It wasn't yet two years since he
Had sat like this beside the three
Most precious people in his life,
Except for one. He had no wife,
But Paul had come to be a kind
Of friend whose heart was so entwined
With Timothy's that where his own
Desire would stop and Paul's alone
Begin could not be known. Two years
Almost since Timothy, with tears,
Had sat beside his mother when
She died. And now this time again
He sat with Luke outside the wall
Of Rome with the apostle Paul
Dead and gory on the ground
Blood-wet between them where they found
Him after Nero's men had done
Their work. Two people called him "son,"
His mother and the man they smote
With Nero's sword, the man who wrote
The other letter in his hand.
"To Timothy," it started, and,
"To my beloved son." These were
The very words also from her
In Lystra, "My beloved son,
Please come, and haste, there is no one
Like you to bring me comfort in
The final battle with my sin."
The memory was vivid still
This night, as dark and winter's chill
Began to settle over all
The seven hills of Rome, and Paul
Lay lifeless at his feet.
Eleven days along the coast
It took, and then upcountry to
The place where he was born, and through
The winding streets he had not seen
For eighteen years. He was sixteen
When Paul had taken him away.
And everyone agreed that day
That it was good. At least it seemed
To be. But they had never dreamed
That it would be so long. And now,
With letter in his hand, somehow,
The boy, now turned a man, would sit
Beside his mother's bed and try to fit
Her for more life, or death. Before
He knocked, he stood outside the door
And waited, praying for the word
That, if God pleased, might heal, or gird
His mother for the final fight –
Whichever God should deem is right.
And then he knocked. A woman cracked
The door, and asked, with gentle tact,
"Who's there?" Her eyes were almost blind
With fourscore years of being kind
To everyone, and watching for
The Lord. She stood behind the door
And asked again, "Who's there? We've got
A sickness here. I think it's not
A place you'd want to sell your bread."
"I have no bread," the stranger said,
Then added this: "Gramma." He saw
The woman squint and move her jaw
The way she used to do when he
Was small. But since she couldn't see,
He said, "It's Timothy." And then:
"Is Mama still alive?" And when
She heard the name, she opened wide
The heavy wooden door and tried
To see his face. "Can it be you?
"It's almost twenty years." "That's true,"
He said, "But you still move your jaw
The way you always did. I saw
It through the crack." Then Lois smiled
And raised her wrinkled arms, "O child,
Your mother's heart will leap for joy."
She hugged him to her breast. "Her boy,
She's going to see her boy!" She took
His hand. "Come, let her have a look."
The little house was almost just
The way he left it: dishes, dust,
Hot coals in earthen pots, the smell
Of wood-fueled fire and simm'ring swell
Of boiling soup. She led him by
The hand halfway, then stopped. "But why
Do we stop here, Gramma?" "I need
To tell you something." He could read
The worry on her face and feel
The tension in her hand. "It's real
Surprising, Timothy; no one
Thought such a thing was ever done."
"What thing, Gramma?" "Your father's in
The room." "My what!" He felt his skin
Turn clammy. Timothy had not
Heard from his dad since he had shot
An arrow through the window of
The synagogue at Paul above
The city square and fled, when he
Found out, that night, that Paul was free
To charge him with assault because
He was a Roman, and the laws
Protected him against such crimes.
His father was a Greek. Sometimes
He tolerated Eunice' and
Her mother Lois' Jewish stand.
But when his wife and son became
Devout believers in the Name
Of Jesus, he was furious
And tried to kill both Barnabas
And Paul. His son was fourteen years
Of age, the future bright. His peers
Would all be high officials in
The province of Galatia, win
The accolades of men, and make
Their fathers proud and rich. But take
The name of Christian in those days,
And every job and all the praise
That mattered to his father then
Was lost. He disappeared, and when
The boy at sixteen left to be
With Paul and Silas, he could see
The hope was ended that perhaps
His father might come home. Elapse
Now twenty years, and Timothy
Stands trembling by the door to see
His mother die and father live
Again. He prayed once more, "O give
Me grace and wisdom what to say."
And then from where his mother lay,
A weak and gentle voice: "Who's there?"
She said. "An answer to your prayer,
I think," said Lois. Timothy
Reached out and pulled the curtain free,
And stepped into the room. It was
Soft-lit and clean and warm because
His father kept the hearth. "I got
Your letter, Mom. I'm glad it's not
Too late." He knelt down by her bed.
She reached up, touched his beard and said,
"You've turned into a man. I'm glad
You came." She winced with pain. "How bad,
Mom, does it hurt?" She smiled, "We've had
Bad stomachs from the start. I'm glad
I've lived so long." "Not long as I
Should like. O Mother, please don't die,
But come to Ephesus." "That would
Be nice, My Son. The Lord is good,
And will do what is best for us.
Now there, I sound like Barnabas,
Do you remember? Eighteen years
Ago? I liked him. He had tears.
He was a tender man." She glanced
Up at her husband's face. The lanced
Infection of his soul still dripped,
And every reminder ripped
His heart. The tears were plain to see.
Then Eunice said, "Look, Timothy,
Do you know who this is?" "His face
I know," he said, "but in the place
Beneath I do not know who's there."
"He is another answered prayer,
My Son. The Lord is doubly good
To me: He brought you home. And should
I not now after twenty years
Rejoice with you that there are tears
Upon your father's face?" "There is
A man who calls me "son," and his
Are tears that I can trust. He lies
In chains in Rome, because the eyes
Of some seek money more than truth,
And leave their lonely sons in youth."
He looked across his mother's bed
To find his father's eyes and said,
"You haven't called me "son" for more
Than twenty years. I shut the door
Of memory a long, long time
Ago. And for your double crime
I thought that you were dead." A long,
Still silence fell. "Your heart is strong
And wise, My Son. And you are right,
For I was dead. And then one night,
In Ephesus, not long ago,
I heard a young man preach. No show,
No flair, no haughty eloquence,
Just truth and passion and intense
Affection for his flock. He read
A letter from a man that said,
‘To Timothy, beloved son,'
And later preached how anyone
Who lives for worldly gain and not
For Christ, is dead, and has forgot
The reason he was made. And then
He said, ‘Of all the words of men,
The greatest is: Christ Jesus burst
Into the world to save the worst.'
And there from you I tasted grace:
These tender words did change the face
Of God. I'm sorry, Timothy,
That I have failed; but it may be
Tonight that, if you will not say
I am your father, yet you may,
With love, accept me as your son."
The blows all struck, the battle won,
His mother's eyes were closed; her breath
Came slowly, till it ceased, and death
Spread over all her frame as if
A calm came down without a whiff
Of wind and made the ocean still
And smooth. But no one moved, until
The younger son, lay down his face
On hers, and felt his father place
The hand of blessing on his head
To bless the living and the dead.
O candle one, burn bright with peace
And beckon family strife to cease.
Come, melt with love the hearts of ice,
And light the way to paradise.