. Something told this wayward son that this was the moment of—and for—truth. He looked into the water. The face he saw wasn’t pretty—muddy and swollen. He looked away. “Don’t think about it. You’re no worse off than anybody else. Things will get better tomorrow.”
The lies anticipated a receptive ear. They’d always found one before. “Not this time,” he muttered. And he stared at his re- flection.“How far I have fallen.” His first words of truth.
He looked into his own eyes. He thought of his father. “They always said I had your eyes.” He could see the look of hurt on his father’s face when he told him he was leaving.
“How I must have hurt you.”
A crack zigzagged across the boy’s heart. A tear splashed into the pool. Another soon followed. Then another. Then the dam broke. He buried his face in his dirty hands as the tears did what tears do so well; they flushed out his soul.
His face was still wet as he sat near the pool. For the first time in a long time he thought of home. The memories warmed him. Memories of dinner-table laughter. Memories of a warm bed. Memories of evenings on the porch with his father as they listened to the hypnotic ring of the crickets.
“Father.” He said the word aloud as he looked at himself. “They used to say I looked like you. Now you wouldn’t even recognize me. Boy, I blew it, didn’t I?” He stood up and began to walk.
The road home was longer than he remembered. When he last traveled it, he turned heads because of his style. If he turned heads this time, it was because of his stink. His clothes were torn, his hair matted, and his feet black. But that didn’t bother him, because for the first time in a calendar of heartaches, he had a clean conscience.
He was going home. He was going home a changed man. Not demanding that he get what he deserved, but willing to take whatever he could get. “Give me” had been replaced with “help me,” and his defiance had been replaced with repentance.
He came asking for everything with nothing to give in return. He had no money. He had no excuses. And he had no idea how much his father had missed him. He had no idea the number of times his father had paused between chores to look out the front gate for his son.
As the boy came around the bend that led up to his house, he rehearsed his speech one more time.
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” He approached the gate and placed his hand on the latch. He began to lift it, then he paused. His plan to go home suddenly seemed silly. “What’s the use?” he heard himself asking himself. “What chance do I have?” He ducked, turned around, and began to walk away.
Then he heard the footsteps. He heard the slap, slap, slap of sandals. Someone was running. He didn’t turn to look. It’s prob-ably a servant coming to chase me away or my big brother wanting to know what I’m doing back home. He began to leave.
But the voice he heard was not the voice of a servant nor the voice of his brother; it was the voice of his father.
He turned to open the gate, but the father already had. The son looked at his father standing at the entrance. Tears glistened on his cheeks as arms stretched from east to west inviting the son to come home.
“Father, I have sinned.” The words were muffled as the boy buried his face in his father’s shoulder.
The two wept. For a forever they stood at the gate intertwined as one. Words were unnecessary. Repentance had been made, forgiveness had been given.
The boy was home.