The Skeptic's Doubt
Father and Son sit around a camp fire.
They discuss the night of Grandfather's death.
Grandfather was ill for a long time. One night, Grandfather began to die. His mind was clear and he woke Grandmother and told her what was about to happen. Grandmother was very sad. Though she tried her hardest, she could not stop Death.
Grandfather and Father lived far apart. While Grandfather died, Father slept. Father recounts the evening to Son over the flames:
“I felt weird all night. Something was off. Still, I got to bed early and fell asleep fast. Then – and I remember this, I noted it – at exactly 2AM I woke up. I was dreaming of Grandfather and suddenly I could feel his hand on my back, pushing me up from the bed. I think I even heard his voice. Then I'm wide awake, sitting in bed, and the phone rings. And it’s Grandmother and she says Grandfather is dead. And I say ‘I know.’”
“That’s how I know everything will be OK, whatever happens. The world, life, all of this – it’s not everything. There’s more to it, son. I know it.”
Son listens quietly. When Father finishes, Son looks into the flames, until Father asks what’s wrong. Son explains:
“Father, I’m sorry. I see how important that night was. I don’t want to ruin it for you.”
“But, there's a simple explanation for all of it. You knew Grandfather was very ill. Your sleep was fretful and light. Your phone rang the first time and it woke you up. You had been dreaming of Grandfather, so your mind connected the dream to the real world. It happens all the time. Then, after that long moment, that's only really an instant - You know the one, between being asleep and being fully awake - the phone rang a second time, and you picked it up.”
“There’s no magic behind it - nothing greater than the sum of its parts. The phone just rang first.”
Son looks back down at the fire and they both sit for a time. Then Father shakes his head:
“No Son. I was there. I lived it. I felt the hand on my back. I heard the voice. I know what happened that night and no one can tell me otherwise."
Father and Son never spoke of this again. Many years passed. One night, Son awoke in a start. Then he heard the phone ring. Son picked it up and Mother said that Father had died minutes before.
Son had felt no hand on his back, nor did he hear a voice in his head. Son knew there was no magic in the world. When Son told Grandson about that night, Son embellished nothing: he had only been awoken by a phone call.
But in secret, Son held onto a singular doubt. After all he told himself, how could anyone ever be certain?
Then one day, Death came for Son. At the end, Son held his doubt close, repeating it in silence, until the darkness came for him.
"Maybe it didn't ring first"
By Eric Dufresne from Trois-Rivières, Canada (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons