(that goes for grown-ups too)
The joyous springtime birdsong and the gentle sunrays making their way through the fresh green treetops were lost on Miros Kovac, as he walked slowly yet decidedly down the lane that led to the cemetery. He was too absorbed in thought for that. Every year he made this trip at the beginning of May, yet he had never gotten used to the emotions that went with it. This year was no exception. In fact, it felt even stronger now. However, this time Miros sensed there was a purpose to it.
At that very moment, he was startled by a stork that landed no more than five paces to his right and proceeded to cross the track before him. Miros stood still and stared in awe at the magnificent bird as it walked, then stopped and turned its head towards him. Their eyes met in a brief and seemingly telepathic encounter. Then the stork continued walking as if nothing had happened, and with a heavy beating of its wings it took to the sky towards its nest below the spire of the nearby church. A faint smile appeared on Miros’s face when the stork’s message became clear to him: change was on its way.
U2 – One Step Closer
A heart that hurts is a heart that beats – U2
On arriving at the grave, Miros sighed deeply and stood still with his eyes closed for a few moments to pay reverence, as he had done for twenty-five years now. When he had finished, he opened his eyes and read the simple epitaph on the tombstone:
30 April 1983 – 13 May 1994
Not now, he said to himself, swallowing back the tears. Miros wanted to remember the good times first. Moments like when he and Amar, who was seven at the time, flew a kite up on the hill that overlooked the village. Amar regularly accompanied him to the family olive grove on the slope to help him tend to the olive trees. Miros had cherished those moments, for it felt as if they strengthened his fatherly bond with Amar. On this particular occasion, Amar had taken along the kite that they had made together. Miros felt his heart begin to glow as he remembered how proud Amar had been of that kite.
The loving feeling was brutally interrupted by other, not so pleasant, memories. Images of the war came flashing before his mind’s eye. Disturbing images of people dying, villages being destroyed, families being torn apart and friends becoming enemies. These memories sent a shiver down Miros’s spine. He shuddered from pure horror. Then his most horrifying memory ever returned. As if it were taking place right now, Miros saw himself running through the olive grove. He could hear himself breathing heavily, not so much from physical exertion but from fear. The fear of what he would find. His fear was confirmed when he arrived at the old, hollow olive tree, where the sound of gunshots had come from. There on the cold, hard ground, Amar lay on his back. His lifeless eyes stared up at him from a face that was white as snow.
U2, Brian Eno, Brian Eno & Luciano Pavarotti – Miss Sarajevo
This vivid recollection sent Miros to his knees. In long bursts, he cried out all the grief he had carried with him up until now. In between, he gasped for breath, as scouring, salty tears rolled down his cheeks and converged with the snot coming from his nose.
“Oh Amar, Amar,” he blurted. “How could this have happened?”
Then the soft voice of a woman interrupted him in his excruciating moments of grief.
Instantly, Miros stopped crying and looked up in surprise to see his sister-in-law Merjam standing a few feet away from him.
Merjam came closer and tenderly placed her hand on his head.
“Oh Merjam,” Miros spoke, his voice husky from crying.
“Your brother did not want to fight against my people. And it was of great consolation to him that you respected his decision.”
Miros smiled faintly in acknowledgement.
“But it broke his heart to know that you had killed Amar, our only child.”
Miros gazed at Merjam with his eyes wide open, belying his shock.
“You knew about that?”
“Yes,” Merjam replied and her eyes took on a more serious look. “It was a coincidence. A couple of years after the war, Ivan was having a drink in one of the bars in town when he bumped into an old school friend of his. It turned out that this friend was your old army sergeant. He told Ivan that you had been sent out to flush out an enemy sniper up on the hill overlooking the olive grove where Amar died only minutes later. Everyone assumed it was a sniper round that had dealt the deadly blow, but Ivan left the bar immediately on hearing this new information and visited the spot where Amar had been shot. There, in the old, hollow olive tree, he found two more bullets.”
“They were standard army issue and not sniper rifle rounds,” Miros interrupted, still kneeling before Merjam.
“I’m terribly sorry, Merjam. Oh, I’m so sorry,” Miros said sobbing with his arms wrapped around Merjam’s legs. “It was an accident. I sprayed that spot with bullets, thinking it was the sniper’s nest. And I knew something had gone terribly wrong when the sniper continued firing.”
“I know,” Merjam said.
“How can I ever make it up to you?”
“We were angry with you for a long time, Miros. However, after Ivan died, I realized that our anger had been the cause of his death and would soon be the cause of mine if I did not come to terms with it. So, I went through my pain, and on the other side I found healing and forgiveness. I forgave myself and I forgave you, dear Miros.”
Merjam then helped Miros to his feet.
“You were like a second father to Amar. And you are still like a brother to me,” Merjam spoke softly, smiling with tears in her eyes as she held Miros in a warm and loving embrace.
One spring many years later, Miros, who by now was in his late eighties, lay down in the grass under an almond tree that was bursting into bloom. In the fleeting moments before he closed his eyes forever, Amar appeared before him one last time. Miros smiled when he saw his beloved nephew. With his innocent face glowing with love, Amar spoke the same words he often spoke all those years ago: “Even naughty children are sweet.”
Forgiveness is a courageous act of self-love.
Elton John – Song For Guy (Life Isn’t Everything)
‘Woman’ by Pexels on Pixabay
‘Ancient Olive Trees’ by Peter Caulfield on Freeimages.com
‘Spring’ by Magda Prokopowicz on Freeimages.com
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