The Chariot

on January 12, 2011 in The Chariot

“All people die,” explained my five year old cousin, Linda, after watching television at Linda’s Henderson Road home in Tucker. The movie showed the awful truth about dying – a shock to a four year old.

“Yeah,” said her neighbor Gary, “You die and they put you in a grave, and you turn to bones.”

“Well, I’m gonna talk to Aunt Nancy about that!” I said as I left the room. She was in her kitchen when I found her.

“Aunt Nancy, is it true that all people die and are put in the grave and turn to bones?”

“Why do you ask, Diane?”

“’Cause that’s what happened to this man on TV and they buried him. Gary says all people turn to bones in the ground.” I could not contain myself any longer. I jumped in her arms and trembled with fear.

“Oh good Lord! What are y’all watching? You were watching cartoons when I left the room. Now, there, there,” she said while rubbing my back. “There’s no reason to be afraid of death. It’s as natural as living.”

Well, to me, it actually seemed like a bad trick to play on someone. Just when I was really enjoying life, I had to find out that I have to do death too. I did not like it, and was frightened.

“What are you most afraid of Diane?” Aunt Nancy asked me, as she gently rocked me in her arms.

“I don’t want to be buried and turn to bones.”

“Well, maybe you won’t have to.”

I was all ears.

She put me down and said, “Follow me.”

Aunt Nancy took my hand and led me into the no enter zone – her living room. It was a big room with shiny hardwood floors. That room stayed spotless, because she did not allow anyone to enter unless you were important company. And when we did have to cross through that room to get to the other parts of the house, we took our shoes off. But today was different. For some reason, I was the important company. We sat down on the sofa as she turned her attention to the family bible on the coffee table. She opened the huge book up and thumbed through the pages, “Let’s see now. I believe that’s in Kings. Here it is. Everything in this book is God’s holy word. You can believe it girl! Now Diane, I want you to listen to this.”

 

And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. II Kings 2 verse 11

 

“What do you think about that?” asked Aunt Nancy. “And just look at this picture.”

“Wow! It’s beautiful!”

And it really was beautiful. The picture covered both pages of the Bible. A golden chariot pulled by a team of white horses took an old man with a red wrap on – across the sky.

A stream of light opened up the heavens, and the chariot was ushered into Heaven by golden flames of fire with little bits of twinkly sparks of fire all about. I could not take my eyes off the picture.

“That man is Elijah. He was favored by God – so much that he was not put in a grave when he died. In fact, he did not die at all. God took him straight to Heaven in that chariot!” explained Aunt Nancy. “Now tell me what you think about that.”

“I want to go in a chariot too. Do you think that’s possible?

“You can always ask. Asking won’t hurt a thing. God likes for you to talk to Him about everything. That’s what He loved so about Elijah. God and Elijah were like best friends. They were always together – always in Elijah’s heart. And who knows, He did it once, He could do it again!”

What a relief! Every time I visited Aunt Nancy’s house, I asked to see Elijah and the chariot. She left the book open to that page, and I had permission to look at it anytime – just so long as I took my shoes off and sat quietly on the sofa. I loved that picture and I can still see it today in my mind’s eye. Aunt Nancy would walk by me as I admired the picture and every time she said, “He did it once, He can do it again!”

I told God how I felt and asked Him to send a chariot to take me to Heaven when it was my turn to die – just like Elijah. I convinced myself that He would do that. And what a wonderful thing! I was no longer afraid of dying.

Months later, I went on a fishing trip to Clarke Hill Lake in Lincolnton, Georgia with my family, and the family of my father’s other sister, Sarah. Back in the fifties, Atlanta’s population was only about two-hundred thousand. We did not have the restaurants and shopping centers that we have today. We found entertainment mostly with family, who enjoyed playing Rook, and bluegrass music. Family outings were my number one way to have fun, especially since I had so many cousins.

And this trip was no exception. We met early one morning and drove a few hours to the Story home-place in Lincolnton County. The Story family moved from Lincolnton to the Atlanta area when my father was five years old. His family loved to go back to Lincolnton when the water was low, so that they might catch a glimpse of the chimney of their old home.

The day started out with plenty of excitement. Mama, Aunt Sarah, and my teen aged cousin, Pheobe, unpacked picnic baskets while Daddy and Uncle Doc pushed their small boat into the water. Daddy gave strict orders to Pat and I, “Stay with your mother and do what she says.” Mama had her hands full with lunch and taking care of my two year old sister, Barbara. My five year old cousin, Roy, wanted to go fishing with the men. He was told to stay with the girls. He was not happy. His older brother, Gene, was invited to go fishing with the men. But Gene decided to stay with Roy, and go fishing with the men after lunch. After a while, Gene went swimming on his own.

Gene was tall with dark hair, and boy could he swim! Gene swam way out into the deep. I watched him as he swam gracefully away and disappeared from sight. How easy he made swimming appear, barely disturbing the water. One day I’d be big and would swim like that. I wanted to learn.

“Mama, can I swim?”

Gene Graves

Gene Graves

“Will you be careful?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Okay, but don’t go out too far, stay close.”

I could not believe I had Mama’s permission. I ran into the water and really just played at getting wet. But I listened to Mama, and was determined to obey her so she would continue to say “yes” to me. My sister, Patricia, said that was the trick to staying on Mama’s good side. In my excitement, I got farther away from the group. In fact, I was at the opposite side of the cove, but I was still within three feet of the bank. I knew Mama meant to stay close to the bank, and I did. I looked out and strained my eyes to see Gene. He was nowhere in sight. I tried to imitate him as I lied down on my stomach and lifted my arms and legs up. I could at least pretend to swim.

Suddenly, an invisible hand grabbed my foot and pulled me backwards. I was sucked under the bank, and pulled into a whirlpool. The roots of the trees grabbed and strangled me. Earth covered me. I fought with all my strength, and made a desperate dive for the opening. I barely made it, and was able to get a gulp of fresh air. And then it grabbed my foot again. Back under the bank I went.  I struggled, and again broke loose from the roots, and made it back just long enough for another gulp of fresh air. But  the current was too strong, and I could not escape. Back under I went.

On the way back in, I heard a loud umpire scream in my head, “three strikes and you’re out!”

I know, I know. I have to get out of here! I struggled. I fought with all my heart and soul.  But to no avail, my energy was spent. I wanted to sleep. In a far away distance, I heard Mama and Daddy say, “Night, night. Sweet dreams.”

I succumbed to the hairy roots and wet darkness. I was exhausted. I relaxed and let the roots take me. It was dark. I could not see anything.

For some strange reason the solid bank above me opened up, and I saw a bright light come streaming through. My dark watery grave was full of the brightest sunshine I have ever seen, yet the brightness soothed my eyes. Tiny twinkling stars began to glitter all about me, as though they were communicating with me, telling me not to be afraid. I was not afraid. I was comforted when I noticed that the glittery lights looked just like the twinkling bits fire in Aunt Nancy’s picture of Elijah being taken Up Yonder in a chariot. I felt a sense of joy, and a strange tingling sensation throughout my body from head to toe. I smiled as my body smiled back at me. The horses. Where are the horses. Many voices surrounded me as they whispered, “They’re coming. Be patient, they’re coming.” I blacked out, and never saw the horses, but I did feel the chariot swoop me up.

My last thought was – I’m dying.

That is all I remember until I woke up on the bank of Clarke Hill. The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes, was my mother’s face. She looked different. Oddly, she had dark circles around her eyes. Those circles eventually lightened up but never completely went away. But on that day the circles around Mama’s eyes were very dark. She held me and cried. She threatened to spank me.

Oh yes, and the chariot that God sent for me was the arms of my cousin, Gene Graves.

 

Picture of Elijah Taken to Heaven, courtesy of  Clyde N. Provonsha, Artist, Copyright 1954 by Southern Publishing Association.

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