by J. Van Heerden
From Chapter 15:
“One counselor said I needed a group of praying male friends I could relate to in a nonsexual way,” Mr. P explains. “God gave me Walter, Heinz, Gustavo, Daniel, and Massimo. That’s a lot all at once. Two of them, were young and exceptionally good-looking. I knew the Holy Spirit was talking to them as they gave me something I really needed—genuine love and acceptance. These men prayed with me, listened to my frustrations and cried with me, sometimes for hours. I think that’s incredible…”
“…“Walter was younger, but he was like a mother and a father and a sister and brother to me, all rolled up into one wide man with a wonderful laugh and a ponytail. When I read that verse in the Bible where God is portrayed as a hen gathering His chicks under His wings, I always think of Walter. That’s how he was like God.”
“Walter was wonderful,” Mrs. P agrees. “I remember the first time I saw him. His silhouette was framed in their shuttered bedroom window. It was my first visit to Switzerland, and I was flouncing down the steep steps to Walter and Bronia’s home. I remember exactly what I was wearing that day—a square-necked dress with a soft pattern of green leaves and tiny flowers on a cream background. Walter stared holes through me with his Swiss blue eyes. Then he smiled and nodded ever-so-slightly. In that moment I knew he approved of the woman Geoffrey Pennock would marry one day.”
“Well, when you get the approval nod from your future husband’s ‘mother,’ you know you’re in,” I tease.
“You know what Walter was like,” Mom says. “He was everybody’s mother. He and Bronia took in stray chicks from all over Europe until the day he died.”
Someone is sniffling on the other side of our makeshift double bed. I sit up just in time to see a tear roll from the corner of Mr. P’s right eye down into his ear. Mom is also teary-eyed. It’s only been a couple of years since a blood clot snuffed out the liveliest light in their friends’ group. The grief feels fresh.
“My friends in Lugano were much more than family,” Mr. P laments. “They were a heaven-sent family. They knew me inside out. Some things my blood family doesn’t know to this day. Unless maybe they are reading this book,” he jokes. “I always say I had the best friends anyone could have.
For a few moments the only sound in the room is the erratic squawking of that miserable macaw. Mr. P interrupts the bird to say, “Walter probably wasn’t any further along spiritually than I was when we first met. He never treated me like he was some spiritual authority and I needed to sit at his feet.”
“Your friends realized their sins were no more sinful than yours. They never acted superior or treated you like you were a weirdo,” Mom agrees.
“Unlike other church people who deify some sins and demonize others. In my past experiences with so-called Christians, especially pastors, I felt so shameful, I dared not bring up my personal problems. What I learned through my experience with my friends in Lugano is healing takes place in community. Real community. Not pseudo-community, like so many churches.”
"What every hurting boy needs is a Walter." Mr. P