Chaparral – Escondido, California
“Dad, you need to get down to Escondido now! It’s Jacob, he was in a terrible motorcycle accident this morning,” said Mak with a trembling voice over the phone.
“What?” asked Daniel, in disbelief, as a cold shock ran through his veins.
“He’s been airlifted to Palomar Hospital. They have him in surgery right now, and will be transferring him to the ICU when they’re done. I don’t know anything else.”
“Is he going to make it?”
Mak answered, “I don’t know, Dad. I don’t know.”
“I have to wait for your Mom. She has the truck out in the vineyard right now, and I am not sure when she’s going to be back,” said Daniel.
“You don’t have to wait,” she said, “I already talked to Alderman Campbell and he’s driving down right now. He’ll meet you at the house in fifteen minutes. Just be ready when he gets there.”
When Mak hung up Daniel hit his knees and prayed that God would spare Jacob. His heart was pounding. How could God possibly take him now? He had already seen a great change come over Jacob in the last month since he had returned. Jacob was playing an integral role in bringing the development planning in the valley along, and the man who seemed so broken in Chicago was beginning to come into himself. Daniel continued to pray for what seemed like a torturous eternity until Campbell arrived, unable to shake the cavernous pit that was growing in his gut.
“He lost a lot of blood,” said the ER doctor, “The most life-threatening injuries he sustained were to his internal organs. It took us hours to stop the bleeding.”
“Does that mean he’ll live?” asked Daniel.
“It means we have him stabilized, but he’s still in critical condition,” answered the doctor, “He also shattered his pelvis, so assuming he can recover from his internal injuries, he’ll have to have a hip replacement.”
“When will that operation take place?”
The doctor said, “That’s at least two weeks out. He has a long road in front of him. I don’t think he’ll be out of here for at least a couple of months.”
“When can I see him?”
“He’s heavily sedated right now, and I don’t suspect he’ll be awake until tomorrow morning. You’re free to go into his room to see him if you’d like, though.”
Daniel opened the door to Jacob’s room. He was hooked up to multiple machines that monitored his vital signs, and a breathing tube was in his nose. Narrow shafts of afternoon light pooled on the floor, shining through the nearly closed blinds in front of the window. He pulled a chair beside Jacob’s bed and gently took his hand. He bowed his head and waited, with no words to pray, waiting in hope for this man he loved as his own son to rise up from his bed and assure him that everything was going to be all right. There is a lonely terror to trauma, when a loved one’s life hangs in the balance. Daniel felt the helplessness deep within him as he rested his forehead on Jacob’s mattress. Hours crawled by, and night crept into the room. Daniel fell into a dark vacuum of dreamless sleep as he longed for morning and an .
Soft silver light from the cloudy sky lingered behind the window shades the next morning when Daniel felt Jacob squeeze his hand. Daniel slowly lifted his head as Jacob stirred. Jacob blinked his eyes several times in an effort to gain focus.
“Yes, son,” said Daniel as his heart began to pound, rousing him from the grogginess of waking.
“I’m thirsty,” said Jacob with a soft rasp.
Daniel rose quickly and made his way to the counter on the opposite side of the room where there were cups and a plastic pitcher of water. He poured a small cup for Jacob and brought it over to him. He held the cup for Jacob as he took a few small sips.
“Where am I?”
“You’re at Palomar Hospital,” answered Daniel, “You were in a motorcycle accident.”
Jacob nodded his head, “Yeah.”
“Do you remember anything?”
Jacob blinked again through the morphine haze, “I was riding out on the 79 toward Warner Springs. What day is it?
“It’s Tuesday morning. You were in the accident yesterday morning. Do you know what happened to you?”
“All I remember is that I hit a patch and lost control,” said Jacob, as he pulled his hand up to scratch his head, “and slid on the road until I hit a road sign. Then a man came and helped me. I kind of remember the emergency crew loading me into the chopper. That’s about it.”
Jacob had been on a ride out on the 79 just like he said. He wanted to re-familiarize himself with the area roads as he formulated a security plan for the valley. As he approached the airport just outside Warner springs, a semi-truck a hundred yards or so in front of him hit a pothole and some of the gravel it was hauling spilled out onto the road. Jacob didn’t have the time to avoid the gravel spill as he sped along at nearly seventy miles an hour. His bike lost traction and he laid it down, his momentum continued as he slid on his back along the asphalt. He collided with a wooden signpost with his right side, which crushed his hip. Jacob would probably have died on the side of the road if the driver of the semi hadn’t seen the crash from his rearview mirror. He called 911 from his truck and ran to Jacob’s side. He kept Jacob lucid until the emergency crews arrived, and within 45 minutes Jacob was transported via helicopter to Palomar Hospital. When he arrived he was mere moments from death, and if the ER doctors had not so skillfully treated him, he would have bled out in the hospital.
“Had you been drinking the night before,” asked Daniel.
“No,” Jacob said through a faint laugh. “No, just praying. I haven’t had a drink in three weeks. I didn’t sleep much on Sunday night, so my reaction time might have been a bit slow.”
“Still having nightmares?”
“Yeah,” said Jacob, “But not that night. I was just praying for Sophie and the kids, praying that God would show me what he wants from me, and then the strangest thing started to happen.”
“What is that?” asked Daniel.
“Well, it’s not like I heard anything. No sounds, I mean. But, God started speaking to me, in my heart I guess. Does that make sense?”
“It does,” said Daniel, “What did he say?”
Tears began to stream down Jacob’s cheeks, as he choked out an answer, “He said, ‘Jacob I have not forgotten you.’”
Daniel grabbed Jacob’s hand again and held it as the young man cried in his bed.
A few moments later Jacob said, “I’ve been wrestling with him for so long, Daniel. So long. Over the last few years I couldn’t take it anymore, so I tried to forget him. But he hasn’t forgotten me. He hasn’t forgotten.”
“No, he hasn’t.”
The ICU nurse knocked on the door and Jacob wiped the tears off of his face. After gently closing the door behind her, she said, “Well, you’re still with us, Mr. Brandt. How are we feeling this morning?”
“Like I picked a losing fight with a bulldozer,” answered Jacob.
“That’s not far from the truth,” she said, “Someone must be watching out for you, because your little spill should have killed you.”
“He sure has a funny way of looking out for us,” said Jacob, as he smiled.
She laughed and said, “I suppose so.”
The nurse continued to check his vital signs, and let Jacob know that if he felt any discomfort that he should hit the morphine button on his left side. She let him know that the doctor would be in to see him within the hour before leaving the room.
“How long have you been here?”
“You didn’t have to do that, Daniel,” said Jacob, as he grimaced.
“Why wouldn’t I, Jacob?” asked Daniel, as he then noticed Jacob’s discomfort, “It looks like you could use some of that morphine.”
“I think I could.”
“Well, how about I let you get some more rest before the doctor comes in. I need to call Sophie and Tina and let them know you’re doing better.”
“Is Sophie coming?”
“Yes,” said Daniel, “She caught the train out this morning. It’ll take a few days before she gets here, though.”
“Good,” said Jacob, as he closed his eyes, succumbing to the warmth of the painkillers.
“What about my mom?” asked as he yawned.
Daniel answered, “Serafina is stuck in Southern Mexico, she’s been doing relief work down there, and it might be a week or two before she is able to get back up here. Flights are hard to come by these days.”
“Alright, can you keep her posted on what’s happening with me? I don’t want her to get too worried.”
“Of course I will. Now, get some rest,” said Daniel, clasping Jacob’s hand with both of his, “I’ll be back soon.”
Jacob had already drifted back to sleep as Daniel quietly left the room.
“Hey, kiddo,” said Tina brushing the hair from his forehead, “How are you holding up?”
“I’ve been worse,” he said.
“I’m sure you have,” said Daniel, “Did they tell you what happened to you?”
“Yeah, busted up insides and a shattered hip,” said Jacob, “seems like I remember a story about another guy who wrestled with God and came out with a bum hip.”
“Well,” said Daniel, “anyone who grapples with the Almighty comes away limping.”
“I suppose we do,” said Jacob, “how about you Daniel, do you limp?”
Tina glanced at Daniel and nodded at him, as if it was time for him to say something.
“Yes, I do, Jacob,” he paused, “it’s the reason I don’t drink anymore. I spent many years trying to drown my pain”
Jacob asked, “What do you mean?”
“Well, just a few years after Tina and I were married, while I was a lecturer in theology in Paris, we had a son named Jean. This was before Julian and Mak came along. The pregnancy was a surprise to us both. Jean was diagnosed with leukemia when he was eighteen months old. We lost him shortly after his second birthday.”
“I’m so sorry,” said Jacob, “I didn’t know that you had a son.”
“Well, Tina and I don’t talk about him much,” said Daniel, “I spent the next three years wasted in grief. For the better part of those years, I drank to cope with the pain.”
“Well, I can understand a little bit of what that’s like,” said Jacob.
“We were both in pretty rough shape,” said Tina, “I am still amazed that our marriage survived it.”
“I can’t even imagine,” said Jacob.
“We’re telling you this to let you know that if you need help with anything, we’re here to do everything we can,” said Tina.
“I appreciate that,” said Jacob, “I know I was hitting it pretty hard when I came out here, and for a good deal of time before that. As God has been working in me, I’ve felt like it’s time to put the bottle away. Honestly, over the last few weeks I haven’t been thirsty, if you know what I mean.”
“I do,” said Daniel.
“I hope you don’t mind me asking, but how does a reformed drunk end up owning a tavern?”
Daniel laughed, “Well, drinking doesn’t have a hold on me anymore. It’s been over thirty years since my last drink, and I’d have to decide against my own conscience to take another drink. Just because I abstain doesn’t mean that others need to. I’ve always enjoyed a good pub; a coffee or a glass of tea doesn’t seem to diminish the enjoyment for me.”
“I see,” said Jacob, “Well, I’ll definitely take you both up on that help. Seems like I’ll need a lot of that in the near future.”
Tina interrupted several moments of silence by changing the subject, “The nurse tells me that you have already started raising hell.”
“Damn right,” smiled Jacob, “I have a job to get back to. The doctor told me that they were going to wait two weeks to operate on my hip, and I told him like hell he was. I tried to have him go get his scalpel and open me up tonight. Let’s just say we don’t see eye to eye on the timeline to recovery.”
“Well, don’t think I won’t come down from Chaparral and put you in a headlock if I find out you are disobeying doctor’s orders,” she said.
“You need to take your time,” said Daniel, like a concerned father, “you’ve been through quite an ordeal.”
“Aww hell, you both need to stop the doting. I’m a big boy and I know how to come back from an injury,” Jacob began to scratch at his chest, “This morphine makes me itch like something furious.”
“It’ll do that, I hear,” said Daniel.
“Yeah, well, I am feeling pretty stiff, so I think I am going to hit it again and get some more rest. If I don’t get the doctors to agree to operate on me by next Monday, I think I am going to start a revolt.”
“Well, I hope you have some sweet dreams there, tiger” said Tina.
“I will,” Jacob chuckled, knowing he wasn’t likely to get much more mothering from Tina, “If they aren’t sweet, at least they’ll be weird, which is good enough, I guess.”
“Get some rest, Jacob,” said Daniel.
“I will,” said Jacob with an intent look, “and I really appreciate the two of you coming to see me, and all that you have done for me since I got here. I mean that.
“Anytime, son,” said Daniel, as he and Tina stood up, “Anytime.”
Tina bent down and kissed Jacob’s forehead and Daniel gave his hand a squeeze as they left Jacob to his dreams.
Morphine has a way of making someone feel suspended in midair as they sleep, and Jacob felt no different as he dreamt that night. He found himself back in the Pacific Ocean with Malachi the day fire scorched the eastern hills. The cool saltwater providing refuge from the flames and a canvass for limitless expression as the two brothers surfed together. In his dream he felt conscious of both the joy of the shared moment with his brother and the ache of his absence. Jacob had found it very difficult to relate to his father David, even more so after he left his mother. But Malachi was someone, maybe the only person in Jacob’s life who he related with on an intuitive wavelength. The two brothers were bound together deep in their own souls, even though as individuals they couldn’t be more different from each other. Not knowing whether Malachi was dead or alive left a cloud of brooding uncertainty over Jacob, the way a man might feel if he awakened to find that he had misplaced half of his own soul. Something inside Jacob told him his brother was still alive, but this was an inclination that rested beneath knowledge, and not knowing made him feel like something inside himself was either dormant or dying or dead. His thoughts circled around Malachi as he scraped his hand along the cool green swell, gliding across the face of a perfectly sculpted wave.
Then something shifted in the dreamscape; the floating haze of morphine vanished and a hot, electric weight filled Jacob’s bones. He was pulled down through the waters of the Pacific as an imperceptible whisper sounded in his ears. He fell through the sea floor and found himself on the slopes of an unknown desert mountain at twilight. He looked and he saw a robed and wiry desert man kneeling on the ground. His body was trembling, and a pair of sandals lay some yards behind him. Jacob looked further and realized exactly where he was, as the man knelt before a large bush that burned with beautiful and terrifying white flames and was not consumed. The whispers that were indecipherable just moments before gave way to a gentle, yet infinitely powerful voice.
From the bush, he heard the voice proclaim, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
No sooner than when he saw Moses at the burning bush, he found himself tumbling through the vision, and he was floating above the hills of Escondido. He could see his childhood home nestled on the east end of the Escondido valley.
“I hid you in my hand,” said the powerful whisper. “From your youth I set you apart.”
Jacob found himself spinning again as the dream shifted quickly. When he was able to gather his senses, he had a birds-eye view of the children of Israel hemmed between the Red Sea and the encroaching armies of Egypt. Moses struck his staff on the waters and the sea parted, making a way for the people of God to journey toward the Promised Land.
“I am bringing my people to the home I have prepared for them,” the voice sounded again.
Above the Exodus scene, Jacob looked into the skies and he saw the New Jerusalem descending, and myriads of people dressed in dazzling white, gleaming like the noonday sun, pouring into the gates of the city on a pathway into the sky as it descended.
Then Jacob looked and saw himself, older, bearded and dressed in sackcloth standing next to an old, gnarled olive tree that grew in front of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Next to him was Malachi, who was also dressed in sackcloth also, standing before an olive tree of his own. He could feel his heart pounding through his chest as he fought to wake himself, but he was caught in the iron grip of this vision. The whole experience was terrifying and disorienting, and Jacob was unsure of its meaning.
“Who am I, Lord?” he asked.
“You are Jacob Brandt, Son of Fire. I have chosen you to be my Witness at the end of the age. I have appointed you to help lead my people to the home I have promised them. Just as Moses led my people out of the wilderness to the land I swore to their fathers, I have appointed you to wear his mantle in the great and terrible Day of the LORD.”
The vision abruptly ended and the electric heat and weight left Jacob’s bones. He found himself in his hospital bed with the familiar floating sensation of morphine, but he could not stop trembling. Something had happened to him that he had absolutely no category for. He wondered if he had been hallucinating due to the drugs and trauma of his recent accident. He feared that he had gone mad and feared even more that he hadn’t. Perhaps, he thought, anyone who has had such experiences felt the same dread, that they had been taken up to the liminal space where sanity and insanity blend.
Daniel sat across from the hospital bed, thoughtfully listening, as Jacob recounted his experience from the night before. He tried to keep his composure, as Jacob tried to make sense of what happened. However, this was the first indication he’d had in many years that he wasn’t crazy after his own visionary experiences following Doomsday.
“I don’t know if I am losing my mind,” said Jacob. “Does any of this make any sense to you? Do you think it could have just been a hallucination from the morphine? I know stuff like that happens.”
“Jacob, I don’t think you are losing your mind,” said Daniel. “I am not a doctor, but I am not sure that morphine would induce this kind of experience. Maybe it colored it, but I don’t think it caused it. Maybe you needed to be in a vulnerable place to even consider that this might be true.”
“Yeah, but come on, Daniel, am I supposed to be this end-times Witness? There’s no way to say it that doesn’t seem crazy. Like I am actually going to figure out my destiny while I am on the heels of trauma and pumped full of painkillers.”
“Jacob, we don’t figure out our destiny, we live it. If this is something God has destined, then it doesn’t matter what you believe about it now. Likewise, if it isn’t, you could believe with all your heart that you’re some prophet, but you never will be. God makes the man, and so the man is made. You are his, and you cannot be anything other than what he has made you.”
“Maybe, I guess all I feel is lost at this point,” said Jacob, “Besides, I always thought that those two witnesses were supposed to be symbolic, of the church or something like that. I don’t think it had ever occurred to me that they would be two real people, much less that I might be one of them.”
“Well, I used to think the same way. But over the past few years I have come to realize that the most powerful symbols in Scripture unfold and take on a reality in the most mysterious ways. That the Two in the Apocalypse are symbols does not mean that they won’t coalesce into something literal before the end.”
“I suppose,” said Jacob, “but, I still don’t understand any of this.”
“Well, son,” said Daniel, “Not to put any more fear inside of you, but I believe that what you experienced was from God. I saw something very near to what you did, I even saw you in a vision that came to me on the night of Doomsday. So, either there’s something to all of this or we are both crazy.”
Jacob’s head spun as Daniel recounted the details of his vision. The same electricity that seemed to fill him the prior night filled him again. He felt a sense, something like terror, yet intermixed with a strange peace, as he was caught in the vortex of this experience. If there was any truth to what had happened to him at all, it would mean that life was about to get both interesting and complicated as he was sucked into a history much larger than himself.
“Well, what do I do now?” asked Jacob.
“I don’t think you need to do anything right now. I don’t think you need to even burden yourself with trying to figure it out. If what you experienced was indeed from God, he will bring it to pass in his time. For now, your focus should be on getting well and coming back to Chaparral.”
“That’s easy to say, but I don’t know how I am not going to try to figure it out.”
Daniel laughed, “Whether or not you figure it out doesn’t change what happened, and it won’t make the experience any more or less true, my boy. I am not telling you to not wrestle with it; just don’t drive yourself crazy trying to figure it out.”
“Yeah, well, I am done trying for moment. I am totally wiped. I don’t think I have slept a wink since it happened.”
“I’ll let you get some rest, then,” said Daniel.
“Thanks,” said Jacob, as Daniel rose from his chair and headed for the door, “Hey, Daniel. What on earth am I supposed to tell Sophie when she gets here?”
Daniel scratched at his messy white hair, “The truth. You owe her that. I can’t say I know how she’ll react, but I think you need to give her the space to react. She’ll be staying with us, so if there is any way Tina or I can help her, we will.”
Jacob thanked Daniel again as he left, and prayed that God would help him sort out how to talk to his wife about what happened; not only the vision, but what has been happening since he left Chicago.